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Monday, March 19, 2012

Left Lane Drifters and Careless Driving Tickets

Most drivers are familiar with the concept of careless driving tickets, but few stop to think about what careless driving really is or how it causes crashes. Careless driving is an umbrella term for a number of violations, including lane drifting, which can lead to head-on or sideswipe crashes. About 10,000 deaths occur annually when vehicles leave the roadway.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drifting is defined as “when a vehicle is moving in a generally straight line, but at a slight angle to the lane. The driver might correct his or her course as the vehicle approaches a lane line or other boundary, or fail to correct until after a boundary has been crossed. In extreme cases, the driver fails to correct in time to avoid a collision.” Whether the collision that occurs is head-on or sideswipe depends on the position of the vehicles and the orientation of the road, among other factors.

Lane drifting occurs due to driver error. Specific causes of lane drifting include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

  • Drowsiness or falling asleep

  • Speeding, especially around a curve

  • Lack of alertness, including daydreaming, reaching for something in the vehicle, or looking at something outside of the vehicle

For drivers, remaining sober and alert and maintaining a speed appropriate for conditions help prevent lane drifting. Roadway engineering and in-vehicle technology offer support to drivers who do drift and increased protection for all road users.

NHTSA says that about 90% of all rural crashes with fatalities occur on two-lane roads. Two-lane roads in rural areas usually do not have medians to separate two-way traffic; with vehicles in opposing directions traveling in such close proximity to one another, the margin of error is small and the potential for tragedy is enormous. According to a 2003 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report, sideswipe or head-on crashes that occur when vehicles cross the centerline comprise approximately 20% of fatal crashes on rural two-lane roads and cause approximately 4,500 deaths every year. Many drivers are familiar with rumble strips along the right side of long stretches of highway; the rumble is both felt and heard when the vehicle's tires drift onto the shoulder of the road. The IIHS advocates the addition of rumble strips along the centerlines of undivided rural two-lane roads.

In 2009 NHTSA began studies comparing different crash avoidance systems, including lane departure warning systems, to determine whether or not they will be required on new vehicles. Lane-departure warning systems alert drivers when their vehicle is leaving the lane; in some instances, the system has the capability of moving the vehicle back into the lane. IIHS says lane-departure systems could impact up to 483,000 crashes annually by helping vehicles stay on the road.

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