Understanding Key Contributors of Accident Causation
It is important to have a strong understanding of the characteristics of a highway before considering increasing the speed limit on them across the nation. In America, we have interstate highways and other arterials. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation in their article “Road Function Classifications,” the interstate system is made up of arterial roads that “provide the highest level of mobility and the highest speeds over the longest interrupted distance.” Interstate highways pass through several states. An example of an interstate highway is I-95 which begins near the Canadian border in Maine and ends in Miami Florida. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation in their article “Road Function Classifications,” the category of other arterials “include freeways, multilane highways, and other important roadways that supplement the interstate system,” and connect busy areas like cities and industrialized areas. An example of these arterials is NJ- Route 55. The interstate system and other arterial roads fit in the category of roads in which the speed limits should be increased.
Next, it is important to understand some of the main factors involved in the causation of accidents. Accident-prone interactions, or APIs, are arguably the most important concept to understand. According to David Navone in his study “The Paradox of Driving Speed,” APIs are instances in which two vehicles come in close proximity of each other. There are multiple types of APIs. According to Navone, the four types are “(a) when cars moving on intersecting roads come at about the same time to an intersection, (b) when cars moving in opposite directions on the same undivided road pass each other, (c) when cars moving in the same direction on different lanes of the same road momentarily drive next to each other, and (d) when a car coming from the rear of another one switches lanes next to the other one (either by switching to an adjacent lane to overtake it, or by returning to the original lane).” It is a very simple concept; when two vehicles come near each other, an API occurs. Increasing the speed limit on highways would decrease the amount of time that each API takes to occur, decreasing the likelihood of the occurrence of an accident.
The next main factor is distractions. There are many different types of distractions that a driver experiences in their commute. Anything that makes it so the driver does not give their full attention to the road is a distraction. According to the CDC in the article “Distracted Driving,” there are three main categories of distractions; visual, cognitive, and manual. An example of a visual distraction is looking at something in the car, such as the radio. A cognitive distraction would be doing anything that takes the driver’s mind off of driving and onto another subject. Manual distractions include distractions that have the driver’s hands off the wheel such as phone usage or eating. One very common distraction nowadays is drivers selecting music to play in the car from their phone. Apps such as Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and Youtube put millions of songs in the driver’s hands and cause a new distraction every few minutes when the driver chooses a new song.
There was also a good point made in the article from the NHTSA called “Distractions in and Out of the Vehicle” when the author explained that there are also distractions outside of the vehicle including “crash scenes, road construction, and people, places, or things of interest alongside the road.” Paying attention to these distractions causes the driver to no longer have their full attention on the road, even though these distractions are on the road. The driver becomes more focused on that view than on the cars around them.
Finally, there is the concept of critical driving decisions. Critical driving decisions are the decisions made by drivers that either cause or avoid accidents. Many of these decisions occur at intersections. One example is when a driver needs to time their left turn at a green light or a stop sign based on the incoming traffic. If the driver times their turn incorrectly, there could be a few results. The driver could end up hitting or getting hit by the car coming straight through in the intersection, causing a head-on or t-bone style accident. Next, the driver could force the incoming traffic to slam on their brakes, setting up the scene for a possible rear-end accident for the oncoming drivers. Finally, the driver could go into the turn at a speed unfit for the turn and have a whole different type of accident by losing control of their vehicle. Timing the turn correctly would allow the driver to avoid each of these possible accident situations. An example of a critical driving decision not at an intersection is deciding when to change lanes on a highway. If the driver decides to change lanes too early, they could get rear-ended by the vehicle traveling in another lane, which could lead to a multiple car accident as everyone slams on their breaks. These critical driving decisions are exactly what their name describes them as, critical. Making the right decision allows the driver to go on with their day and commute, but making the wrong decision could very easily lead to an accident with serious injury or death involved for any of the drivers.
Having a strong understanding of the category of roads being considered to increase the speed limit is very important. This category is arterial roads which include major highways and the interstate system. It is also important to understand the contributors to the causation of accidents such as API rates, distractions, and critical driving decisions. Without understanding these topics, it is easy to be falsely led into believing that speeding is what causes accidents. Considering the other contributors makes it simple to see that increasing the speed limit is not as dangerous as one would initially believe. There are many other more prevalent contributors than speeding in the causation of accidents.
U.S Department of Transportation. (2000, November). Road Function Classifications. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/speedmgt/data_facts/docs/rd_func_class_1_42.pdf
Navon, D. (2002, January 30). The paradox of driving speed: Two adverse effects on highway accident rate. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457502000118
“Distracted Driving.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Oct. 2020, http://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/Distracted_Driving/index.html.
“Distractions: In and Out of the Vehicle.” NHTSA, www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/driverdistractions.pdf.