Predicting collisions: Do you have the telltale signs of a bad driver?

Motor vehicle incidents account for 38 per cent of all worker traumatic fatalities in Ontario

If you knew certain driving habits could predict your likelihood of being involved in a collision, would you change them? Motor vehicle incidents (MVIs) are the leading cause of occupational injury and death in Ontario, accounting for more than 38 per cent of all worker traumatic fatalities. While most of us are good, safe drivers, the greatest danger comes from a small number of people who ignore traditional safety messages – like the guy who rarely wears a seatbelt or signals, or the gal prone to speeding and road rage. 

In a 2005 study, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) designed and tested an analytical model for predicting truck drivers’ future likelihood of crashes based on their driving history. Analysis of data from more than 550,000 truck drivers showed a conviction for “failure to use/improper signal” was the biggest predictor, increasing the driver’s likelihood of a future crash by 96 per cent. Since truck drivers spend most of their day on the road, it makes sense that all drivers can learn from the results of this study. Also, past behaviour is a predictor of future behaviour: drivers who had a past crash had an 88 per cent increase in their likelihood of a future crash.*

The same study was updated in 2011 and predictive behaviour had changed drastically since the original study. Researchers believe the change reflects raised awareness generated by the results of the initial study. 

When ATRI compared 2011 results with the original 2005 study, the relationship between driving history and future crashes had decreased considerably over the six-year period. For example, reckless driving was the number one problem in 2005, associated with a 325 per cent increase in the likelihood of a crash. However, in 2011, as a predictor of future collisions, it had fallen to tenth place.

Most dangerous driving habits 

In 2011, data analyses revealed a lengthy list of top lethal driving behaviour: improper passing, speeding, failure to yield right-of-way, improper turns, tailgating, reckless driving, improper lane changes, and more. Keep in mind the next time you’re tempted to speed, tailgate, or cut someone off because you’re in a hurry – you’re quite likely a crash waiting to happen.

The behavioural shift between 2005 and 2011 suggests that once problematic driving and operating practices have been identified, employers and enforcement agencies are better able to address key issues, helping decrease their link to future collisions.

Improving safety with technological monitoring

Other information made available by new technologies includes data on engine performance, fuel consumption, and hours of service, as well as evidence of following too closely, excessive lane changes, and hard braking. Just by making drivers aware that their driving will be monitored causes them to drive more safely.†

*Micah D. Lueck et al., Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: A 2011 Update (Arlington: ATRI), p. 15.
†“Managing driver behavior with fleet telematics,” website of Telematics Update, accessed May 7, 2014

Top 5 tips to avoid a collision

What are the most common risk factors that lead to a collision? Most are simple things you’ve probably heard about before, but it’s these basic things that continue to cause fatal motor vehicle incidents.

1. Mechanical: Make sure everything works

Many drivers take for granted that their truck or car is in good working order. However, if you don’t inspect and maintain your vehicle regularly, you won’t know if something is wrong. A major rainstorm is not the time to discover a problem with your windshield wipers. 

Here’s a basic checklist before you head out on the road. If one of these items malfunctions while you’re on the road, lives could be in danger.

  • Windshield – make sure it’s clean and has no cracks.

  • Wipers – it’s a good idea to keep spare wipers in your trunk.

  • Mirrors – make sure they’re clean and adjusted properly.

  • Brakes – test them to be sure they work.

  • Steering – if it seems loose or misaligned, pull over.

  • Tires – ensure there are no leaks and that they’re properly secured.

2. Pay attention: No distractions

The issue of drivers using cell phones and other electronic devices has been getting a lot of attention – for good reason. Driving requires your full attention. When you’re trying to answer a call or read a text message, you inevitably take your eyes off the road. In those three or four seconds, you could cause a collision because you aren’t paying attention to what’s happening on the road around you.

Cell phones have become such a dangerous distraction to drivers that Ontario has made it illegal to use them while you’re driving. If you are caught texting or talking on your cell phone when you’re behind the wheel, you can be fined up to $280. Soon, you may also get demerit points.

But a cell phone, GPS, or other electronic device isn’t the only thing that can distract a driver. We’ve all seen people putting on makeup or eating while they’re driving. Obviously no one can drive properly when they’re doing something like that. It’s important to use common sense. Don’t put your life or someone else’s life in danger because you didn’t get up early enough to have breakfast at home.

3. Environment: Watch the weather

Getting to your destination is important, but safety is more important. Although that seems obvious, many of us don’t take those reasonable precautions because we’re in such a hurry to get to where we’re going. In the planning stages, build in extra hours or even days so that you have enough time to stop and wait if the weather demands it. Respect Mother Nature – she’s more powerful than we are.
When you’re planning your trip, always check the weather forecast.

  • If there are storm predictions, consider changing your plans.

  • If visibility is poor because of heavy snow or rain, pull off the road immediately and wait for it to pass.

  • When there’s a possibility of ice on the road, slow down.

4. Alertness: Stay rested and healthy

Getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising are always healthy things to do, but they also help prevent MVIs. Fatigue can be as dangerous as texting when you’re driving. Your concentration, vision, and reaction time are all affected when you’re tired. Fatigued driving is like drunk driving in that there was a time when we didn’t believe alcohol affected us behind the wheel. Of course now we know better, but we need the same kind of change in our attitude about fatigue.

For people who drive for a living, laws govern the number of hours they may spend on the road. These regulations are an effort to minimize fatigued driving. But ultimately, it’s up to each of us to use our own judgment and admit when we’re too tired to drive.

5. Defensive driving: Training and education

Driver training and education make a real difference in the quality of driving and is good training for all drivers. If you drive for a living, avoid picking up bad habits by refreshing your training often. Talk to your supervisor about specific training that would help you do your job more safely. Look at your company’s health and safety program and find out what the policy is on vehicle inspections, driving in poor weather, and using electronic devices (such as a GPS).

Watch for danger signs

Common sense tells us to avoid dangerous drivers, and now science backs it up. If you see a driver passing improperly, with no signal, erratically weaving in and out of lanes, speeding, or recklessly cutting off other drivers, you’ll want to put as much distance as possible between your vehicle and theirs – perhaps it’s a good time to stop for coffee or fill up the tank. Contact the police if you believe they are a danger to others. 

As the pace of life increases and distractions abound, you need to be on the lookout for aggressive drivers. If you find yourself rushing, slow down and enjoy the view; nothing is worth putting your life or the lives of others in danger.


Sharing the road safely - Infrastructure Health and Safety Association magazine volume 14, Issue 1, 2014.
Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: A 2011 Update, American Transportation Research Institute, 2011.