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Why Do Accidents Happen?

Why Do Accidents Happen?

If you are considering applying for a settlement loan from US Direct Advance, chances are you recently survived a car accident and are now requesting an accident loan. Given your recent experience, you might be wondering why accidents happen. What characteristics of a driver contribute to the possibility that he or she will end up in a car accident?

A recent study by Jonathan J. Rolison, Shirley Regev, Salissou Moutari, and Aidan Feeney, researchers at various British universities, asks and attempts to answer these exact questions.

The four researchers were concerned, along with many other road-safety advocates, that police-reported data often mischaracterize factors that contributed to a certain crash. This means that besides recording the obvious and immediate cause of a crash––for example, switching lanes without checking a blind spot––officers are asked to speculate on what factors might have contributed to an accident. To do so, they may consider a driver’s age and his or her experience with driving.

Rolison, Regev, Moutari, and Feeney thus conducted three studies. The first two asked ordinary drivers, like you, as well as police officers, to suggest possible reasons for why a hypothetical crash might occur. In the third study, the researchers looked at the actual data. They then compared what they found to drivers’ and officers’ responses.

Why are contributing factors important? They help public-safety boards and lawmakers craft policies to keep you safe on the road. For example, if a number of crashes occurred in part because of what officers believed to be young, inexperienced drivers, the minimum driving age might be raised, or more restrictions could be placed on young drivers. In addition to legal policy, the reported contributing factors could affect insurance rates. They also could affect how much you can expect to win in a settlement, and whether US Direct Advance will grant you a lawsuit loan.

Other studies have shown that young drivers get into crashes because of “excessive speed, loss of control, and failure to detect another vehicle or traffic control” according to teenagers who were interviewed for such studies. Rolison, Regev, Moutari, and Feeney believe that, for young drivers, “inexperience, lack of skill, and risk taking behaviors” play a major contributing role in accidents. Additionally, it has been shown that not only age, but also gender plays an important role in determining whether a driver will get into an accident. Young men are more prone to accidents than young women, and insurance rates reflect that disparity.

Young men are prone to more accidents than young woman, which impacts insurance rates.

While young drivers are responsible for the most accidents according to how many young drivers are on the road, another group of drivers to look out for is older drivers. These drivers could be at higher risk of either failing to see or failing to understand road signs, other drivers’ directions, and other vehicles. Older drivers are also more likely to have a medical condition or to be on drugs that impair their ability to drive.

Some factors are less objective. While blood-alcohol level and presence of psychoactive medications in the bloodstream are relatively easy for an on-site police officer to verify, it is more difficult for an officer who arrives at a crash site minutes after a collision to demonstrate that one or more of the drivers involved in the accident were using cell phones. Texting while driving is obviously a factor in collisions––it’s pinpointing which ones that is the problem for driving-safety officials.

Rolison, Regev, Moutari, and Feeney hoped to paint a picture of what officers believed to be common contributing factors based on hypothetical cases in order to compare that data to official data. This, in theory, would show the four researchers when certain contributing factors go underreported. Still, the researchers understood that stereotypes would play a role in both the views of the general public and even those of experienced traffic officers, so they had to adjust for that.

Previous studies have found that witnesses are better able to remember information when that information accords to what they would have expected. In other words, a person would not make up that in all 10 accidents she has witnessed that involved a teenage boy, the boy was speeding. But she might only recall that in seven cases the boy was speeding; in the other three, she might forget what the cause of the accident was because if it was not speeding, then it did not accord to her preconceived expectations.

In addition, sometimes, when the facts are extremely unusual, the witness may remember them especially. So our witness might recall seven cases in which the teenage male driver was speeding and one other case in which he was distracted because he was applying lipstick. The unusual circumstances ensured that this case, precisely because it disagreed with her expectations so much, was recalled when another two, which did not accord with expectations but which were not especially shocking, did not.

Though experienced police officers are less likely to expect stereotypes (or be shocked by anti-stereotypes) than the general public, their enhanced recall abilities may be counteracted by the sheer number of tasks they are expected to perform upon arrival at an accident site. (Some time could pass between when a police officer witnesses the aftermath of a crash and when she files her report, which could happen hours later when she gets back to the police station.)

The researchers’ first two studies both focused on officers and ordinary drivers. The first study asked the two groups to suggest contributing factors based on information they were given on hypothetical crashes. The second asked them to rate the likelihood that one of the contributing factors these groups suggested contributed to a crash involving a driver of a particular age or gender.

The First Study

The researchers live and study in the United Kingdom, so their study focused on police officers in England, though, presumably, the data they found would hold true in the United States as well. They used 77 officers and 102 non-police drivers in the study. The hypothetical accidents could involve a driver of either gender. The driver could be young, middle aged, or older. Then, the researchers asked the officers and drivers what they thought the contributing factors to the accident might be.

Police officers are better able to determine the factors of an accident than the public is.

Scenarios differed in the number of vehicles involved, whether one or both drivers were injured, how old and what gender the driver at fault was, and the time of day that the accident occurred. So, one of the scenarios could have been, “A driver is involved in a single-car collision. The driver is seriously injured. The driver is a young driver aged between

17 and 20 years and is male. The collision occurred during the night between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.” Researchers then asked participants, both officers and ordinary drivers, to list up to six factors that they believed could have contributed to the hypothetical accident in question.

The factors could include the condition of the road, the condition of the vehicle, misjudgment or risky driving on the driver’s part, distraction, and impairment to vision. Some of these factors can be judged objectively, such as the condition of the vehicle. Others, such as whether the driver was driving riskily, were more subjective. For example, though speed is objective, one officer might consider five miles per hour over the speed limit to not have contributed to the accident, which another might consider it a contributing factor.

