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Why Do Accidents Occur?


When you train your light-duty and non-CDL vehicle drivers to prevent accidents, you save money, become a more efficient company, and protect your people. Of course, before we can talk about preventing accidents, we have to talk about why accidents occur.

In this article, we’ll answer three key questions:

  • What is safety?
  • What are accidents?
  • Why do accidents happen?

When you and your drivers understand these questions, you can begin to prevent accidents for your company.

What is Safety?

We define safety as “freedom from risk.” When we are free from risk, we’re safe. And, we define risk as “the possibility of suffering harm or loss.”

However, we can never be 100% free from risk. Risk is all around us. Even sitting at home or in your office reading this article, you’re not 100% free from risk.

That doesn’t mean we’re hopeless to suffer. It just means we should do everything we can to reduce risk. For companies that put employees behind the wheel, that means:

For drivers, doing everything possible to reduce means many things. But it can be summed up as being a defensive driver.

So, companies and drivers can take actions to reduce their risk. What happens when we fail to reduce risk, though? 

Accidents happen.

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What Are Accidents?

We use a four-part definition for accidents. An accident is:

  • An unplanned event that . . .
  • Disrupts activity . . .
  • Involves or affects people . . .
  • And has a cause

An accident can be as simple as stubbing your toe on a piece of furniture. It was unplanned because you certainly didn’t intend to. It disrupts activity because it stops you for a moment from getting to where you were going. It involves or affects people because it caused you pain. And it has a cause, such as walking around with the lights out or not watching where you were going.

Of course, an accident can be much more severe than that. An accident can involve someone running a stop sign and t-boning a family’s minivan, sending people to the hospital. It was unplanned because the person didn’t intend to get in a serious wreck. It disrupts the activity of everyone involved, everyone using the roads who will now be delayed, and the folks who need to respond to the accident. It involves or affects people because people are hurt in the collision. And it was caused by the unsafe behavior of running a stop sign.

Why Do Accidents Happen?

The most important part of the definition to understand is that accidents are caused. To be more specific, they’re caused by people and their unsafe behavior. There are thousands of unsafe behaviors that can cause an accident. Just think about what could go wrong while you’re driving.

You could cause an accident if you:

  • Text and drive
  • Speed
  • Follow someone too closely
  • Change lanes without looking
  • Back without getting out and looking around your vehicle
  • Go through an intersection without looking around for risk

These are all unsafe behaviors that are likely to cause an accident. There are many, many more. To make it easier, we’ve created three broad categories that all unsafe behaviors fit into.

People have accidents when they:

  1. Fail to pay attention
  2. Exceed their performance capabilities
  3. Develop patterns of unsafe behavior

Every single accident that has ever happened to someone was caused by one or a combination of these reasons. Let’s take them each one at a time.

1. People Fail to Pay Attention

This is the easiest one to understand. People cause accidents when they fail to pay attention. People text and drive. People daydream while behind the wheel. People talk to their passengers instead of looking at the road.

These are all examples of failing to pay attention, and they all cause accidents every day.

2. People Exceed Their Performance Capabilities

People cause accidents when they exceed their performance capabilities. Or, in other words, people cause accidents when they try to do too much with too little.

For example, when you speed, drive too fast for the road conditions, drive without your headlights on at night, or follow someone too closely, you are exceeding your performance capabilities. You’re putting yourself in a situation where you are likely to cause an accident.

3. People Develop Patterns of Unsafe Behavior

Lastly, people cause accidents when they develop patterns of unsafe behavior. We often get a little reward for taking risk. When we speed, we get somewhere faster. When we tailgate, we bully someone out of our way. When we text and drive, we get to respond to our friends immediately.

The more we get away with it, the more cemented that behavior becomes. We get the reward so we figure we can keep doing it. What’s the harm? The harm is that, eventually, we won’t get away with it. We’ll cause an accident.

That’s not just a platitude, either. When you or your drivers fall into a pattern of unsafe behavior, it’s guaranteed that an accident will eventually happen. It’s proven in the scientific theory of 300:29:1

We don’t have time to cover 300:29:1 in this article, so for now, just know that eventually luck runs out. A pattern of unsafe behavior always leads to an accident.

How Do You Prevent Accidents?

This is the golden question. We’ve covered what safety is, what risk is, what accidents are, and why accidents happen. So, how do we prevent them?

You prevent accidents by reducing unsafe behavior.

Reducing unsafe behaviors isn’t always as simple as it sounds. You need a selection and hiring process that helps you only hire safe, risk-averse employees. You need an on-boarding system to teach new employees about safety. And, you need to train employees on defensive driving and injury-prevention strategies.

The latter is usually the best place to start. When you invest in an off-the-shelf safety training program like The Fleet Safety Course, it’s easy to implement professional safety training to educate your employees.

Once your employees understand what they need to do to prevent accidents, you can enjoy all the benefits that come with reduced cost of loss and incidents.

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