Cars that care, chapter 1: The problem – drivers cause the most accidents

By | 3 minute read | July 19, 2017

The joy of driving. Many automakers have built their brand around this vision. Generation after generation comes of age and stakes their claim to the freedom to go where they want in vehicles. The volume of news stories about automated and autonomous vehicle testing is increasing daily, some would have you believe the that the days of taking your own car for a ride will soon be in the rear-view mirror.

Too early for autonomous vehicles to save drivers

The reality is that while autonomous driving continues to develop at pace, and will bring with it many advantages, it will take some time for its widespread deployment to make an impact against the total number of cars on the road today. In IBM’s recently published Institute of Business Value (IBV) Study Automotive 2025: Industry without Borders, we interviewed 175 executives across the automotive industry. We found that automated driving is coming on fast and furious, but fully autonomous vehicles will likely still only have limited exposure over the next decade. Realistically, we’re looking at the 2030’s before people making decisions behind the wheel will substantially decline. Recently, one of the premium automotive brands concurred.

figure 1 auto vehicle use 2025 graphic

fig 1. Mainstream vehicle use by 2025

Of course, along with the freedom of driving comes substantial risk. In 2015, the most recent year of full U.S. statistics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that there were nearly 6.3m reported crashes in which over 35k people were killed and over 2.4m people injured. This represents an uptick over recent years as they’re the highest reported since 2008. The 6.3m accidents are the highest on record in the U.S. and represent the fifth consecutive years of growth.

Drivers – the primary cause of accidents

Despite all the safety technology that the automotive industry continues to add to their vehicles, the primary cause of all these accidents is…wait for it…the driver!  NHTSA further analyzed the root cause of a full year of accidents and an astounding ninety-four percent pointed to some manner of driver error. Recognition and decision errors accounted for a substantial majority of these accidents.

fig 2.Driver delated critical reasons for crash causation

Another layer of information in understanding these accidents is to consider the driver’s frame of mind as they’re behind the wheel.  When drivers are in an emotional state, whether positive or negative emotions, they dramatically increase the likelihood of getting into an accident.  In fact, they’re ten times more likely to have one.  Emotions lead to distraction which lead to mistakes.

Even excellent drivers are at risk

Even excellent drivers falter when they’re emotionally pre-occupied. Drivers whose attention is elsewhere, make three general categories of mistakes:

  1. Risky behavior such as abrupt lane changes, speeding, or moving too slowly
  2. Reduced reaction times for turns or braking
  3. Inattentiveness where they forget to use turn signals and drift left and right in and across lanes

Could cars that care keep drivers safer?

Your car can detect through its sensor systems when it is being driven erratically and its driver may have other things on their mind. All the driving behavior symptoms described are known by today’s vehicles. So perhaps we can trust the axiom; “a problem well stated is half-solved”. If cars also understood the driver’s emotional state then it could take steps to aid their capability and keep everyone in the car safer.

To find out more, visit our ‘Cars that Care’ site.

You can now also read Chapter 2:  The Diagnosis and Chapter 3: The Remedy


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