Reducing Driving Risks
A Responsible Driving Attitude

A Responsible Driving Attitude: Understanding The Consequences of Errors

Updated Sept. 13, 2019

To develop a responsible and safe attitude towards driving, you must first understand the power of your actions. While driving, a single action can set off a chain of events which leads to a crash or collision. Each driver acting or reacting within that sequence of events has the power to worsen the situation or move it toward a more positive outcome.

If you behave rashly or irresponsibly behind the wheel, the action you have taken could be the first link in a chain of events that leads to an accident. Similarly, acting in a calm and responsible manner when negative events occur can stop a potentially devastating collision in its tracks. Such is the power of the choices you make while driving.

Motorists must monitor the driving environment carefully and act with consideration and caution, at all times.

Driver's responsibility

The condition of your vehicle, the actions of other road users, weather conditions and roadway conditions all play a part in determining the risk you face at any given time while driving. However, it is your responsibility as a driver to identify and mitigate the risks posed by these outside factors.

As mentioned above, the decisions you make can dramatically alter the outcome of any sequence of events you are involved in. Rarely is a driver completely at the mercy of outside influences, with no power to change a situation for the better. Knowing when not to proceed or when to tell your passengers to quiet down could ultimately save your life – or somebody else’s.

Three causes of crashes and collisions

The underlying causes of crashes and collisions have been extensively studied, in an ongoing bid to reduce loss of life on our nation’s roads. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) findings, the cause of any collision falls into one of three major categories:

  • Actions taken or not taken by the driver
  • Roadway conditions
  • The condition of the vehicle being driven

Of all the crashes analysed for the purposes of this study, it was found that:

  • 2 percent were attributed to an unknown cause
  • 2 percent were caused by roadway conditions
  • 2 percent were caused by a vehicle malfunction
  • 94 percent were caused by the driver acting inappropriately or irresponsibly

Driver‑, Vehicle‑, and Environment‑Related Critical Reasons for Car CrashesDriver‑, Vehicle‑, and Environment‑Related Critical Reasons for car crashes. Data by NHTSA.

Looking at these percentages, it is clear that the best way to tackle the growing problem of traffic-related deaths and injuries in our country is to better educate our drivers about the consequences of their actions.

Common driver errors

To better understand the way driver error contributes to accidents and collisions, the NHTSA have created four major “classifications” for the type of mistake made in the incidents cited above. Driver errors fall into one (or sometimes several) of these categories:

  1. 1

    Recognition errors.These could be averted if the driver paid a greater degree of attention to the roadway environment. Failing to see another vehicle whilechanging laneswould qualify as a recognition error.

  2. 2

    Decision errors.In this type of error, the driver has made a poor decision based on their assessment of the roadway environment, which has then led to a crash.

  3. 3

    Performance errors.In crashes which fall into this category, the driver has failed to exercise reasonable and effective control over their vehicle. Over-steering and failure tocontrol velocity on hillsare two examples of performance errors.

  4. 4

    Non-performance errors.“Non-performance” basically describes a situation in which the driver has failed to take some necessary action. For instance, a crash as a result of thedriver falling asleepwould fall into this category.

You can get an idea of how regularly these different types of driver error occur by checking out the NHTSA chart below.

Driver‑Related Critical Reasons for Traffic AccidentsDriver‑Related Critical Reasons for Traffic Accidents, according to an NHTSA report. The majority of traffic accidents result from regognition and decision errors made by drivers.

The two major factors which reduce a driver’s chance of making a mistake behind the wheel are:

  1. Knowing WHAT to do. (i.e. understanding road rules, defensive driving tactics and how to control your vehicle)
  2. Being capable of ACTING ON THAT KNOWLEDGE in a timely, effective manner. (i.e. paying attention to the road and making sure you are alert, fit and well-enough to drive safely)

Developing responsible and consistent habits is the key to staying safe and avoiding collisions while driving. If you make an irresponsible decision – either through deliberate neglect or inattention – you are substantially more likely to make a similar decision again. Each time you act inappropriately you risk serious, negative consequences.

The consequences of your actions

When a driver behaves carelessly or irresponsibly, there are always negative consequences – even if it may not be immediately obvious. One of three things will result from an unsafe driving decision:

  1. 1

    A false sense of security.If your irresponsible behavior does not result in any obviously negative outcome, you will have dodged a bullet. However, most drivers experience false confidence when their negative actions do not appear to have any ramifications.

    On a subconscious level, you may believe that no negative consequences occurred because your actions were not that dangerous or because you are “skilled enough” to avoid negative outcomes. As a result, you will be more likely to engage inrisky driving behavioragain. If you carry on along this road, you will eventually be faced with more serious consequences.

  2. 2

    A minor collision or traffic citation.Some irresponsible actions do have measurably negative consequences but still allow the driver to walk away relatively unscathed. For instance, you may execute an unsafe maneuver and be issued with a traffic ticket as punishment. Alternatively, you might rear-end another vehicle at traffic lights through lack of attention to the road. You should take these minor consequences as warnings; if you choose to continue engaging in risky driving behavior, you can expect more serious consequences to come.

  3. 3

    A serious crash or collision.Any unsafe decision you make while driving can result in a serious incident. As we cannot control the actions and reactions of other drivers, a decision which had no negative consequences in one situation could result in serious injury or death in another. Motorists who regularly behave irresponsibly are inviting serious collisions or crashes to occur. Though, remember that these consequences can happen at any time. You may think that one unsafe action “won’t hurt” but it could easily kill you, kill somebody else, cause serious injury or leave you financially burdened for life.

A safe and responsible attitude means sticking to the rules, with no exceptions. Motorists are often tempted to break the rules in seemingly safe or harmless situations, for instance, when there are no other motorists or road users nearby. Understand that you cannot predict what is waiting for you around the next bend in the road, or how the roadway environment may change from one moment to the next. Each decision you make – however risk-free it may seem – can have serious, long-lasting consequences.

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