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A car accident or car crash is an incident in which an automobile collides with anything that causes damage to the automobile, including other automobiles, telephone poles, buildings or trees, or in which the driver loses control of the vehicle and damages it in some other way, such as driving into a ditch or rolling over. Sometimes a car accident may also refer to an automobile striking a human or animal. Car crashes — also called road traffic accidents (RTAs), traffic collisions, auto accidents, road accidents, personal injury collisions, motor vehicle accidents (MVAs), — kill an estimated 1.2 million people worldwide each year, and injure about forty times this number (WHO, 2004). In the UK the Department of Transport publish road deaths in each type of vehicle. These statistics are available as "Risk of injury measured by percentage of drivers injured in a two car injury accident." These statistics show a ten to one ratio of in-vehicle accident deaths between the least safe and most safe models of car.
The statistics show that for popular, lightly built cars, occupants have a 6–8% chance of death in a two-car accident. (e.g. BMW 3 series 6%, Subaru Impreza 8%, Honda Accord 6%). Traditional "safety cars" such as the Volvos halve that chance (Volvo 700 4% incidence of death, Volvo 900 3%).
The Toyota Land Cruiser SUV has a 6% incidence of occupant death in actual crashes. However, in multiple-vehicle crashes SUVs are not much more lethal than passenger cars.
Although, rollovers are much more common in older SUVs as compared to passenger cars because of their top weight. For this reason SUVs actually post a greater threat to rollover and cause a fatality rather than passenger cars. Newer SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 have a lower center of gravity and enhanced stability control programs which lower the risk of rollover substantially.
Motorcyclist deaths within England and Wales stand at 53% of the annual road death statistics. Scooters/mopeds up to 50cc only account for 3% of those deaths. 2% of the scooter deaths were 16–19 year olds who had not taken CBT (Compulsory Basic Training). (Statistics taken from 2004/2005 DSA annual road deaths percentages)
Trends in collision statistics
Road toll figures show that car collision fatalities have declined since 1980, with most countries showing a reduction of roughly 50%. This drop appears to confirm the efficacy of safety measures introduced thereafter, assuming that driver behaviour has not changed significantly.
In the United States, fatalities have increased slightly from 40,716 in 1994 to 42,884 in 2003. However, in terms of fatalities per 100 million miles driven, the fatality rate has dropped 16% between 1995 and 2005. Injuries dropped 37% over the same period. (National Traffic Safety Administration, 2006)
It has been noted that road fatality trends closely follow the so-called "Smeed's law" (after RJ Smeed, its author), an empirical rule relating injury rates to the two-thirds power of car ownership levels. An analysis by John Adams can be found here.
Car collisions usually carry legal consequences in proportion to the severity of the crash. Nearly all common law jurisdictions impose some kind of requirement that parties involved in a collision (even with only stationary property) must stop at the scene, and exchange insurance or identification information or summon the police. Failing to obey this requirement is referred to as hit and run and is generally a criminal offence. Most car claims are settled without using an attorney.
Parties involved in an incident may face criminal liability, civil liability, or both. Usually, the state starts a prosecution only if someone is severely injured or killed, or if one of the drivers involved was clearly grossly negligent or intoxicated or otherwise impaired at the time the accident occurred. Charges might include driving under the influence of alcohol or drug, assault with a deadly weapon, manslaughter, or murder; penalties range from fines to jail time to prison time to death (although the death penalty is not applicable in many jurisdictions). It is notable that the penalties for killing and injuring with motor vehicles are often very much less than for other actions with similar outcomes.
As for civil liability, automobile accident personal injury lawsuits have become the most common type of tort. Because these cases have been litigated often in the developed First World nations, the legal questions usually have been answered in prior judgments. So, the courts usually need to decide only the factual questions of who is at fault, and their percentage of fault, as well as how much must be paid out in damages to the injured plaintiff by the defendant's insurer.
Another element of liability involves the administrative fines or license suspension/revocation that may be imposed by civil or criminal authorities when a driver has violated the rules of the road and thus the terms of a driver's license. Such complaint may be filed by a police officer or sometimes by other witnesses of an incident. In some jurisdictions such administrative penalties, may be imposed through quasi-criminal infractions; other jurisdictions do not recognize infractions and charge all violations, at a minimum, as misdemeanors or felonies.
Backup collisions happen when a driver reverses their car into an object, person, or another car. Although most cars come equipped with rear view mirrors, which are adequate for detecting vehicles behind a car, they are inadequate on many vehicles for detecting small children or objects close to the ground, which fall in the car's blind spot. Large trucks have much larger blind spots that can hide entire vehicles and large adults.
According to research by Kids and Cars – an organization devoted to preventing (non-traffic) motor-vehicle-related deaths and injuries – 49% of the non-traffic, non-crash fatalities involving children under 15 from 2001–2005 were caused by vehicles backing up.
The CDC reported that from 2001–2003, an estimated 7,475 children (2,492 per year) under the age of 15 were treated for automobile back-over incidents.
In its “Deaths and Injuries Resulting from Certain Non-Traffic and Non-Crash Events,” report issued in May of 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that back-up collisions most often:
- Occur in residential driveways and parking lots
- Involve sport utility vehicles (SUVs) or small trucks
- Occur when a parent, relative or someone known to the family is driving
- Particularly affect children less than five years old
The driver of the car backing up and hitting an object, a person, or another car is usually considered to be at fault.
Prevention organizations suggest that parents use common sense, and also take safety measures such as installing cross view mirrors, audible collision detectors, rear view video camera and/or some type of reverse backup sensors.
Although many crashes are caused by behavior that is difficult to alter, by mechanical failure, or by road conditions, some technical solutions would automatically detect how close the driver is to the car in front and automatically adjust the car's acceleration to prevent the car from getting closer than the distance in which it can safely stop.
- Sobriety detectors: These locks prevent the ignition key from working if the driver breathes into one and is shown to have consumed alcohol.
- Drifting monitors: These devices monitor how close a vehicle is traveling to lane markers and, if it starts to drift toward or over the markers without the turn signal being activated, sounds an alarm.
The young and inexperienced drivers are by far the most likely to be involved in a car crash, and this has become an area of focus. Reasons suggested for this include inexperience combined with over-confidence, peer pressure, a desire to show off, and even neurological development arguments. In addition most serious collisions occur at night and when the car has multiple occupants. This has led to the following proposals:
- A "curfew" imposed on young drivers to prevent them driving at night.
- Requiring an experienced supervisor to chaperone the less experienced driver.
- Forbidding the carrying of passengers.
- Zero alcohol tolerance.
- Compulsory advanced driving courses.
- Vehicle restrictions (eg. 'high performance' vehicles)
- Requiring a sign placed on the back of the vehicle to notify other drivers of a less-experienced individual in the driver's seat.
Some countries or states have already implemented some of these ideas. This increased risk for the young is known to the insurance companies, and premiums sometimes reflect that; however, very high premiums for young drivers do not seem to have had a significant impact on the crash statistics, suggesting that these drivers simply accept the high premiums as part of the "on road" costs of mobility or that age is not a factor in driver recklessness/skill.