A car accident is an incident where an automobile either departs from regular pathway into a ditch, or collides with anything that causes damage to the automobile, including other automobiles, telephone poles, buildings, and trees. Sometimes a car accident may also refer to an automobile striking a human or animal. Car accidents — also called traffic collisions, auto accidents, road accidents, personal injury collisions, motor vehicle accidents, and (particularly by American radio traffic reporters) crashes — kill an estimated 1.2 million people worldwide each year, and injure about forty times this number (WHO, 2004). The term "accident" is considered an inappropriate word by some, as reliable sources estimate that upwards of 90% are the result of driver negligence. In the UK the Department of Transport publish road deaths in each type of car. These statistics are available as "Risk of injury measured by percentage of drivers injured in a two car injury accident."
These statistics show a ten to one ratio of in-vehicle accident deaths between the least safe and most safe models of car.
The statistics show that for popular, lightly built cars, occupants have a 6%-8% chance of death in a two car accident. (e.g. BMW 3 series 6%, Subaru Impreza 8%, Honda Accord 6%). Traditional "safety cars" such as the Volvos halve that chance (Volvo 700 4% incidence of death, Volvo 900 3%).
SUVs are better for their occupants in two-vehicle crashes than 'safety cars', with the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota Land Cruiser giving 2% incidence of occupant death in actual crashes. However, in multiple-vehicle crashes SUVs are probably between three (Bicycle Safety Almanac) and six (International Injury & Fatality Statistics) times more likely to kill the occupant of the other vehicle (car, cyclist, or pedestrian) than cars.
Motorcyclist deaths within England and Wales stand at 53% of the annual road death statistics. Scooters/mopeds up to 50cc only account for 3% of those deaths. 2% of the scooter deaths were 16-19 year olds who had not taken CBT (Compulsory Basic Training). Studies show that the #1 cause of car accidents in North America is automobiles.
(Statistics taken from 2004/2005 DSA annual road deaths percentages)
In the UK, the first person to die in a petrol-driven car collision was a pedestrian, Bridget Driscoll, in 1896. The first driver/passenger deaths occurred on 25 February 1899. A 6 HP Daimler, driven by 31-year-old engineer Edwin Sewell, crashed on Grove Hill, a steeply graded road on the northern slope of Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, now in north-west London. A rear wheel collapsed after breaking its rim and the car hit a sturdy brick wall. Sewell was killed immediately when he and his passenger, a Major Richer, were thrown from the vehicle. Richer died 3 days later in hospital. The spot is now marked with a commemorative plaque.
Responsibility of car manufacturers
A number of books have critically analysed the responsibility of car makers for safety. The most famous is probably Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, and more recently Keith Bradsher's High and Mighty: the dangerous rise of SUVs (in Europe subtitled the world's most dangerous vehicles and how they got that way) has discussed popular concerns with the rise in popularity of the SUV.
Trends in collision statistics
Road toll figures show that car collision fatalities have declined since 1980, with most countries showing a reduction of roughly 50%. This drop appears to confirm the efficacy of safety measures introduced thereafter, assuming that driver behaviour has not changed significantly.
In the United States, fatalities have increased slightly from 40,716 in 1994 to 42,643 in 2003. However, in terms of fatalities per 100 million miles driven, the fatality rate has dropped 16% between 1995 and 2005. Injuries dropped 37% over the same period. (National Traffic Safety Administration, 2006)
It has been noted that road fatality trends closely follow the so-called "Smeed's law" (after RJ Smeed, its author), an empirical rule relating injury rates to the two-thirds power of car ownership levels. Others claim that road safety improvements, not Smeed's law, are the dominant cause of lives saved. An analysis by John Adams can be found here.
Types of collisions
Car accidents fall into several major categories (whose names are self-explanatory):
- Head-on collisions
- Rear-end collisions
- Side collisions
- Single-vehicle collisions
- Multi-vehicle collisions
- Backup accidents
- Level crossing accidents
Collisions can occur with other automobiles, other vehicles such as bicycles or trucks, with pedestrians or large animals (such as moose), and with stationary structures or objects, such as trees or road signs.
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Car collisions often carry legal consequences in proportion to the severity of the accident. Nearly all common law jurisdictions impose some kind of requirement that parties involved in a collision (even with only stationary property) must stop at the scene, and exchange insurance or identification information or summon the police. Failing to obey this requirement is referred to as hit and run and is generally a criminal offence. Most car claims are settled without using an attorney.
Parties involved in an accident may face criminal liability, civil liability, or both. Usually, the state starts a prosecution only if someone is severely injured or killed, or if one of the drivers involved was clearly grossly negligent or intoxicated or otherwise impaired at the time the accident occurred. Charges might include driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, assault with a deadly weapon, manslaughter, or murder; penalties range from fines to jail time to prison time to death (although the death penalty is not applicable in many jurisdictions). It is notable that the penalties for killing and injuring with motor vehicles are often very much less than for other actions with similar outcomes.
As for civil liability, automobile accident personal injury lawsuits have become the most common type of tort. Because these cases have been litigated often in the developed First World nations, the legal questions usually have been answered in prior judgments. So, the courts most usually decide solely the factual questions of who is at fault, and how much they (or their insurer) must pay out in damages to the injured plaintiff.
Another element of liability involves the administrative fines or license suspension/revocation that may be imposed by civil or criminal authorities when a driver has violated the rules of the road and thus the terms of a driver's license. Such complaint may be filed by a police officer or sometimes by other witnesses of an incident.
Rubbernecking is where drivers slow down to look at recent collisions or anything out of the ordinary on the highway. Events ranging from gruesome car accidents to a police car stopped on the shoulder can cause traffic jams on both sides of the road, even if the roadway has been cleared.
