With so many different laws in place to restrict people from driving on the streets under risky conditions and with car manufacturers installing new safety features all the time, one would expect the number of accidents to go down over time. Surprisingly, that has not happened. What is perhaps even more confusing is we have not yet been able to come up with a systematic process through which this phenomenon can be investigated. It is so important to know what factors around us result in accidents being committed on the road. Yes, there is folk knowledge and anecdotal evidence to explain why accidents take place. Driving under influence, talking on the cell phone while driving, and underage driving are all associated with car accidents. But to date, there has not been a single database to compile all these statistics to enable a clear picture to be presented on this matter.
Do we really know why accidents happen?
All of this is not to say that we know absolutely nothing about why accidents happen. There are studies conducted here and there to investigate accident rates under particular conditions. For example, a study conducted by the Virginia Tech University found that most car crashes took place when the drivers were distracted by something for up to three seconds. Another factor that increased the likelihood of a car accident was the driver being aged between 18 and 20. Such drivers were four times as likely to have a car accident because of poor attention.
Why we need an accident database?
While all of this information is useful, the need of the hour is to compile all such statistics into a single, large database so that the information can be processed in meaningful ways and can help policymakers and legislators to take practical steps to reduce the number of accidents on the road. Unfortunately, such projects do not enjoy popularity among legislators simply because they are low visibility projects that do little to elevate the profile or status of the legislators in their constituencies. Therefore, efforts to create such a nationwide highway accident database have been neglected in preference for other glamorous projects.
The National Academy of Sciences has proposed the creation of one such database that is called the Strategic Highway Research Program. Under this program, 1,000 cars will be installed with small cameras and sensors to track their movement and collect data about the car and driver-related factors that raise the number of accidents. It will help to determine, for instance, whether drivers actually engage in more risky driving behavior when they know that the car is equipped with a good number of safety devices such as airbags and anti lock braking systems. The program will also help researchers to pinpoint how separate factors come together in a specific situation and elevate the likelihood of an accident occurring. It will help to negate the simplistic beliefs that individual actions such as drunk driving or talking on the cell phone are the causes of road accidents. It is more urgent than even before to know how different factors combine to raise the risk of accidents so that relevant laws can be drafted.