A traffic collision, also known as a motor vehicle collision (MVC), traffic accident, motor vehicle accident, car accident, automobile accident, road traffic collision, road traffic accident, wreck, car crash, or car smash occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris, or other stationary obstruction, such as a tree or utility pole. Traffic collisions may result in injury, death and property damage.
A number of factors contribute to the risk of collision, including vehicle design, speed of operation, road design, road environment, driver skill and/or impairment, and driver behavior. Worldwide, motor vehicle collisions lead to death and disability as well as financial costs to both society and the individuals involved.
Road injuries resulted in 1.4 million deaths in 2013 up from 1.1 million deaths in 1990. About 68,000 of these occurred in children less than five years old.
Causes such as:
- Motor vehicle speed
- Driver impairment
- Physical impairment
- Old age
- Sleep deprivation
- Drug use
- Combination of factors
- Road design
- Vehicle design and maintenance
- Center of gravity
Motor vehicle speed
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration review research on traffic speed in 1998. The summary states:
That the evidence shows that the risk of having a crash is increased both for vehicles traveling slower than the average speed, and for those traveling above the average speed.
That the risk of being injured increases exponentially with speeds much faster than the median speed.
That the severity/lethality of a crash depends on the vehicle speed change at impact.
That there is limited evidence that suggests that lower speed limits result in lower speeds on a system wide basis.
That most crashes related to speed involve speed too fast for the conditions.
That more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of traffic calming.
The Road and Traffic Authority (RTA) of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) asserts speeding (traveling too fast for the prevailing conditions or above the posted speed limit) is a factor in about 40 percent of road deaths. The RTA also say speeding increases the risk of a crash and its severity. On another web page, the RTA qualify their claims by referring to one specific piece of research from 1997, and stating “research has shown that the risk of a crash causing death or injury increases rapidly, even with small increases above an appropriately set speed limit.”
The contributory factor report in the official British road casualty statistics show for 2006, that “exceeding speed limit” was a contributory factor in 5% of all casualty crashes (14% of all fatal crashes), and that “traveling too fast for conditions” was a contributory factor in 11% of all casualty crashes (18% of all fatal crashes).
Driver impairment describes factors that prevent the driver from driving at their normal level of skill. Common impairments include:
Relative risk of an accident based on blood alcohol levels.
This statistic includes any and all vehicular (including bicycle and motorcycle) accidents in which any alcohol has been consumed, or believed to have been consumed, by the driver, a passenger or a pedestrian associated with the accident. Thus, if a person who has consumed alcohol and has stopped for a red light is rear-ended by a completely sober but inattentive driver, the accident is listed as alcohol-related, although alcohol had nothing to do with causing the accident. Furthermore, if a sober motorist hits a drunk pedestrian, the accident is also listed as alcohol-related. Alcohol-related accidents are often mistakenly confused with alcohol-caused accidents. Many have criticized the NHTSA for compiling this statistic since it gives the impression that drunk drivers cause a much higher percentage of accidents and does not accurately reflect the problem of drunk driving in the United States.
Nationally, 12.8% of all drivers involved in fatal accidents during 2001 are known to have been intoxicated according to the blood alcohol concentration (BAC laws) of their state. This number is based on a systematic examination of the official records of each and every accident involving a fatality during that year in the US. However, a majority of fatalities resulting from car accidents involving alcohol are from sober drivers who are hit by drunk drivers.
The higher number (about 40%) commonly reported refers to accidents defined as alcohol-related as estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Poor eyesight and/or physical impairment, with many jurisdictions setting simple sight tests and/or requiring appropriate vehicle modifications before being allowed to drive;
Insurance statistics demonstrate a notably higher incidence of accidents and fatalities among drivers aged in their teens or early twenties, with insurance rates reflecting this data. These drivers have the highest incidence of both accidents and fatalities among all driver age groups, a fact that was observed well before the advent of mobile phones.
Females in this age group exhibit somewhat lower accident and fatality rates than males but still register well above the median for drivers of all ages. Also within this group, the highest accident incidence rate occurs within the first year of licensed driving. For this reason many US states have enacted a zero-tolerance policy wherein receiving a moving violation within the first six months to one year of obtaining a license results in automatic license suspension. No US state allows fourteen year-olds to obtain drivers licenses any longer.
Old age, with some jurisdictions requiring driver retesting for reaction speed and eyesight after a certain age;
Including some prescription drugs, over the counter drugs (notably antihistamines, opioids and muscarinic antagonists), and illegal drugs.
Research suggests that the driver’s attention is affected by distracting sounds such as conversations and operating a mobile phone while driving. Many jurisdictions now restrict or outlaw the use of some types of phone within the car. Recent research conducted by British scientists suggests that music can also have an effect; classical music is considered to be calming, yet too much could relax the driver to a condition of distraction. On the other hand, hard rock may encourage the driver to step on the acceleration pedal, thus creating a potentially dangerous situation on the road.
