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Close calls a part of driving — or are they?

February 12, 2011

So, you haven't had an accident (crash) or a traffic ticket in 15 years; therefore, you consider yourself a good driver! Why not? With a driving record like that, how could you be otherwise?

During that same 15-year period, how many near misses or close calls have you had? How many traffic tickets would you have received if there had been a police car when you were speeding, or when you ran that red light by only a second or two after it had changed? How many times did you pull out in front of a car that you just didn't see, but was far enough away to brake without hitting you? How many times did you brake hard to avoid hitting a stopped car in front of you that you didn't see until just in time? How long has it been since you skidded on snowy or icy roads but were able to recover before crashing?

Although it's impossible to accurately assess the number of unsafe acts, if you answer the above questions honestly, the numbers will likely be significant.

The safety pyramid model, created by H.W. Heinrich in his 1931 work, "Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach", suggests that 1000 unsafe acts leads to a serious injury. Put another way, every 10 unsafe driving acts will result in a near-miss or minor property damage incident. For every 100 unsafe acts, you can expect one personal injury crash, and, as previously stated, 1,000 unsafe acts will produce one serious injury crash.

These are ratios, and do not suggest that if you have had 99 unsafe acts, the next one will be a personnel injury crash, but it does give everyone food for thought. Take a good look at your driving skills and abilities. Do you ALWAYS use your turn signal to signal turns or lane changes? Is your vehicle ALWAYS under complete control on slippery roads? Do you pay attention and anticipate other drivers' actions in time to NEVER brake suddenly?

Obviously, none of us can say we ALWAYS take the correct driving actions, or that we NEVER commit an unsafe act. But we ALL can take note of the unsafe acts that we commit, and if they are frequent, work on reducing them. We need to self-assess our driving skills and work to improve them where necessary. We need to admit that traffic accidents don't just "happen"; they are caused by one driver or another committing an unsafe act that leads to a crash.

We need to self-assess our driving because our passengers generally do not tell us when we are driving poorly. We are reluctant to offer criticism of other people's driving abilities for fear that they will react negatively, and, unfortunately, they probably will.

If we are going to be truly "good" drivers and not just "lucky" drivers, we must work on reducing our unsafe acts. By so doing, we will also simultaneously reduce near misses, property damage crashes, minor and serious injuries, and even fatal crashes. What could be simpler or more important?

Please work to IMPROVE your driving habits, no matter how good or bad a driver you really are.

For more traffic safety and Vehicle and Traffic Law articles, go to the Traffic Safety Board's website at

Dave Werner can be reached at



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