MOST motor vehicle accidents involve some degree of driver behaviour combined with other factors.
Drivers always try to blame road conditions, equipment failure, or other drivers for those accidents.
When the facts are truthfully presented, however, the behaviour of the implicated driver is usually the primary cause.
Most are caused by excessive speed or aggressive driver behaviour.
* Equipment failure — Manufacturers/dealers are required by law to design and engineer cars that meet a minimum safety standard. Computers, combined with companies' extensive research and development, have produced safe vehicles that are easy and safe to drive. The most cited types of equipment failure are loss of brakes, tyre blowouts or tread separation, and steering/suspension failure;
* Brakes — Modern dual-circuit brake systems have made total brake failure an unlikely event. If one side of the circuit fails, the other side is usually sufficient to stop a vehicle. Disc brakes, found on the front wheels of virtually every modern vehicle, are significantly more effective than the older drum braking systems, which can fade when hot. ABS (Anti Blockier System) or anti-lock brakes prevent the wheels from locking up during emergency braking manoeuvres, allowing modern vehicles to avoid many accidents that previously would have occurred;
* Tyres — Today's radial tyres are significantly safer than the bias-ply tyres of years ago. They still, however, need attention regularly. Uneven or worn-out tires are the next most serious problem and can also lead to tyre failure. Uneven wear is caused by improperly balanced tyres, or misaligned or broken suspensions. Remember, all that keeps you connected to the roadway is your tyres. If you don't check your own, have your mechanic check them every 5000 miles;
* Steering and suspension — Your suspension keeps your tyres in contact with the roadway in a stable and predictable manner. Your steering enables you to go around road obstacles and avoid potential accidents. Even a safe, well-trained driver is helpless in the event of a steering or suspension system failure. Such failures are catastrophic, especially at high speeds. Have your suspension and steering systems checked out by a mechanic every 10,000 miles;
* Roadway design — Motorists may blame roadway design for accidents, but it's rarely the cause. Civil engineers, local governments, and law enforcement agencies all contribute to the design of safe road layouts and traffic management systems. Government provide guidelines to their construction, with design flexibility to suit local conditions. Roadways are designed by engineers with special consideration given to the following;
* Hazard visibility — Permanent roadway hazards consist of intersections, merging lanes, bends, crests, school zones, and livestock or pedestrian crossings. Temporary hazards include road construction, parked or disabled vehicles, accidents, traffic jams, and wild animals (especially horses and cattle).
Roadway surfaces — Engineers can use different surfaces (for example, grooved pavement) depending on the environment, traffic speed, traffic volume, and location of the roadway. Roadway markings let drivers know about their ability to pass safely (dotted and double lines), the location of the roadway in inclement weather (reflective cat's eyes and stakes), and where road surface ends and the shoulder begins;
* Traffic control devices — Traffic light signals, speed limit signs, yield and stop signs, school and pedestrian crossings, turning lanes, police surveillance cameras, LTA Red and Speedlight cameras, traffic circles or roundabouts;
* Behavioural control devices — Built in obstacles that limit the ability of a vehicle to travel, including crash barrels, speed bumps, pedestrian islands, raised medians, high curbing, guard rails, and concrete barriers;
* Traffic flow — National highways remain the safest roads because their flow of traffic is in one direction. One-way streets ease traffic congestion in city centres as well. Rural two-lane roadways are statistically the most dangerous because of a high incidence of deadly head-on collisions and the difficulty impatient drivers face while overtaking slower vehicles.
* Roadway identification signs — enable someone without a detailed map to travel from one place to another. They give advance notice of intersections, destinations, hazards, route numbers, mileage estimates, street names, and points of interest;
* Weather — inclement conditions can aggravate existing hazards and sometimes create new road surfaces;
* Driver behaviour — Humans tend to blame somebody or something else when a mistake or accident occurs. A recent European study concluded that 80 per cent of drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents believed that the other party could have done something to prevent the accident. A little 5 per cent admitted that they were the only one at fault. Surveys consistently reveal that the majority consider themselves more skilful and safer than the average driver. Some mistakes occur when a driver becomes distracted, perhaps by a cell phone call or texting while behind the wheels. Very few accidents result from an 'act of God,' like a tree falling on a vehicle; and
* Speed kills — The faster the speed of a vehicle, the greater the risk of an accident. The forces experienced by the human body in a collision increase exponentially as the speed increases. Smart Motorist recommends that drivers observe our 3 second rule in everyday traffic, no matter what your speed. Most people agree that going 100 mph is foolhardy and will lead to disaster. The problem is that exceeding the speed limit by only 5 mph in the wrong place can be just as dangerous. Traffic engineers and local governments have determined the maximum speeds allowable for safe travel on the nation's roadways. Speeding is a deliberate and calculated behaviour where the driver knows the risk but ignores the danger. Fully 90 per cent of all licensed drivers speed at some point in their driving career; 75 per cent admit to committing this offence regularly.
* Iliesa Sokia is the media liaison officer with the Land Transport Authority. The views expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the views of The Fiji Times.