Although caution is advised when there is unexpected activity on the side of a road, a car with a flat tire on the side of a highway often causes as much slow down as a real accident would due to rubbernecking. The slowdown in traffic persists even after the accident scene has been cleared if traffic is dense. Traffic experts call this phenomenon a phantom accident. This behaviour can potentially cause additional and sometimes more-serious accidents among the distracted rubberneckers.
Studies have shown some evidence of just how dramatically rubbernecking affects traffic flow, with estimates  being as significant as every minute of actual congestion resulting in 10 minutes of flow-on congestion. Such impact is readily observed in the event of a crash on a major arterial route, where traffic backs up on both sides of the road at roughly equal rates.
Backup accidents happen when a driver reverses their car into an object, person, or another car. Although most cars come equipped with rear view mirrors, which are adequate for detecting vehicles behind a car, they are inadequate on many vehicles for detecting small children or objects close to the ground, which fall in the car's blind spot. Large trucks have much larger blind spots that can hide entire vehicles and large adults.
According to research by Kids and Cars – an organization devoted to preventing (non-traffic) motor-vehicle-related deaths and injuries – 49% of the non-traffic, non-crash fatalities involving children under 15 from 2001-2005 were caused by vehicles backing up.
The CDC reported that from 2001-2003, an estimated 7,475 children (2,492 per year) under the age of 15 were treated for automobile back-over accidents.
In its “Deaths and Injuries Resulting from Certain Non-Traffic and Non-Crash Events,” report issued in May of 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that back-up accidents most often:
- Occur in residential driveways and parking lots
- Involve sport utility vehicles (SUVs) or small trucks
- Occur when a parent, relative or someone known to the family is driving
- Particularly affect children less than five years old
The car backing up and hit an object, a person, or another car is usually considered to be at fault.
Prevention organizations suggest that parents use common sense, and also take safety measures such as installing cross view mirrors, audible collision detectors, rear view video camera and/or some type of reverse backup sensors.
Although many accidents are caused by behavior that is difficult to alter, by mechanical failure, or by road conditions, some technical solutions are becoming more widely available to prevent accidents:
- Proximity monitors: These would automatically detect how close the driver is to the car in front and automatically adjust the car's acceleration to prevent the car from getting closer than the distance in which it can safely stop.
- Sobriety detectors: These locks prevent the ignition key from working if the driver breathes into one and is shown to have consumed alcohol.
- Drifting monitors: These devices monitor how close a vehicle is traveling to lane markers and, if it starts to drift toward or over the markers without the turn signal being activated, sounds an alarm.
- Eye tracking devices: These devices (still in development) will monitor eye closure and driver inattention.
In most developed countries, young (under 25 years old) male drivers have been shown to be by far the most likely to be involved in a car accident, and this has become an area of focus. Reasons suggested for this include inexperience combined with over-confidence, peer pressure, a desire to show off, and even neurological development arguments. In addition most serious accidents occur at night and when the car has multiple occupants. This has led to the following proposals:
- A "curfew" imposed on young drivers to prevent them driving at night.
- Requiring an experienced supervisor to chaperone the less experienced driver.
- Forbidding the carrying of passengers.
- Zero alcohol tolerance.
- Compulsory advanced driving courses.
- Vehicle restrictions (eg. 'high performance' vehicles)
- Requiring a sign placed on the back of the vehicle to notify other drivers of a less-experienced individual in the driver's seat.
Some countries or states have already implemented some of these ideas. This increased risk for the young is known to the insurance companies, and premiums reflect that; however, very high premiums for young male drivers do not seem to have had a significant impact on the accident statistics, suggesting that these drivers simply accept the high premiums as part of the "on road" costs of mobility.
Mortality in USA (2004)
All unintentional injury deaths
Number of deaths: 108,694
Deaths per 100,000 population: 37.0
Cause of death rank: 5
Unintentional fall deaths
Number of deaths: 18,535
Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.3
Unintentional poisoning deaths
Number of deaths: 19,250
Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.6
Motor vehicle traffic deaths
Number of deaths: 46,933
Deaths per 100,000 population: 16.0
How to deal with a car accident
Right after the accident, you should:
- Stop. If you can, move your car to the side of the road or out of the way of oncoming traffic. If you can’t move your car, stay in your car with your seatbelt fastened and wait for help. Warn other drivers with flares and hazard lights.
- Help or get help for injured people.
- Call 911 or the local police department to report the accident.
- Do not say that you caused the accident.
- Exchange the following information with the other
- phone number
- insurance company
- insurance policy number
- driver license number
- license plate number
- Write down:
- description of the other car(s) – year, make, model, and color
- exact location of accident
- how the accident happened
- phone numbers and addresses of witnesses
- Work with the police, but do not admit or accept blame for the accident.
After an accident, you and your parents or guardian should:
- Call or see your doctor if you have any injuries.
- Report the accident to your insurance company.
- Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if you need to report the accident.
- Contact your insurance company and/or a lawyer if you are sued.
- Contact a lawyer if you need legal advice or help making a claim or dealing with your insurance company.
- Car accident attorney
- Unsafe at Any Speed
- Defensive driving
- Crash test dummy
- Vehicle extrication
- Road safety
- Transportation safety in the United States
- Pedestrian Safety Through Vehicle Design
- Roadside memorial
- List of road accidents
- In case of emergency
- Vehicle explosion
- Community database on Accidents on the Roads in Europe CARE
- Car accidents
- U.S. DOT Fatality Analysis Reporting System FARS
- galleries of wrecked vehicles
Modified from Wikipedia's article licensed under GNU FDL