Although we like to think of them as accidents, traffic collisions are usually avoidable.
The responsibility of driving an automobile is no laughing matter. However, you can learn about traffic safety and have fun at the same time—really! In fact, your learning experience has a lot to do with how much information you'll remember later. With this in mind, we hope that you enjoy our driver improvement course and have some laughs, because you might just learn a few things too!
What Causes Traffic Collisions?
Although commonly called "accidents"—probably because people hate to admit when they are wrong—collisions caused by motor vehicles are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 2 and 34.1 This isn't a new problem either. In fact, the first recorded U.S. automobile fatality occurred in New York City in 1899—yes, there were cars way back then.2
Most traffic collisions today are avoidable, which is why they aren't really accidents. In order to prevent these collisions, it's important to understand what causes them in the first place. Your good friends at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) cite the following as the most common contributing causes of fatal motor vehicle collisions:
- careless driving
- failure to yield the right-of-way
- driving under the influence of alcohol
- driving too fast for conditions
Most people are guilty of one or more of the above at some point. While everyone makes mistakes from time to time, it's important to recognize bad driving habits and correct them before they cause big problems. For example, if you've ever found yourself texting a friend about a stop sign that you just ran because you were driving too fast for conditions, then you probably need to make some serious changes—or at least upgrade your insurance coverage.
As you just read, there are several contributing causes of motor vehicle collisions. A collision may be the result of one of these, or it may be the result of a combination. In either case, these causes can be grouped into three general categories:
- the driver
- the driving environment
- the vehicle
*Fun Fact: Skating under the influence
In Palm Beach, it is illegal to roller skate recklessly or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (PBMC § 118-9). Always use a designated driver—or skater.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with most automobiles is the driver.
Despite a century's worth of improvements, automobiles still have the same major flaw: the driver. Believe it or not, driver negligence is directly responsible for more than 90% of all crashes nationwide.3 In Florida, careless driving and DUI are the most frequent causes of injury and property damage crashes. However, factors like stress, distractions, attitude, and poor driver judgment also play a significant role. 3
Although people are the number one cause of traffic collisions, environmental factors also play a significant role. The driving environment can be affected by road conditions, the weather, and other hazards—like a drunken roller skater. It is important for drivers to respond to changes in the environment by adjusting their speed, following distance, and lane position accordingly.
The vehicle can also contribute to collisions. For example, a poorly maintained automobile may break down, which could then endanger the driver and other road users. Some older vehicles don't have the modern safety features that help to prevent collisions and injuries. In addition, some vehicles may have a design limitation, such as a major blind spot, which could contribute to a collision.
The Magnitude of the Problem
Believe it or not, driving is the most dangerous activity most people participate in regularly.
Although you may not think about it, driving an automobile is probably the most dangerous activity that you participate in on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you're a lion tamer, or a fire breather, or you juggle chainsaws for a living, then driving might be the safest part of your day. In any event, many people tend to forget that driving is a very serious responsibility. When you do this, you are likely to run into problems, or another car.
Florida Crash Statistics
In 2009, there were 235,778 traffic collisions in Florida, which is about one for every person in Hialeah.4,5 This works out to about 646 collisions per day, which is like the entire population of Lawtey having a crash 365 times.5 21,891 crashes were the result of failing to yield the right-of-way, which is sort of like every person in West Pensacola making a left turn in front of you on a green light.3,5 Unfortunately, 205 people lost their lives just because drivers failed to yield the right-of-way, which is like the entire population of Caryville disappearing overnight.3,5
As you can see, the traffic crash problem is a deadly serious one. In fact, there were 2,372 fatal crashes in Florida in 2009.4 2,563 people lost their lives in these crashes, which is like the entire population of Mascotte vanishing.4,5 Over one-third of these fatal crashes (386) were caused by careless driving, while exceeding the stated speed limit caused 106. 3 There were 14,130 alcohol-related injuries, which is like everyone in Callaway being hurt simultaneously.4,5 In addition, 1,004 people lost their lives in alcohol-related fatalities, which is roughly the entire population of Mexico Beach.4,5
*Fun Fact: Fancy free zone
In Sarasota, it is illegal for the rider of a bicycle to remove both hands from the handle bars or feet from the pedals, or practice any acrobatic or fancy riding on any street (SMC § 33-202).
Crash Environment Statistics
Different driving environments have different threats.
As you read earlier, environmental factors can contribute to collisions. This includes things like the weather, but also the physical area or location where you are driving. For example, the driving environment in a business district is generally more congested than the driving environment in a residential area. Take a moment to consider the following Florida statistics from 2009:
- 141,225 crashes in business areas 4
- 66,419 crashes in residential areas 4
- 999 fatal crashes in business areas 4
- 649 fatal crashes in residential areas 4
The Economic Impact of Traffic Crashes
No one likes the thought of having their auto insurance rates jacked-up because of a collision; however, the real cost of traffic crashes is a lot higher and goes beyond insurance premiums. For example, in the year 2000 (the latest figures available) the overall cost of motor vehicle crashes to society was estimated at $230.6 billion, or about $7,312 per second! In the State of Florida alone, the estimated cost worked out to $14.4 billion, or $457 per second.7 That's a lot of pine tree air fresheners and fuzzy dice!
