Unsafe Behaviors

Why Do People Have Accidents?



It’s the end of January in Northeast Ohio and winter weather is doing its worst. Driving into work, I experience flash whiteouts, snow packed down slick on the road, and ice that can make an all-wheel drive pick-up do a pirouette. It more than doubles my commute. And, just when I think it can’t get any worse, someone starts tailgating me. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am.

Blame Unsafe Behaviors

Tailgating in adverse conditions is outright dumb and often leads to accidents. This bad behavior frustrates me, and my frustrations only increase when the news blames winter accidents on bad weather time and time again. Blaming conditions or the environment ignores the fact that people cause all accidents. How so? The short answer is unsafe behavior. The long answer—and the more important answer if you want to prevent accidents—is threefold: people have accidents because people fail to pay attention, people exceed their performance capabilities, and people develop patterns of unsafe behavior.

Pay Better Attention

The first part is simple. When I stub my toe, I might get mad and blame the chair for being pulled out from the table. That doesn’t do me any good, though. The reality is I should have been paying better attention. When someone causes an accident because they were texting and driving, clearly they should have been watching the road. People have accidents when they fail to pay attention to the task at hand.

Too Much, Too Little

If I had to guess, the person tailgating me in the snow was paying attention. In fact, they were probably fixated on me and frustrated with how I was stopping them from zooming down an icy road (you’re welcome!!!) Their bad behavior is an example of exceeding performance capabilities. People have accidents when they try to do too much with too little. When you leave too little following distance, you increase the risk of rear-ending the car in front of you. You’d be incapable of stopping in time if you needed to.

Risk to Reward

The third and final reason that explains why people have accidents is a little trickier to pinpoint. People develop unsafe patterns of behavior when they take a risk and it pays off time and time again. I’d put my money on the fact that the person tailgating me repeatedly does that. They get the reward of not having to be patient. They were probably also never in a rear-end collision as a result of tailgating. If they were, I hope they’d connect the dots. It’s incredibly short-sighted, but we fall into a pattern of taking a certain risk because we haven’t had an accident. Thus, the reward of that risk is worthwhile to us. 300:29:1, though, tells us we’re playing with fire. Eventually all bad behaviors will lead to a serious accident.

Understand Why Accidents Happen

Forbes shared an interesting article years ago on the most dangerous time of the year to drive. It came out in 2009 so it’s outdated as valid statistical analysis, but its findings are still illuminating. There are actually more accidents in the summer than in the winter. Think about that the next time you hear the news blame an accident on bad weather. If accidents really happened due to exclusively the environment, wouldn’t we all be doomed come first snow fall? We are directly in control of whether or not we have an accident. By defining and understanding the three reasons people have accidents, we can begin to eliminate our bad behavior and live safer and happier lives.