Understanding the Role of Human Error in Car Accidents
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Understanding the Role of Human Error in Car Accidents

Thousands of car accidents occur every day, but the term “car accident” can leave you with the mistaken impression that most car collisions are the result of pure coincidence. In reality, most car accidents are the direct result of human error, in one form or another. Somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of all car collisions are attributable to human error, though the definition and potential application of human error covers a wide range of possibilities.

Improving your understanding of the role of human error in car accidents can help you become a better driver—and if you’re ever the victim of another driver’s error, it can even help you determine when it’s appropriate to take legal action against them.

Making Bad Decisions

The obvious manifestation of human error is when a driver consciously makes a choice that results in an accident. These are typically, but not always, violations of existing traffic laws. All that matters is that they significantly increase the possibility of an accident.

These are just a few examples:

  • Speeding. It’s your responsibility to follow all speed limits, regardless of how and where they’re posted. Going above the speed limit reduces your ability to control the vehicle and react to new stimuli. However, in some cases, you can follow the speed limit and still be traveling fast enough to increase the likelihood of an accident; for example, you may be traveling close to the speed limit in a blizzard, which warrants a significantly reduced speed.
  • Ignoring red lights and stop signs. Traffic signs and signals are designed to maintain the flow of traffic and keep everyone safe, but some people choose to ignore these signals and others completely (and inadvertently) miss them. Going through a stop sign or a red light puts you and other drivers around you in serious harm, and even less severe violations like failing to yield can eventually result in an accident.
  • Lane weaving. It’s your responsibility to signal before changing lanes or turning. Switching lanes abruptly or without signal increases the danger to the people behind you and in some cases, reduces your ability to maintain control of the vehicle.
  • Swerving or failing to brake. You’re expected to react in a reasonable and responsible manner to any and all changing road conditions. If the driver in front of you comes to a sudden stop, you need to come to a similarly abrupt halt. If you need to steer to get out of the way of something, you need to maintain as much control of the car as possible, without recklessly swerving. Oftentimes, our impulses get the better of us, making it much more difficult to respond appropriately in these situations.
  • Getting intoxicated or distracted. While driving, your full attention needs to be on the road and your full cognitive abilities need to be employed. Anything that compromises one of those two factors will increase your likelihood of making an error, including becoming intoxicated or getting distracted by a notification on your smartphone—even if it’s only a few seconds.

Failing to Exercise Proactive Caution

However, sometimes a driver can be held responsible for a car accident due to a failure to take proactive action to reduce the chances of an accident. These tend to be less immediate, but can still cause a driver to be held liable for an accident resulting from these failures:

  • Failing to perform routine maintenance. Your vehicle is made of several complexly interacting moving parts. It’s the driver’s job to make sure the vehicle remains in good repair. If you neglect an important repair, like fixing a cracked windshield or a missing mirror, it can seriously increase your risk of an accident.
  • Ignoring weather conditions. Weather conditions have a massive impact on factors like visibility, traction, and road hazards. Failing to take the proper precautions for these events is considered a human error, even though the weather itself is unpreventable. For example, failing to use your headlights in fog or following too closely in a rainstorm are both human mistakes.
  • Neglecting attention to medical conditions. Certain medical conditions, like being prone to seizures, may be unpreventable, but could increase your risk of an accident. Failing to take the proper precautions for these conditions is another mistake that could lead to a collision.

Until autonomous vehicles become mainstream, human error is going to continue as an inevitable part of the driving experience. Do what you can to learn more about the errors you make every day, and try to prevent them (or mitigate their effects). Reducing the number and severity of human errors is the best strategy we have to reduce the rate of accidents on the road.

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