As might be expected, police officers were more likely to be able to come up with different contributing factors than the general public, probably because looking for clues as to why an accident might have occurred is critical to their job. Regular drivers, meanwhile, might know the telltale signs of an accident that occurred because a driver was driving under the influence, but may not be able to distinguish between an accident that occurred as a result of vision impairment as opposed to distraction. In either case, the driver was not paying attention to the road, so a person would have to have had a lot of experience with accidents to find clues that would inform one way or another. (Time does not help in this regard: If the accident occurred during the day, the sun could have been the culprit; if the accident occurred at night, it could have been another driver with his or her brights on.) In addition to officers being better able to name potential contributing factors, the more experienced an officer, the more likely she was to be able to name more factors, which, for the reasons mentioned above, makes sense.

So what were the results of the first study? In the police officers’ results, males and females were usually judged about the same as each other. The difference came with age. For example, officers commonly attributed younger drivers’ accidents to the influence of drugs or alcohol, or to speed. On the other end of the spectrum, medical condition was the most common contributing factor cited for the elderly, though police considered it for younger drivers as well (that category includes impairment due to certain medications). No officers attributed a younger driver’s accident to uncorrected or defective eyesight, but that was a fairly common reason cited for the elderly. Generally, contributing factors that are often associated with young drivers, like distraction, were cited most often for young drivers, followed by middle-aged drivers, followed by older drivers. Contributing factors that are often associated with older drivers, like medical condition, were cited most often for the elderly, followed by the middle aged, followed by youth. Fatigue was one category in which the middle aged led, presumably because they out of the three groups were most likely to work.

The contributing factors that the driving public cited were fairly similar. They were, however, much more likely to attribute the accident to the fault of the other driver or a third party. This makes sense, as the driving public would like to blame accidents on anyone but themselves, while police are likely to be more impartial in that respect. Police were more likely to attribute the accident to drugs or alcohol. Police officers also more often cited speeding, inexperience, distraction, and medical conditions than the public.

The time of day influenced contributing factors as well. Drugs or alcohol were cited more often when the accident took place during the night, and error and distraction were cited more often during the evening.

How did they do? Actual road records from the United Kingdom most often cited “failure to look properly, loss of control, and failure to judge another person’s path or speed” across the board—for all ages and genders. None of those factors made the top of police officers’ or regular drivers’ lists. Inexperience was commonly cited in real life as well as in the study. Additionally, study participants were more likely to cite distraction when the driver was female, but on the road, females were no more likely than males to have been distracted on the road. Study participants also usually cited cell phone use as the cause of the distraction, but on the road, distraction more often referred to distractions inside the vehicle and on the road—not in a person’s hand. Participants were also right in attributing more DUIs to males than females, as well as increasing the likelihood of driving with a medical condition or impaired vision as the driver ages.

The Second Study

This time, instead of asking an open-ended question on what contributed to the accident, researchers gave a new set of participants suggestions culled from those offered by the group from the first study. The new participants’ answers reflected those of the participants from the first study: More believed a male driver would drive under the influence than a female driver, and the likelihood of medical impairment or uncorrected or impaired vision increased with driver age. The one major difference between the two studies was that in the last, officers were more likely than the public to name several factors, but when prompted with options, the public more often than police officers cited those factors.

The Third Study

The third study tested a new group of officers’ and non-officers’ ability to recall information, which is analogous to having to recall contributing factors from the time of arrival at the scene of an accident until the officer returns to the police station. They were shown 12 scenarios and, this time, they were told what an officer at the scene had determined to be a contributing factor to the accident. They also had to remember the details of the scenario.

The frequency of correct recalls, both among police and among the public, was staggeringly low. They were also clearly biased by the participant’s expectations, as the researchers had suspected. For example, inexperience was most often recalled for the young (the expected scenario) and the elderly (the surprising scenario), but it was forgotten most often among the middle aged. Both officers and the public were least likely to recall when a young driver had a medical condition or uncorrected eyesight.

The Conclusion

The findings showed exactly what researchers had feared: Not only do officers often forget the true contributing causes to an accident (correct recall was under 50 percent for every single scenario), but their ability to recall is also very subject to influence from what they would expect based on age, gender, and time of day, rather than the true contributing factors cited at the scene of the accident. The researchers believe that to mitigate the effect prejudice and forgetfulness have on police officers’ reporting the contributing factors, officers ought to be required to file reports with contributing factors at the scene of the accident, rather than requiring them to fill out those forms at the station. The researchers hope that by doing so, officers will be able to report more accurate data from the accident scene. Those data are used by road-safety regulators to ensure that they do everything they can. For example, if cell phone use were cited often, regulators might push for laws that ban speaking on a cell phone while driving. If alcohol use is mentioned often, they might encourage lawmakers to lower the blood-alcohol limit. Thus, the researchers’ findings have real-world application and are not only limited to theoretical discussions about the role of bias and humans’ forgetful memories. If accident-safety reports are more accurate, the roads could be made safer.

But if you’re coming to US Direct Advance, it’s likely too late for those changes to be made. Maybe you were hit by a driver who was distracted, and more accurate reports could have prevented it. In the meantime, though, US Direct Advance will provide you with lawsuit funding. Before issuing pre-settlement loans, we consider aspects of your case mentioned in the police report. Once we have issued settlement funding, the lawsuit loan will allow you to continue living your life while your case is pending. Fill out an application for a pre-settlement cash advance as soon as possible after you retain a lawyer.

Reference: Jonathan J. Rolison, Shirley Regev, Salissou Moutari, Aidan Feeney, “What are the factors that contribute to road accidents? An assessment of law enforcement views, ordinary drivers’ opinions, and road accident records,” Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 115, 2018, Pages 11-24, ISSN 0001-4575, 2018.02.025.

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