Combinations of factors
Several conditions can combine to create a much worse situation, for example:
Combining low doses of alcohol and cannabis has a more severe effect on driving performance than either cannabis or alcohol in isolation, or
Taking recommended doses of several drugs together, which individually do not cause impairment, may combine to bring on drowsiness or other impairment. This could be more pronounced in an elderly person whose renal function is less efficient than a younger person’s.
Thus there are situations when a person may be impaired, but still legally allowed to drive, and becomes a potential hazard to themselves and other road users. Pedestrians or cyclists are affected in the same way and can similarly jeopardize themselves or others when on the road.
Main articles: Highway engineering and Road safety
A potential long fall stopped by an early guardrail, ca. 1920. Guardrails, median barriers, or other physical objects can help reduce the consequences of an accident or minimize damage.
A 1985 US study showed that about 34% of serious crashes had contributing factors related to the roadway or its environment. Most of these crashes also involved a human factor. The road or environmental factor was either noted as making a significant contribution to the circumstances of the crash, or did not allow room to recover. In these circumstances it is frequently the driver who is blamed rather than the road; those reporting the accident have a tendency to overlook the human factors involved, such as the subtleties of design and maintenance that a driver could fail to observe or inadequately compensate for.
Research has shown that careful design and maintenance, with well-designed intersections, road surfaces, visibility and traffic control devices, can result in significant improvements in accident rates.
Individual roads also have widely differing performance in the event of an impact.
Vehicle design and maintenance
Research has shown that, across all collision types, it is less likely that seat belts were worn in collisions involving death or serious injury, rather than light injury; wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by about two thirds. Seat belt use is controversial, with notable critics such as Professor John Adams suggesting that their use may lead to a net increase in road casualties due to a phenomenon known as risk compensation.
A well-designed and well-maintained vehicle, with good brakes, tires and well-adjusted suspension will be more controllable in an emergency and thus be better equipped to avoid collisions. Some mandatory vehicle inspection schemes include tests for some aspects of roadworthiness, such as the UK’s MOT test or German TÜV conformance inspection.
The design of vehicles has also evolved to improve protection after collision, both for vehicle occupants and for those outside of the vehicle. Much of this work was led by automotive industry competition and technological innovation, leading to measures such as Saab’s safety cage and reinforced roof pillars of 1946, Ford´s 1956 Lifeguard safety package, and Saab and Volvo’s introduction of standard fit seatbelts in 1959. Other initiatives were accelerated as a reaction to consumer pressure, after publications such as Ralph Nader’s 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed accused motor manufacturers of indifference towards safety.
In the early 1970s British Leyland started an intensive program of vehicle safety research, producing a number of prototype experimental safety vehicles demonstrating various innovations for occupant and pedestrian protection such as air bags, anti-lock brakes, impact-absorbing side-panels, front and rear head restraints, run-flat tires, smooth and deformable front-ends, impact-absorbing bumpers, and retractable headlamps. Design has also been influenced by government legislation, such as the Euro NCAP impact test.
Common features designed to improve safety include thicker pillars, safety glass, interiors with no sharp edges, stronger bodies, other active or passive safety features, and smooth exteriors to reduce the consequences of an impact with pedestrians.
Center of gravity
Some crash types tend to have more serious consequences. Rollovers have become more common in recent years, perhaps due to increased popularity of taller SUVs, people carriers, and minivans, which have a higher center of gravity than standard passenger cars. Rollovers can be fatal, especially if the occupants are ejected because they were not wearing seat belts (83% of ejections during rollovers were fatal when the driver did not wear a seat belt, compared to 25% when they did). After a new design of Mercedes Benz notoriously failed a ‘moose test’ (sudden swerving to avoid an obstacle), some manufacturers enhanced suspension using stability control linked to an anti-lock braking system to reduce the likelihood of rollover. After retrofitting these systems to its models in 1999–2000, Mercedes saw its models involved in fewer crashes.
Now, about 40% of new US vehicles, mainly the SUVs, vans and pickup trucks that are more susceptible to rollover, are being produced with a lower center of gravity and enhanced suspension with stability control linked to its anti-lock braking system to reduce the risk of rollover and meet US federal requirements that mandate anti-rollover technology by September 2011.
Motorcyclists have little protection other than their clothing; this difference is reflected in the casualty statistics, where they are more than twice as likely to suffer severely after a collision. In 2005 there were 198,735 road crashes with 271,017 reported casualties on roads in Great Britain. This included 3,201 deaths (1.1%) and 28,954 serious injuries (10.7%) overall. Of these casualties 178,302 (66%) were car users and 24,824 (9%) were motorcyclists, of whom 569 were killed (2.3%) and 5,939 seriously injured (24%).
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