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Commonly Asked Questions About Driving

Car Accidents

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Auto Facts & Driving FAQs

Most people understand that speeding and distractions can cause car accidents. However, there are many unknown circumstances that put drivers at risk every day. By understanding certain facts about driving, you can decrease your risk of injury.

Read on for answers to some of the most common questions people ask about auto accidents.

Which states have the most and least car accident deaths?

According to the most recent data from the Insurance Information Institute (III), three states have considerably more motor vehicle traffic deaths than any other in the country: California, Texas, and Florida. These states have been averaging over 3,000 deaths per year, while the rates for other states are less than half that amount. Moreover, while the trend for California and Texas shows a decrease in fatalities, motor vehicle deaths are on the rise in Florida. The states with the fewest auto accident deaths have been Vermont, Rhode Island, and Alaska.

What are the causes of most fatal car accidents?

Many car accidents result from a combination of factors, and the causes of collisions are not always reported. In cases where investigators reported the cause of a car accident, the III describes several types of driving behaviors associated with fatalities. The most common cause is excess speed, with drivers either operating above the posted limit or driving too fast for conditions on the road. Other causes in general order of frequency include:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way
  • Straying from the appropriate lane
  • Driving while distracted
  • Failure to obey signals
  • Reckless or negligent driving
  • Overcorrecting or oversteering
  • Driving while drowsy or ill

Driving errors such as making improper turns or driving on the wrong side of the road also played a role in many fatal car accidents.

Is it really unsafe to eat and drink while driving? Which types of foods are most dangerous?

Although people tend to associate distracted driving with texting behind the wheel, eating and drinking while driving are also dangerous distractions. Just as with texting, eating and drinking can be particularly hazardous because these behaviors take your eyes away from the road, cause you to remove one or both hands from the wheel, and force you to focus on a task other than driving. These three forms of distraction are problematic enough individually, but when you combine them, you often have a recipe for a collision.

Unwrapping packaging, applying condiments, and holding food are activities that put drivers, their passengers, and others on the road at risk. And when a driver spills food or—even worse—a hot beverage, that distraction can quickly lead to a serious accident. Choking on food or drink can also cause unsafe driving; even if the episode is brief, the reaction and results can be catastrophic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that eating and drinking while driving could increase the risk of a collision or near-miss by nearly 40%. Other data suggests that drivers distracted by food and beverage consumption may be 3.6 times more prone to accidents than drivers who avoid this behavior.

It is safest to take your meal and snack breaks while your car is parked. However, if you must eat while driving, be sure to avoid the most distracting foods such as tacos, wings, hamburgers, and jelly doughnuts. Foods that are messy or greasy are more likely to take your attention away from the road. And hot or fizzy beverages can lead to unpleasant surprises that could trigger an accident. While candy bars are one of the foods most commonly eaten behind the wheel, the distraction caused by melting chocolate could make them a poor choice. Baby carrots, beef jerky, or string cheese might be a better option.

Is there a certain type of car that gets in the most accidents?

Statistics regarding the make and models of cars in accidents can be confusing because the data is collected and publicized for various reasons. However, a few patterns are apparent in several different sources. First, The Ford F-150 pickup truck tops a couple of different lists as the vehicle with the most fatal crashes, followed by the F-250 and the Ford Explorer. The Chevy Silverado also ranks near the top in terms of fatal collisions, as does the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Of course, these vehicles are all extremely popular, so the fact that they are involved in the most accidents may not indicate any particular problem.

Many studies indicate that older vehicles—those that have been on the road 10-15 years—are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes. Improved safety features such as collision avoidance technology and backup cameras could be making newer cars safer than their older counterparts. Unfortunately, the average age of vehicles on the road is over 10 years, so drivers need to beware of the prevalent potential for deadly consequences in a collision.

Does loud music have any role in car accidents?

While most people know they should avoid distractions, they do not realize that listening to music can also quickly become a deadly distraction behind the wheel. However, music can also reduce stress and boredom, two factors that can lure drivers’ focus from the road. In fact, the background sound provided by music has even been proven to increase some people’s concentration, which can be helpful while driving. It is important to note, though, that the studies that suggest this improvement in concentration used music as background noise, not a loud blast of attention-riveting clamor.

