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Monday, July 23, 2012

There is No Such Thing as a Motor Vehicle Accident

There is no such thing as a motor vehicle accident! 

You might wonder how anyone can make a statement like that; especially since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that there were five and a half million police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2010, leading to 32,885 highway deaths and 2,239,000 traffic injuries. What a ridiculous thing to say! Well, with very few exceptions, it is true; there are no motor vehicle accidents.

Merriam Webster dictionary probably defines it best; "Accident – noun - an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance". Note that NHTSA doesn’t use the word accident in their Traffic Safety Facts. They use the word crash or collision; not accident. When you put a human being behind-the-wheel of a car, you very rarely have accidents.

What you have is one or more drivers making bad choices and those bad choices set in motion a chain of events that leads to a collision or crash. Accidents aren't made by choice; they are something we have no control over and, when a driver chooses to do something foolish, it isn’t an accident.

OK, maybe you can see that a driver who is driving aggressively or recklessly might be making the choice to do something stupid but how about the normally safe driver who is just momentarily distracted? Surely that wasn’t intentional; no harm was intended.

Driving requires all your concentration all of the time. A driver who allows his or her attention to be drawn away from the road is making a choice and, while no harm was intended, that is little comfort to the victims of the crash.

How about weather? 

Surely weather related crashes can be considered an accident. It all depends. Did the driver slow down to a safe speed - slower in rain, half speed in snow, and a crawl on ice? Did the driver realize that the first half hour after it begins to rain is the most dangerous time for slippery roads and slow down accordingly? Did the driver understand that standing water on the roadway can cause hydroplaning and slow down to a safe speed to avoid it? Did the driver realize that water rushing across the road in a heavy rain could actually be a flash flood that has washed out the roadway underneath or that could sweep the vehicle off the road?

In a heavy fog, or rain  where visibility was reduced so low that you could barely see the lights of the vehicle ahead, did the driver get off the road and wait for the weather to lift or did he or she keep on going as close to the speed limit as possible? Even weather related crashes aren’t accidents if the driver didn’t use due caution. Speed limits are set for ideal conditions – dry road, clear weather, good tires and brakes. When the driving situation isn’t ideal, even if a driver is driving under the posted speed limit, the driver can be charged with driving too fast for conditions if he or she were driving at a speed that led to a collision.

Of course, the term "accident" is a matter of perspective.  Take, for example, a person who is driving safely, obeying all the traffic laws, and paying attention to the road. If that driver entered an intersection and was slammed into by someone who chose to run the red light, of course, from the safe driver's perspective, the crash was an accident; he or she didn’t do anything wrong or foolish that led to the crash and events were taken out of the driver’s control. However, from the perspective of the driver who chose to run the red light, it was not an accident at all; just a poor, stupid choice that ruined everyone’s day - or life.

Most drivers consider themselves to be safe drivers who wouldn't have to worry about a collision if it weren’t for all those other idiots on the road. Take a good, hard look at your driving

  • Do you allow yourself to be distracted by cell phones, eating, or looking for that favorite song? 
  • When the light turns yellow do you step on the gas to try and make it through? 
  • Do you drive ten miles per hour over the speed limit because the cops will rarely ticket you at that speed? 

What you consider to be safe may just be a collision waiting to happen but it certainly won’t be an accident.

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Posted by NSC - Traffic Safety at


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