Poor decisions often lead to ‘accidents’
by Charlie Sewell, columnist
September 02, 2012 12:00 AM | 1098 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My ninth-grade science teacher proclaimed “There is no such thing as an accident,” to which the class took immediate exception. I recall raising my hand and saying, “What if a meteorite fell from the sky and struck me on the head?” He replied it could have been prevented if I had worn a meteorite shield.

As silly as that sounds, the intent of his lesson was to illustrate that accidents are usually not accidental but caused by human action or inaction. I take exception to one dictionary that says an accident is without apparent cause. I favor the Merriam-Webster dictionary that defines accident as “an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance.” Of the thousands of so-called traffic accidents I investigated in my law enforcement career, I don’t remember any that were not caused by human behavior.

Each crash could have been avoided if a driver had obeyed traffic laws, paid attention, or provided for routine vehicle maintenance. When investigating vehicle collisions, many law enforcement officers across the nation today use the word “crash” rather than referring to the event as an accident.

I get tickled when I hear or read a news report about a vehicle accident that was caused by wet roads. The report might just as well have said “Vehicle accident caused by a careless wet road.” Wet roads are a contributing factor, but a vehicle crash on a wet road is generally caused by the action of one or more drivers.

Research has shown a car can hydroplane and slide off the road traveling as slow as 30 to 45 miles per hour. Road surface, tire tread wear, and other factors can play a role, but cars typically hydroplane because they are traveling too fast for the road conditions.

Striking an object with a vehicle at 60 mph is tantamount to driving a car off a nine-story building. A posted speed limit warns drivers the maximum speed they can drive without violating the law. The speed limit, however, does not mandate that drivers travel that speed, especially in the rain.

I once read that it takes 8,460 bolts to assemble an automobile and one nut to scatter it all over the road. When cars fly along wet roads at 80 mph, I approach each curve and hill with anticipation of smoke, crumpled metal and carnage. Traveling 80 mph on a rain-slick road is a crash waiting to happen. The only uncertain factor is the number of fatalities, the extent of injuries, or the amount of property damage.

We may not have total control of our involvement in a collision, but we do have influence. Drivers need to be ever diligent, deliberate, and determined to defy the indifference of drivers, because the majority of traffic crashes can generally be prevented.

To this end, perhaps police dispatchers should send an officer not to a “traffic accident,” but to a “careless crash.”

Charlie Sewell is the Powder Springs chief of police. His column runs occasionally in the Marietta Daily Journal.
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