Most auto collisions can be attributed to six common driver errors. The six fatal errors are: 1. Impatience 2. Inattention and distraction 3. Impairment 4. Lack of Space 5. Speed too fast for conditions 6. Failure to wear seat belts all other errors fall into this list, for example running a red light can be seen as several of the common errors including inattention, distraction, impairment, speeding, or impatience.


A lack of patience is considered to be the most common driving error, and leads to most of the others. By nature, human beings are impatient and always striving for maximum efficiency. We race from task to task constantly pushing to get more done than we can reasonably do. Operating a motor vehicle is one of most dangerous places to be impatient however you don’t have to drive to see this common trait manifested. Often times impatience occurs due to a lack of preparation (leaving without enough time, not planning your route, not having things ready prior to departure, not verifying local traffic information, etc). For example, next time you visit your local grocery store during peak business hours, get a few items and line up for an “express” check-out line. When traffic (paying customers) moves quickly and efficiently, things remain calm and everyone is happy. Now imagine an unprepared customer with four items and an envelope full of coupons in his hand. He didn’t think to look for the coupons he needs today thereby saving him and everyone around him time. Now he is looking for them in an envelope that has several hundred other coupons. Watch as the other people lined up behind him grow impatient and even angry. He begins to look for another lane and makes poor choices due to impatience. Get behind the wheel of a car and the situation becomes more dangerous. We tailgate, we crowd, we speed, we make unsafe lane changes, so we can get to the next red light faster than anyone else. Impatience has a negative impact both mentally and physically, and negative attitudes can sap your physical and mental strength as well as be extremely dangerous.

Inattention and Distraction

With greater intelligence comes a natural tendency to multi-task. Our minds race from topic to topic. This is one way our reaction time is diminished. When we first learn to drive we require much greater focus on the vehicle and surroundings. We are cautious and must use conscious thought and an applied focus just to keep the car straight in the lane. Years later and hundreds of hours driving, we become accustomed to driving, it becomes a mundane task to get from point A to point B. An experienced driver’s mind can wander around and it does. We dwell on personal problems or plans; driving for some has become a way to escape. When we are upset or looking for me-time, a drive seems like a great thing to do. This mental inattentiveness stretches out our ability to perceive a hazard. If you were tested for perception ability in a controlled circumstance – like in a laboratory – you could perceive a hazard in about a tenth of a second. This would be nearly impossible without a conscious focus on the road. Many people don’t realize there are 5-10 things you do to control a vehicle every few seconds and there are separate mental and physical activities you must perform to accomplish those activities. When our mind is occupied with other things, things other than driving, then that ability to perceive suffers even further. A rule of thumb is to give yourself roughly 2 feet for every 1 mph. Formula: 1 mph = about 1.47 feet per second; 40 mph is approximately 60 feet per second If you are traveling 80 mph at night on an unlit highway under normal driving conditions with standard low-beam lighting, you are able to visibly see about 225 feet in front of you. If my elapsed perception time is 1 second, a fairly normal time, I have traveled 180 feet of those 225 feet of available lighted pavement before I realize there is a hazard in the road. I now have 45 feet and roughly a second to avoid a potential accident. Now add in other impairments or distractions and a collision becomes nearly unavoidable. This problem is often referred to as “out-driving your headlights.” A simpler way to remember to give yourself sufficient space while highway driving is to use the “three-second rule” Driving instructors figured that if a person’s on-the-road reaction time was about 1½ seconds, doubling that would provide enough space to correctly spot a road hazard and take the appropriate action. The easiest way to implement this is to count to three after the vehicle in front of you has passed a road marker, light or other identifiable feature. If you can successfully count to three before you pass that object or feature, you have provided yourself enough time to react. If you do not get to 3 seconds, slow down and allow more space between you and the car directly in front of you.


The number of possible distractions grows more everyday as technology advances and cars become easier to drive. For example, the advent of the automatic transmission has allowed drivers to drive without a greater need for focus. Even some of the things that are supposed to assist us with our driving, like GPS systems, can contribute to the problem. Naturally, drivers believe they are better at physical and mental “multi-tasking” than others, but study after study done by respected research organizations has shown repeatedly that this is not the case.
Virginia Tech, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that talking on a phone while driving increased the risk of a crash four or five times; this increased risk is nearly identical to the impairment of someone who has consumed alcohol over the legal limit to operate machinery.
It is illegal to be a distracted driver; if your distraction causes you to have a collision, and that collision results in an injury or death, that can constitute a criminal act. If you hurt someone because you are clearly inattentive to your driving, you could be sent to prison for doing so. The minimum sentence for negligent homicide could be several years in prison.


