Crashes Aren’t Accidents
This week, I’m going to focus on the main causes of the crashes I attend. I go to an average of about 3 crashes every 12 hour shift. In poor weather, that number can quadruple easily.
First, a confession. I was in a fender-bender about a year ago (first time in a long time), so I’m not typing this from high atop Mount Olympus. We all make mistakes. In my crash, I was looking for a parking spot, and going fairly slow (20 mph) on a city street. When I checked the right hand lane I planned to change into, it was empty, so I began to move over. When I got 1/2 way into it, a red sedan flew by me on the right, and I clipped the driver’s side of his car. I guess when I looked behind me, he was close enough to be hidden in his low slung car, and after I started to move, he tried passing me on the right, at the wrong time. Anyway, no one was hurt.
So, now that I have that out of the way, lets get to it.
Why refer to collisions as “crashes”? Well, because in 99% of all cases, someone has to do something wrong for the collision to happen. The word accident implies that it was an unavoidable circumstance, when that’s not the case most times. If we all drove following 100% of all traffic laws and gave 100% of our attention to driving, these crashes wouldn’t happen. But, as in my example, we’re all human, and we are not perfect. So, I’ll always have job security I guess . I have seen a few incidents that came close to what I would call an “accident”, but those are rare.
So, in no particular order, here are my top 7 causes of crashes:
#1) Following too close. This is a biggie. I touched on this last week, so I won’t beat it to death here, but every time I see one of those 100 car pile-ups on the news, I see 99 folks who were following too close or committing driving sin #2.
#2) Out-driving your field of view. If you can’t see more than a few car-lengths in front of you, it’s time to slow down, or pull over all together. If you’re in pitch black conditions, for goodness sake, use your high beams. On the average car, you outdrive the visibility your low beams give you at about 40-45mph. If you’re going 70mph on low beam with perfect road conditions on a dark night, whatever you see you’re likely to hit. Low beams just don’t throw light far enough down the road to give you enough reaction time for 70mph.
#3) Turning left before it’s safe to do so. This is another bad one. I see it all the time. Person is waiting to turn left across oncoming traffic. Light changes to amber. They start their turn and BOOM! They are struck in the passenger side by someone they thought was going to stop who has accelerated for the amber light. If you’re turning left, make darn sure everyone (and I mean everyone) has stopped before you make that turn. Quite often in urban settings where the intersection’s traffic signals do not have an advance arrow for left turns, most left turns get completed during or after the amber signal phase. This is not safe. The way it should be done is to wait behind the stop line until it is clear, then execute the turn. If you get trapped in the intersection, you’re obligated to clear that intersection (even if your light is red) so you don’t block the other direction’s traffic. You just have to make sure the way is clear before you proceed.
#4) Driving based on assumptions. Don’t assume the other person sees you (especially as a pedestrian). Don’t assume the other guy is going to stop. Don’t assume the “other guy” thinks like you do. Don’t assume he’s going to turn/go straight. Wait until they commit.
#5) Not paying attention. Right up there at the top. There’s topics all over the forums about overweight this or overweight that. This is dangerous, that is dangerous. Let me tell you — I’d far rather be in a slightly overloaded rig than one driven by an inattentive driver. We’ve been driving for so long we forget to give it the respect and attention it deserves. We can cause a lot of damage to ourselves and others with our many multi-ton mechanical behemoths. An F250 can cause a lot more damage to a family than a shotgun, yet the shotgun gets far more respect in handling. It shouldn’t be that way. Driver distractions such as cell phones, text messaging (don’t get me started), new audio devices, GPS devices, have added more and more competition for drivers attention. Some drivers are buying in dash DVD players so they can watch movies while they drive (and yes that’s illegal).
#6) Disobeying traffic control devices and ignorance of the laws. I bet 50% of the drivers on the road do not know what to do if the power fails and the traffic lights aren’t functioning, or who has the right of way at a 4 way stop or at an uncontrolled intersection. Well, here are the answers. If the traffic lights stop functioning, that intersection should be treated like a 4 way stop with the person to the right having the right of way. Further to that, if two vehicles arrive at a 4 way stop at the same time, the driver to the right has the right of way — same as an uncontrolled intersection. Most people also seem to be unclear as to what an amber traffic light means. Some casual observing would likely lead you to believe it’s some kind of acceleration test signal, but it’s not. What it means in law is “stop if it is safe to do so” as the light will be turning red in a few seconds. Stop signs — as those seldom obeyed red octagons. You’d swear sometimes the text reads “STOPTIONAL” instead of “STOP”. Slowing down isn’t good enough. Lane control signs, directional signs, no turning here or there. They’re all there for a reason. Sometimes the reason may not be just for safety, often it is for efficiency of traffic flow. A left turn in a single lane of traffic may not in itself be a safety issue, but while you are waiting to turn left out of that single lane, cars are piling up behind you. Not allowing left turns keeps traffic flowing through.
#7) Driving while impaired. You’d figure we’d have this one licked by now, but alas, it still happens on a regular basis. One of our local newspaper columnists just got arrested for drunk driving a few days ago***. A professional, grown man, bright and articulate. Drinking and driving bridges all classes of society. It has no niche you can box it in and say, “those are the kind of people that drink and drive”. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I know that most of the people I arrest for DUI don’t plan for this to happen. It’s not like they say to themselves, “I think I’m gonna get bombed and drive around…” It’s mostly a lack of planning that gets them there. Going to a social function and planning to drink there? Plan how you’re going to get home without driving before you leave. An average person’s liver will metabolize about 15mg% of alcohol per hour. One beer, one small glass of wine, and 1 oz of hard stuff all have about that amount of alcohol in them. For reference, the legal limit for a ciminal charge in Canada is 0.08, which translates to 80mg%. A 24 hour licence suspension can be issued to any driver who’s BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) is over 40mg%. You may be able to consume about 1 drink per hour and be OK to drive, but that’s risky. That doesn’t account for doubles, stiff ones, shots, or picking up the pace a little as you get “feeling better”. It’s best to leave your car at home. Best off not climbing in the passenger side when the driver’s been drinking either. I do a talk at a local driving school set up for people who have been in trouble with the law because of drinking and driving. To be able to get their driver’s licence back, they must attend this weekend workshop. It’s held in a conference room at a local rehabilitation hospital. One of the other guest speakers arrives in a wheelchair he controls with his mouth as he had been the passenger in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. He is now a permanent resident of the hospital.
The cost of drinking and driving is so great, yet the solution is so simple. It just doesn’t make sense.
There’s so much more I could say with respect to drinking and driving, but I’ll save that for another week.
The fine print:
***I should point out that this columnist wrote his newspaper column about the experience titled ‘I Drank, I Drove, I Got Caught’, so there’s no confidentiality issues. Link below.
Also on the subject of fine print, I’ll tell you that the above represents the laws as they are for where I live. Your local laws may be different.