According to some studies, loud music, instead of increasing your focus, can actually slow a driver’s reaction time up to 20%. The sound level tested was 95 decibels, roughly equivalent to the engine of a gas lawnmower. For comparison’s sake, the level for middle volume on many standard music players is about 94 decibels. So, music does not necessarily need to be painfully loud to be dangerously distracting.

When music is played at louder than mid-level volume, the potential for distraction can only increase. At this level, a sudden extreme sound is more likely to cause a physical reaction, such as a jerk on the steering wheel.

Of course, one of the most distracting features of music for drivers is not the volume of the music but the selection. Thinking about the choice of song, trying to remember lyrics, or getting swept up in the music can all cause drivers to lose their focus. And trying to switch selections is just as dangerous as texting while driving.

What is the proper way to move over for emergency vehicles?

Drivers are taught from early in their careers that they need to move over for emergency vehicles. But many are not sure about their responsibilities in different situations. While laws vary from state to state, drivers should keep some general guidelines in mind.

First, if an emergency vehicle approaches with lights flashing or sirens sounding while you are in an intersection, it is usually best to continue through the intersection before pulling over to the side of the road. Then wait until the vehicle is completely past before emerging back into the roadway.

Second, when you approach a stopped emergency vehicle, you should reduce your speed. If possible, you should move away from the lane closest to the stopped vehicle. If you cannot, then you should slow down even more. Some state laws have specific requirements for speed when passing a stopped emergency vehicle. Under Florida law, for instance, drivers must slow down to at least 20 m.p.h. below the speed limit if they are not able to vacate the lane next to the stopped vehicle.

Third, if you find yourself driving behind an emergency vehicle with sirens or lights in operation, try to stay back at least 200-300 feet.

How should I teach my child to drive safely?

After making sure that your child has a learner’s permit that demonstrates a basic knowledge of rules of the road, the most important factor when teaching driving skills is to remain calm. You may feel tense, frustrated, or flat-out terrified. However, the more you can avoid conveying these feelings in your body language and tone of voice, the less likely you are to distract your beginning driver. After all, you want them focusing on the road, not you.

Start lessons in a location with lots of space and few obstacles, such as an empty parking lot. Keep an eye out for other vehicles or pedestrians, however, even in the most remote location. While driving your beginning driver to the lesson location, you might want to narrate your actions, explaining when you are beginning the process of stopping for an intersection or other actions you take along the way.

Once you turn over the wheel to the new driver, make sure they take the time to adjust the seat and mirrors. They can practice driving in straight lines and making turns, using the turn signal even if the lot is empty. On the second or third lesson in the parking lot, have the driver practice parking perpendicularly, backing into parking spaces, and making 3-point turns. Rather than focusing on correction, try to remember to praise the things your driver does correctly. As you move on to driving on increasingly busier roads with faster speed limits, also expose your new driver to the effects of driving in the rain or other challenging weather conditions. With each mile, your new driver’s confidence may increase, but remember that there is no such thing as too much practice.

There are various resources online for teaching driving skills and learning more advanced concepts such as driving a stick shift car.

Are newer cars with advanced safety systems safer to drive? Does this technology prevent accidents?

As noted above, statistics on fatal car accidents may indicate that newer cars with advanced safety features may be less likely to be involved in deadly accidents. However, since it is not possible to know exactly what would have happened if an accident situation had involved a different vehicle or to collect data on accidents that didn’t happen, it is difficult to tell whether this new technology prevents accidents.

The bottom line is that all the safety systems in the world are no substitute for an attentive, knowledgeable driver. In fact, some people develop a false sense of security and expect features such as warning indicators or brake assist to take over functions that they should be doing themselves. When advanced safety systems are used by cautious drivers who watch the road and avoid distractions, motorists have the best chance for a safe journey. 

Additional Resources

The below sites and articles can provide further information on driving, car accidents and other auto-related news.

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