Motor Vehicle Safety Hazards Overlooked Because of Familiarity

Several months ago I had my first opportunity to fly in a private airplane. A friend of my in-laws invited me and my wife to go to lunch near Austin, Texas.  Just prior to takeoff, I observed him flipping through a booklet and working his way down a checklist. Instinctively, I was curious about what exactly was going through his mind as he perused his plane’s reference manual. After all, my wife and I were putting our lives and safety in his care.

Flying a Sessna Requires Caution

Flying a private airplane requires going through a preparation checklist and being vigilant while in the air.
If driving a car were taken as seriously, there would be much fewer casualties on American roads each year.

The conversation went like this.

“Should I be worried that you’re reading through an instruction manual as we get ready for takeoff?  Don’t you already know that stuff?”

“It isn’t the guy who’s reading through a checklist you should be worried about.  It’s the one who thinks he already knows everything, and who doesn’t refer to his checklist. If you’re ever riding with someone who hops in the pilot seat and begins the flight without going through the preflight routine, that’s when you should be worried!”

Good point.

In many aspects of life, familiarity with a skill can often bring with it a casual attitude that can be dangerous, if not fatal.

So it it is with driving.

In the United States, the number one cause of death from unintentional injuries is motor vehicle crashes.  The most recent “Deaths” report, published by the CDC in 2013, listed motor vehicle crashes as the number one cause of deaths in the United States from unintentional injuries, with 33,804 deaths reported. Just behind motor vehicle crashes are accidental falls, which claimed the lives of just over 30,000 people according to the 2013 report.

Motor vehicle deaths are the most common cause of death from unintentional injury

The CDC report that in its most recent report (from 2013) motor vehicle accidents were the most common cause of deaths in the unintentional injuries category.

Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some of the most common causes of vehicle accidents are:

  • Distracted driving
  • Driver fatigue
  • Drunk driving
  • Speeding
  • Aggressive driving
  • Weather

Aside from weather-related accidents, which could be managed to some extent in many cases by using better judgment about whether and how to drive in poor weather conditions, all of the causes of accidents listed above could be mitigated if there were fewer who felt like a text message was important enough that it had to be sent while operating a car, or whose need for the thrill of speed or lack of planning inspired them to go faster than necessary, or who decided to take one more drink before heading out from the bar.

Until society’s innovators come up with a safety-focused product that saves us all from our own negligence or until society miraculously starts to take seriously each of our responsibilities to pay attention to our driving habits, we can expect that 30,000+ people in the United States will lose their lives each year to accidents that could have been avoided.