Let’s start by recalling what we mean by “preventable” accidents – those accidents that can be avoided in spite of any adverse driving conditions and in spite of any unsafe practices on the part of the driver who caused the accident. The key to preventing such accidents is a driver’s consistent adherence to the National Safety Council’s techniques for driving defensively, skills that should serve as the foundation for all employers’ driver training programs.
Previously, we explained how accidents can be prevented by crossing intersections correctly, passing vehicles safely, and maintaining a proper driving distance from other vehicles. Now we’ll look at similarly challenging situations and explain how drivers can keep themselves and their vehicles safe.
“The Vehicle Came at Me from Nowhere!”
Typically, an accident in which a driver is struck head-on by an oncoming vehicle that seems to “come from nowhere” is thought of as unavoidable. But accident investigators, after determining the exact locations of the vehicles before and at impact, can usually tell if it was possible for the vehicle that was struck to have avoided the collision.
Say, for example, a vehicle strikes another, head-on, as a result of a foolhardy passing attempt on a two-lane road. Investigators will try to determine if the driver who was struck could have prevented the accident by:
- Moving to the right;
- Slowing down or stopping;
- Flashing headlights; or
- Sounding the horn.
While fault may be readily assigned to the vehicle attempting the reckless pass, such a determination does not mean the other driver could not have taken action to prevent the accident.
Pedestrians: Do They Always Have Right of Way?
Accident review findings generally uphold the assessment of fault to a driver who strikes a pedestrian. But what about when the pedestrian “jaywalks” by dashing out from between parked cars? Or recklessly crosses a busy street? Are accidents caused by heedless pedestrians preventable?
Yes. School zones, residential streets, and other areas with regular pedestrian traffic must be traveled at speeds appropriate to the situation, and that usually means below the posted limits. Similar logic applies with regard to bicycles, scooters, and other slower-moving modes of transportation; since these vehicles are often driven by young, less experienced drivers, operators of cars and trucks must reduce their speed when such vehicles are within sight distance.
Ultimately, the failure to take necessary driving precautions when the presence of pedestrians calls for reduced driving speeds may result in preventable accidents.
Turn, Turn, Turn
It’s no surprise that, along with passing maneuvers, executing turns generally requires the most care on the part of drivers. Since the driver making the turn is in control of both the vehicle and the situation, the turning driver is also expected to prevent accidents by:
- Never squeezing out other vehicles, scooters, bicycles, or pedestrians;
- Signaling all turns;
- Positioning the vehicle properly when turning;
- Never making illegal or unsafe U-turns;
- Checking pedestrian and bike lanes before turning; and
- Taking any defensive actions required by the situation.
Other Preventable Accidents
Beyond the obvious challenges inherent in crossing intersections, passing, and turning, there are other driving situations in which accidents are also likely to be judged preventable, such as when drivers fail to:
- Adjust to adverse weather conditions, including rain, snow, fog, ice, etc., or avoid such conditions entirely;
- Issue or heed warning signals when encountering traffic near alleys, driveways, and other specialized intersections;
- Properly judge clearances of fixed objects (unfamiliarity with the area or the driving conditions is not, by itself, a valid excuse);
- Safely park a vehicle by leaving it in the wrong gear (possibly resulting in a roll-away), double-parking the vehicle, leaving the wheels turned in the wrong direction, leaving it unlocked and accessible, etc.; and
- Obtain needed repairs to a vehicle with detectable problems, resulting in mechanical failures, breakdowns, and unsafe operation.
After educating your organization’s drivers on standards of accident preventability, you might be asked the question:
“So is an accident ever not preventable?”
The best, and perhaps the only, answer to this question is to remind drivers that while it is impossible to list every way that accidents can be avoided, the following standards will always be applied when their driving is evaluated:
- Make allowances for other drivers’ lack of skill and improper driving habits;
- Adjust their driving to the current weather, road, and traffic conditions;
- Compensate for the unsafe actions of pedestrians;
- Remain alert to accident-producing situations and take every precaution to avoid accidents; and
- Know when they must yield right of way, slow down, or stop to avoid being involved in accidents.
Only by maintaining and enforcing high standards for your drivers will you be able to maintain low commercial auto insurance rates.