The dictionary defines accident as "an unexpected and undesirable event, a mishap unforeseen and without apparent cause." Strictly speaking, most accidents are not accidents at all, they are collisions that could and should have been avoided. So, what causes them, and how can you avoid them?
Four factors contribute to the vast majority of collisions. In ascending order they are:
*Poor Road Maintenance
Over 95% of motor vehicle accidents involve some degree of driver behaviour combined with one of the other three factors. Drivers always try to blame road conditions, equipment failure, or other drivers for those accidents. When the facts are truthfully presented, however, the behaviour of the implicated driver is usually the primary cause. Most are caused by excessive speed or aggressive driver behaviour. The factors listed above will now be discussed in detail:
1. Equipment Failure: - Manufacturers are required by law to design and engineer cars that meet a minimum safety standard. Research and development activities of car manufacturers, have produced safe vehicles that are easy and safe to drive. The most cited types of equipment failure are loss of brakes, tyre blowouts or tread separation, and steering and suspension failure. In the developed economies or countries where there are period vehicle checks, such the MOT checks in the United Kingdom, equipment failure accounts for less than 5% of all motor vehicle accidents.
(a) Brakes: - Modern dual-circuit brake systems have made total brake failure an unlikely event. If one side of the circuit fails, the other side is usually sufficient to stop a vehicle. Disc brakes, found on the front wheels of virtually every modern vehicle, are significantly more effective than the older drum braking systems, which can fade when hot, which is the case in Nigeria where there is still high proportion of cars using the drum braking system. ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) prevent the wheels from locking up during emergency braking manoeuvres, allowing modern vehicles to avoid many accidents that previously would have occurred.
(b) Tyres: - Today's radial tyres are significantly safer than the bias-ply tires of 25 years ago. They still, however, need attention regularly. Under inflation, is the most frequent cause of tyre failure. Uneven or worn-out tyres are the next most serious problem and can also lead to tyre failure. Uneven wear is caused by improperly balanced tyres, or misaligned or broken suspensions. Remember, all that keeps you connected to the roadway is your tyres. If you don't check your own, have your mechanic check them every 5,000 miles travelled.
(c) Steering and Suspension: - Your suspension keeps your tyres in contact with the roadway in a stable and predictable manner. Your steering enables you to go around road obstacles and avoid potential accidents. Even a safe, well-trained driver is helpless in the event of a steering or suspension system failure. Such failures are catastrophic, especially at high speeds. Have your suspension and steering systems checked out by a mechanic every 10,000 miles.
With regular component inspections by trained individuals, equipment failures can be virtually eliminated.
2. Road Design: - Motorists may blame road design for accidents, but it's rarely the cause in developed countries. Federal and State governments provide guidelines for construction roads, with design flexibility to suit local conditions. Roads are designed by engineers with special consideration given to the following; hazard visibility, road surfaces, traffic control devices, behavioural control devices, traffic flow, road identification signs and weather.
3. Poor Road Maintenance: - Road maintenance contributes to some motor vehicle accidents, but not to the extent that drivers use it as an excuse. Unfortunately maintenance schedules and procedures vary greatly. Some potential road maintenance shortcomings that you should be aware of are:
(a) Debris on the road can be a problem.
(b) Potholes cause a number of accidents (primarily tyre and suspension failures), but the accidents usually occur at low speeds and don't cause many injuries. To help prevent pothole accidents, the government or relevant road safety agencies should have dedicated pothole complaint lines.
(c) Road construction is an often mentioned reason for accidents. Again the blame usually rests on aggressive drivers who are unwilling to merge or slow down when approaching a construction zone.
4. Driver Behaviour:- Humans tend to blame somebody or something else when a mistake or accident occurs. A recent European study concluded that 80% of drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents believed that the other party could have done something to prevent the accident. Only a small fraction, 5% admitted that they were the only one at fault. Surveys consistently reveal that the majority consider themselves more skilful and safer than the average driver. Some mistakes occur when a driver becomes distracted, perhaps by a cell phone call. Very few accidents result from an 'Act of God,' like a tree falling on a vehicle. Two main aspects of driver behaviour which have tremendous contributory roles in car accidents are speed and aggressive driving.
Speed Kills - The faster the speed of a vehicle, the greater the risk of an accident. The forces experienced by the human body in a collision increase exponentially as the speed increases. The problem is that exceeding the speed limit by only 10 kmph in the wrong place can be dangerous. Speeding is a deliberate and calculated behaviour where the driver knows the risk but ignores the danger. It is believed that 90% of all drivers speed at some point in their driving career.
Aggressive Drivers - As we've described, modern cars are manufactured to very safe standards, and the environment they're driven in is engineered to minimize the injuries suffered during an accident. The most difficult area to change is aggressive driver behaviour and selfish attitudes. Aggressive driving behaviours result in:
- Excessive speed
- Frequent or unsafe lane changes
- Failure to signal
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Disregarding traffic controls
- Impaired driving
The available facts before us, driver behaviour is mostly to blame in car accidents and if we adopt a positive driving behaviour and drive defensively every time, the number of car accidents will drastically reduce.