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Road Safety Alert: What Are the Top Causes of Car Accidents?

Karns & Kerrison
Road Safety Alert: What Are the Top Causes of Car Accidents?

Snow, rain, or shine, hundreds of thousands of drivers traverse Rhode Island every day. We have a lower accident rate than many other parts of the U.S., but this alone can’t keep you and your loved ones safe. Each one of us is responsible for making good choices while on the roads.

Sometimes when you’re running late or afraid you’ll forget to send that text about dinner plans, it’s tempting to bend the rules just a little bit. However, imagine the person behind you is doing the same thing you are—or the person in front of you. This is how accidents happen.

Between the costs of fixing your car, going to the doctor, and increasing insurance premiums, it’s worth it to do everything you can to avoid an accident. Next time you’re thinking about doing something you know you shouldn’t, think back to this list of the most common car accident causes.

Excessive Speed

ValuePenguin, a site that provides insurance and financial resources, found that, in 2019, speeding was responsible for more car accident deaths than driver distraction or DUIs. Speed has long been a leading cause of fatal accidents, so these results are not surprising. However, Rhode Island is one of four states that reported speed as a factor in more than 30% of deadly car accidents.

We’re third in the nation when it comes to the percentage of accident fatalities caused by speed. That’s one ranking we would all benefit from decreasing.

Speeding can result from being in a hurry; from a need for excitement; from inattention; or from a number of other situational and personal factors. Next time you see your speedometer creeping above the limit, take a moment to check in with yourself. Knowing what makes you want to speed can help you fight the urge, thereby becoming a safer driver.

Driver Distraction

Most people are extremely busy these days, juggling work and personal commitments along with trying to keep up with our interests and loved ones. This is a leading cause of driver distraction. When driving familiar routes (like a daily commute), many people think they know what they are doing well enough to split their focus. While a distracted driver may feel like they’re not missing anything, this isn’t true. A study from the National Safety Council (NSC) found drivers miss up to 50% of their surroundings when they look up from their cell phones. This pattern, called inattention blindness, can happen with any sort of multitasking.

Distractions are myriad and can take three forms:

Visual: Taking your eyes off the road, even for just a second. Examples include:

  • Sending a text message
  • Interacting with a screen
  • Rubbernecking
  • Checking your appearance in the mirror
  • Reaching for something that’s not close enough to grab immediately
  • Eating or drinking while driving

Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel while your car is in gear. Examples include:

  • Fixing hair, makeup, or other aspects of your appearance
  • Eating or drinking while driving
  • Reaching for something that’s not close enough to grab immediately
  • Plugging your phone in or finagling it into a dash mount

Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving or trying to split your attention. Examples include:

  • Sending a text message or talking on the phone
  • Interacting with a screen
  • Listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks
  • Planning your day, night, weekend, etc.
  • Daydreaming or becoming lost in your thoughts
  • Interacting with children or pets in the back seat

Most people are susceptible to assuming they can do more than one thing while driving. Therefore, the best way to prevent distraction can be to remove temptations:

  • Make sure your car is ready—mirrors positioned, seat in the right place, GPS programmed, etc.—before you shift out of park
  • Switch your cell phone to “do not disturb” mode when you get in the car or see if you can set it to automatically switch when it senses vehicular motion
  • Do not eat or drink while driving 
  • Place items you might be tempted to reach for firmly out of range

If you see a distracted driver near you, keep in mind they may not even know you are there. Practice your best defensive driving and leave yourself extra space to react if they make a sudden move.

Drug or Alcohol Use

Along with being one of the top states for speeding, Rhode Island is also third in the nation for our percentage of DUI fatalities. Around 40% of fatal accidents are caused by drunk or otherwise intoxicated drivers. Everyone knows drunk driving is dangerous, so why do people still do it?

As with distraction, intoxication can convince our brains we’re fine when we’re not. Slower reaction times and impaired judgment are two things you may not notice while drunk that a police officer will. Even if your BAC is below .08%, you may still be unfit to drive safely. If there’s any question, get a ride from a friend or call an Uber or Lyft.

Drunk drivers don’t just endanger themselves. They put all of us at risk. Protect yourself by:

  • Not driving after midnight when possible
  • Staying off of rural roads, especially late at night
  • Being especially cautious on holidays that are tied with celebrations or drinking
  • Staying as far away from the center line as is safe to avoid oncoming drivers swerving into you
  • At intersections, making sure oncoming traffic has come to a stop before proceeding

Many individuals who see a drunk driver are tempted to call the police then and there. However, if you’re driving at the time, using your cell phone will put you in more danger. Pull over or park your car before making a report.

Fatigue and Drowsiness

We’ve all had those mornings where our alarm seems to go off just a few seconds after we fell asleep. However, we have to get the kids to school or ourselves to work, so we pour ourselves some coffee and get on the road. Drowsy driving is a serious issue in the U.S., with many adults being chronically sleep-deprived. Sleepiness makes it harder to focus, increases your reaction time, and affects your judgment. In fact, if you’ve been awake for 18 hours straight, the effect is the same as a BAC of .05%.

Addressing drowsy driving isn’t possible once you’re in the car. The best thing to do if you feel tired is to not get behind the wheel in the first place. Then, consider your lifestyle factors to identify the culprit:

  • Do you get more than 6 hours of sleep a night?
  • Do you snore or have some type of sleep disorder?
  • Do you take any medications that might make you drowsy?

It’s hard to routinely get enough sleep with all the other demands on your time. However, with more than 30,000 injuries caused each year by drowsy drivers, it’s important to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure you’re a safe driver.

Negligence Is Everywhere. Stay Vigilant to Stay Safe.

It’s likely everyone reading this blog has done at least one of the things listed here at some point in their life. If you’re bending the rules this way, think of all the other people who are making the same choice—and how much collective danger that creates.

Aside from wanting to keep yourself safe, avoiding these common driver mistakes can make a serious difference if you end up in an accident. You may have to help pay for the other party’s damages if you were even a little bit at fault—and even if you are also collecting a settlement from their insurer. The best way to avoid this situation is to follow the rules of the road every time.

If you have questions about a car accident claim, contact Karns & Kerrison at (888) 281-3100 for a free consultation.

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If you or your loved one suffered severe, life-altering injuries due to someone else’s negligence, we are here to help you fight for justice. For answers to your questions or to schedule a free consultation, contact our personal injury team at (888) 281-3100. We offer our legal services on a contingency fee basis, meaning you only pay attorneys’ fees after we have recovered compensation on your behalf.

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