Cost to Society
In the United States, someone is injured in a motor vehicle crash every 14 seconds, and someone dies every 12 minutes.1 In Florida, someone sustains an injury from a crash every 2 minutes, and someone loses their life every 102 minutes.1 In 2008, there were approximately 5,811,000 reported crashes nationwide.8 These crashes took the lives of 37,261 people and injured an estimated 2,346,000, which amounted to an average of 102 people dying each day, or approximately one person every 14 minutes.8
*Fun Fact: There's something in the water
Reading statistics is statistically proven to make you thirsty—not really. But it is illegal to use the water of any drinking fountain in Orlando for anything but drinking (OMC § 43.07). Guess this means you can't do your laundry in the park anymore.
Nationwide, 37,261 people lost their lives as the result of traffic collisions in 2008.8
Of the 37,261 people who were killed in traffic crashes nationwide in 2008, 19,220 were drivers, which is like the entire population of Pinecrest losing their lives.5,8 A total of 7,397 passengers were killed, which is about equal to everyone in Brooksville. 5,8 A total of 5,282nonoccupants were killed, of which4,378 were pedestrians.8 5,290 motorcyclists and 716 bicyclists lost their lives, which is like everyone in Dade City disappearing overnight. 5,8
In Florida alone, 1,606 vehicle occupants were killed, which was 62.7% of the total traffic fatalities for 2009.6 Young people 16 to 24 years of age represented 21% of all traffic fatalities in 2009.9 Of the 2,563 people who perished on Florida roads, 90 were children aged 15 and under, or 3.5% of the total number of traffic fatalities.9 The older population (age 55+) accounted for 759 deaths, or 28.4% of total fatalities.9
As you have read, there are many factors that contribute to motor vehicle collisions. There are also factors that contribute to how severe the collision is for the people involved, such as failing to use a seatbelt. For example, approximately 59% of the total traffic fatalities in 2009 resulted because people did not wear seat belts.4 50% of child fatalities (birth to age 17) resulted from not wearing seat belts.4
Alcohol and drug impaired driving are also significant factors that contribute to traffic collisions. In 2008, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes nationwide, which amounts to about one-third (32%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.10 Of the 1,347 traffic fatalities among children ages 0 to 14 years nationwide in 2008, about 16% involved an alcohol-impaired driver.10 Of the 216 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2008, about half (99) were riding in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver.10
Speeding is another factor that causes collisions, contributes to the severity of injures, and increases the likelihood of fatalities. In fact, speeding is estimated to cost society $40.4 billion annually, or about $1,281 per second.11 It was a factor in 31% of all fatal crashes nationwide and resulted in 11,674 deaths in 2008.12 As may be expected, young males were the most likely to speed. Of male drivers ages 15 to 20 who were involved in fatal crashes in 2008, 39% were speeding.13 Males also accounted for 71.4% of all traffic fatalities nationwide in 2008.13
*Fun Fact: No horsing around
It is illegal to ride your horse, cow, goat, or any other livestock on the sidewalk in Ormond Beach (OBMC § 5-8). Sorry, but you'll just have to leave them on the farm or in the car—please crack a window if you do.
Although you probably already have this entire chapter memorized by heart and can't wait to tell your friends about all of the exciting things you learned, it never hurts to have a quick review. As you may remember, the term "traffic accident" is misleading because most traffic collisions are preventable. You may also recall that the causes of these collisions are broken down into three categories: the driver, the driving environment, and the vehicle. Traffic collisions cost society billions of dollars, and they claim thousands of lives every year.
In Florida, careless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol are the main causes of motor vehicle collisions. However, other factors such as stress, fatigue, and attitude also play a role. As a driver, there are many things you can do to prevent collisions, such as obeying traffic laws, keeping an appropriate following distance, and not parking your horse on the sidewalk.
1 NHTSA Publication DOT HS 810 809, Traffic Safety Facts 2006, Overview, pages 1-2.
2 Henry H. Bliss Succumbs to His Injuries in Roosevelt Hospital. (1899, September 14). The New York Times, page 1.
3 Florida DHSMV Traffic Crash Facts 2009, Contributing Causes of Drivers in Crashes, page 37.
4 Florida DHSMV Traffic Crash Facts 2009, State of Florida Summary, page 8-9.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File, Matrices PL1 and PL2.
6 Florida DHSMV Traffic Crash Facts 2009, State of Florida Summary, page 8.
7 NHTSA State Traffic Safety Information, Florida, 2006, available at: www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/departments/nrd-30/ncsa/STSI/12_FL/2006/12_FL_2006.htm.
8 NHTSA Publication DOT HS 811 170, Traffic Safety Facts 2008: National Statistics.
9 Florida DHSMV Traffic Crash Facts 2009, Persons in Crashes by Age and Gender, page 21.
10 NHTSA Publication DOT HS 811 170, Traffic Safety Facts 2008: Persons Killed and Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities, by Person Type, pages 113-114.
11 NHTSA Publication DOT HS 809 915, Traffic Safety Facts 2004: Speeding, page 1.
12 NHTSA Publication DOT HS 811 170, Traffic Safety Facts 2008: Speeding, page 175.
13 NHTSA Publication DOT HS 811 218, Traffic Safety Facts, Research Note, Fatal Crashes Involving Young Drivers, pages 1-5.