80% of accidents driver inattention


Police will probably never know for sure why a car carrying four Ashland sisters drifted into the opposite lane April 17 and struck a loaded logging truck. All four sisters, ranging in age from three to 16, died in the tragedy.

But the odds are that driver distraction played a role.

A government study released last week found that nearly eight of 10 collisions or near-crashes involved a lack of attention from drivers in the moments before impact.

The study was unique because researchers were able to review thousands of hours of video and data from more than 200 drivers, and then pinpoint why drivers went off the road, ran red lights or mysteriously slammed into the rear ends of stopped cars.

Data from previous studies of police reports estimated that only 25 percent of accidents were the result of driver inattention. But drivers are often not completely candid with police officers after an accident.

Vehicles themselves have become safer and more reliable over the years, and accidents rarely result from mechanical failures. Highways, meanwhile, have become safer as roads are rebuilt incorporating modern safety standards. And, finally, medical trauma treatment today is lightyears ahead of what it was 30 or 40 years ago.

The happy result is that fewer people now die in accidents per million miles traveled than ever before. But, that’s certainly not because drivers themselves have become more skilled or safety conscious.

Most cars today accelerate faster than ever before, and most vehicles are quiet and come equipped with air conditioning. The result: vehicles are comfortable, but drivers and passengers tend to become insulated from the speeds their vehicles are traveling.

Worse, drivers are dealing with more and more distractions. They are often juggling cell phones, reaching for rolling water bottles, putting on makeup, fiddling with the radio or CD player, monitoring a GPS map device or even reading behind the wheel.

The most often result: near-misses and minor fender-benders. But, too often, vehicles strike fixed objects, drift into oncoming traffic, pull out in front of approaching traffic without looking, or strike a pedestrian.

Thousands of people each year die, thousands more suffer disabling injuries.

And it’s unclear that new laws would make a difference. Cell phones are always an obvious target, but there are many other distractions in the cockpit of a car.

As sad as stories about fatal vehicle accidents are, they at least serve as a sobering reminder to drivers that driving requires full-time attention to the task at hand.