Why Do Motor Vehicle Accidents Happen?

We may think we know the reasons that crashes occur: speeding, drunk driving, and cell phone distraction would probably top many of our lists. But these reasons may not be the real reasons, and not knowing exactly what is causing crashes is hindering our efforts to prevent further deaths and injuries. With 40,000 persons dying in motor vehicle collisions every year across the U.S., and with serious injuries numbering into the millions—4.6 million, to be exact—we have a lot of lives we need to keep safe from harm.

So what is the true problem? The National Safety Council (NSC) calls the problem incomplete crash data.

Why is Crash Data Incomplete?

Did you know that accident report forms are different in all 50 states, and that some states ask more questions or provide more fields than others? It is the lack of questions and fields that leads to incomplete data. A police officer might list running a stop sign as the reason for a crash, but the real reason could be distraction due to the driver’s reaching for a buzzing cell phone on the passenger seat. Or, the real reason could have been fatigue, because the driver fell asleep and never saw the sign. If that field or code is not on the form, it may not be recorded.

As a nation, we have no consistency across state reports. However, we do compile national statistics, which means our numbers could be suspect. These inaccurate numbers are then used to implement programs and laws meant to reduce casualties. But how can we prevent crashes if we don’t know what the real reason is for a number of crashes?

Here’s one example: The Level 1 trauma center of one Maryland hospital recorded that more than half of all drivers admitted to the center had measurable levels of non-alcoholic drugs in their systems. But the likelihood is that even more drivers had drugs in their bodies. That’s because the crashes in which the driver’s alcohol level is above .08 BAC and that don’t create injuries require no further drug testing of the driver.

The NSC’s Study

The NSC examined crash reports from every state and the District of Columbia to determine which data is being documented and which is not. Some states record less data than others, but no state does a complete job. Some or all states lacked the appropriate fields or codes to record the following information:

  • The level of driver fatigue/how much sleep the driver had in the previous 24 hours (lacking in all states)
  • Whether driver assistance (smart car) systems were in use (lacking in all states)
  • Whether infotainment systems were in use (lacking in 47 states)
  • Teen driving and relevant restrictions (lacking in 35 states)
  • Hands-free cell phone usage (lacking in 32 states)
  • The specific types of drugs identified by testing (lacking in 32 states)
  • Evidence of cell phone texting (lacking in 26 states).
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These factors, if they were recorded, could help us establish the real reasons behind serious crashes.

Maryland’s Data

Maryland is tied with two other states—Nebraska and Kentucky—for the smallest number of fields on our state motor vehicle accident forms. Nearby Pennsylvania lists eight fields, and Virginia has nine, with four of them devoted to various forms of driver distraction. Maryland forms currently include the following fields:

  • Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) values from all drivers
  • Evidence of fatigue, drowsiness, or sleep
  • Evidence of cell phone or handheld usage
  • Evidence of other distractions such as looking at or reaching for something
  • What the posted speed limit is at the accident’s location.

A sharper picture of why accidents are occurring will help us prevent deaths in the future. We may need additional fields on our state forms, or the current fields may need to be refined or redefined. We hope that the NSC’s study will translate into improved accuracy for reported crash data and fewer deaths.

Motor Vehicle Crash? Turn to Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer.

The aftermath of a motor vehicle crash is frequently life-changing for accident victims and their family members, and can take years of patience and dedication to overcome. If you believe another party was responsible for the injuries or losses you have suffered in a Maryland vehicular accident, Steven Heisler can help you get your life back on track successfully. With over two decades of experience, we at the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler know how traumatic a serious car accident can be for both the injured person and for his or her family. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – for filing personal injury claims, so you should not delay. Call Steve today for a free initial consultation, or use our confidential online form.