Impairment comes in many forms, and it is also closely related to some of the errors we have already discussed. When it comes to chemical impairments, such as alcohol and other drugs, most of us realize the dangers in operating a vehicle while impaired, however we are reluctant to take the necessary precautions to avoid this. Many of us believe we are not the majority and can drive while impaired. Impairment comes in many forms including:
  • Fatigue
  • stress
  • emotions
  • illness and injury
  • physical distractions
we don’t think much about how those things can make us impaired drivers. It all goes straight to having adequate reaction time, and making the correct driving decisions. Fatigue has been estimated to be just as dangerous as alcohol consumption – one study concluded that alcohol impairment at .08% blood alcohol concentration is comparable to fatigued driving – at roughly five times greater crash risk (VA Tech, 2006). Many drivers don’t see non-chemical impairments as risky as we do alcohol or other drugs. The reality is that they are often just as dangerous. An angry driver can do just as much damage with their vehicle, in less time, than most other drivers they’d encounter all day. As far as chemical impairment, let’s discuss just one at this point – consumption of alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) mentions several effects of alcohol impairment as follows: 1. Complex mental functions (judgment, for example) 2. Motor skills 3. Information processing 4. Eye-brain-hand coordination 5. Visual ability to track a moving object 6. Eye to hand reaction time 7. Vision 8. Narrowing of attention field 9. Divided attention difficulties Although their is a legal maximum blood alcohol level, many states have a “impaired to the slightest degree” law. This means that although you may be in within the legal blood alcohol limit, you still may be found guilty of a traffic violation if officers believe you are an impaired driver. No amount of chemical impairment is OK, if you are driving, either from a safety standpoint, or a legal one.

Following Too Close and Other Space Issues

If a quick reaction time is critical to driving safely, then it becomes obvious that proper following distance at all times is essential to collision avoidance. Following too closely, failure to control speed and inattention (a lack of awareness) ARE the three main errors that lead to collisions. In addition to following distance, your position in traffic related to all those other vehicles is critical as well. If your reaction time is the critical element in avoiding collisions, then it follows that we need as much space around us as we can manage – this gives us better visibility to see hazards or conflicts sooner, as well as the space necessary to maneuver successfully around or through them without hitting something. One of the biggest mistakes we see on the road is driving in clusters. Driving in close proximity to other traffic gives you significantly less space to avoid hazards as well as blocks your forward visibility. Invariably, some weave back and forth, trying to progress their way through the traffic congestion and get “ahead” of everyone else. This is risky behavior, and much of the time it’s pointless since speeders and aggressive drivers arrive at their destination 2 to 3 minutes before someone else who obeys proper driving techniques and behaviors.

Speed Too Fast For Conditions

This is one of the main causes of auto accidents as well as a factor in increased injury and death. As a nation of speeders, both in the car and out. Impatience is certainly part of the problem, but we also do it simply be the leader of the pack. No one wants to slow down for anything. Many people drive as fast as they possibly can. Our overconfidence often leads to fatal car accidents. We approach driving like a bunch of amateurs – and the crash statistics show it. Speed contributes to the crash problem in more than one way. First, the higher your speed, the less reaction time and distance you will have in any given circumstance. Second, speed can have significant impact on your ability to control your vehicle. Although your speedometer can reach 160 mph, it doesn’t mean you can do that safely while maintaining control of your vehicle. Vehicles do not handle the same way at higher speeds and the vast majority of Americans have never had any training in the control of a high speed vehicle. A driver often doesn’t realize they are driving too fast until the vehicle is already out of control; we all seem to think we are Nascar drivers and professional stunt men. Often times we don’t realize these professionals endure hundreds to thousands of hours of training on high speed vehicles and physics. Third, the higher the speed, the more crash force is present to injure or kill. The National Safety Council says that for every ten miles per hour over 50 mph, you double the risk of injury and death. This means that by traveling 80 mph you have increased your chances for serious injuries or death by 16x!

Failure To Wear Seat Belts

The use of a seat belt keeps you anchored in your seat giving you complete control of your vehicle. For example, say you are struggling to stay in place behind the wheel at the same time you have an obstacle to miss. You may find yourself swerving to avoid an object or road hazard, however with this sudden change of direction, your momentum may take you in another direction thereby reducing your ability to maintain control of your vehicle. This may or may not make a difference in avoiding an accident, however the number one cause of death in motor vehicle crashes is being thrown from the vehicle. The video below shows how you can maintain control of your vehicle thereby reducing the injuries from an accident. Here are some of the excuses people use to not wear a seat belt. – Seat belts wrinkle my clothes! – Seat belts cause more injuries than they prevent! – I don’t want to be trapped in the vehicle. – The government can’t tell me what to do! There is no reason for anyone not to wear a seat belt – and there is no other preventive measure that is as effective in reducing injury or death. A driver that does not buckle up is assuming about 34 times more risk of death in a crash. (National Safety Council). Watch the tremendous force exerted on your body when you do not wear a seat belt.