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Common causes of vehicle accidents

And how to avoid them

For most adults, driving a vehicle is as routine as brushing their teeth. However, just because we can drive from point A to point B does not mean we do so in a safe manner. Everyone on the road is at risk of becoming involved in a vehicle accident. Individuals driving on behalf of their church are no exception.

Vehicle backing safety

More than 35% of church vehicle incidents from 2003–2007 were due to backing, parking or hitting fixed objects. A possible cause is the driver's unfamiliarity with a church van's maneuverability and blind spots. Whether an incident involves a small scratch to the vehicle or striking a pedestrian, a backing or parking accident can be avoided by taking a few extra precautions.

The use of good backing techniques, continued vehicle backing education and practice in a secure site can help prevent these types of accidents. Here are a few pointers to share with your drivers:

  • Vans and buses do not have the same visibility as passenger vehicles
  • Blind spots can extend up to 16 feet in front and 160 feet behind a vehicle.
  • Drivers should never depend upon mirrors exclusively while backing.
  • Turn your head to both sides to observe blind spots that cannot be seen from your mirrors.
  • If necessary, use a responsible adult to help act as a spotter to assist and communicate with the driver and to warn pedestrians to stay clear.

Avoid backing vehicles
Whenever possible, drivers should avoid backing vehicles. Drivers should let passengers off at the front of the church and then drive to a more remote area of the parking lot. The driver should pull the vehicle through the parking space and position it to eliminate the need to back up.

When backing is unavoidable
When arriving at a destination, rather than pulling into a parking space, vehicle drivers are encouraged to back into the space. Backing into parking spaces is an industry-recognized best practice that is used to help avoid collisions while backing. This may seem counterintuitive, but the driver is likely to be more aware of his or her surroundings and have greater visibility when backing into a parking space. When approaching a parking space, observe the area before attempting to back in. Vehicles that are left unattended should be reinspected by the driver prior to pulling out of a parking space to avoid collision. Keep in mind that the area surrounding a parked vehicle can change dramatically when the driver is away.

  • Look around the vehicle before backing. Walk around your vehicle looking for pedestrians and obstacles.
  • Don't assume or anticipate. Drivers arriving and departing from the same location multiple times per day can be lulled into a false sense of confidence. Drivers must always be alert and prepared to avoid hazards that arise.
  • When the view is obstructed, use a spotter when possible. If not, slowly back the vehicle a couple of feet and then stop. Before proceeding, check behind the vehicle. Keep doing this until you have finished maneuvering the vehicle.

The concept is fairly simple in that you should attempt to maintain a safe distance surrounding your vehicle while in traffic to allow yourself adequate time to stop the vehicle or safely maneuver around a hazard.

Following distances — count the seconds
The first step of maintaining a safe following distance from the vehicle in front is to understand what a safe distance should be. Nationally, driver education programs have defined a safe following distance as being between two to four seconds from the vehicle ahead of you. This is largely dependent on the conditions of the road and speed of the vehicle. While opinions vary as to the number of seconds, they all agree upon the concept of a safe distance. To determine how to maintain a safe distance, use the following tips:

  • Drivers should never talk on a cell phone while driving as this distraction can delay reaction time to brake the vehicle.
  • Gauge your distance from the vehicle ahead of you by counting the number of seconds it takes you to pass a fixed point the lead vehicle just passed. Count to yourself "one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand..." If you reach the same point before you have finished counting at least to "two-one-thousand," you should increase the distance between the vehicle ahead of you by gradually slowing down.
  • As a rule, a two-second following distance is the minimum distance a car should maintain when following another car when road and environmental conditions are good. You should add one more second for each of the following: if you are driving a large occupancy van or bus, for inclement weather conditions, if you are following a motorcycle or if the vehicle behind you is tailgating your vehicle.

Don't drive next to another vehicle
Many drivers are unaware they may be riding in another driver's blind spot and, as a result, don't leave themselves an escape route to avoid collision.

  • Do not drive inside of someone's blind spot. If you cannot see the eyes of the other driver, chances are he or she cannot see you.
  • Try to leave an "out" on either side of your vehicle. This includes driving lanes or road shoulders on either side.

Tailgating drivers
Tailgating is an aggressive and dangerous behavior. Drivers who encounter tailgaters should simply signal, change lanes and let the driver pass through without confrontation. If you are on a two-lane road or otherwise are unable to move over to the right safely, slow down slightly below the normal flow of traffic speed and increase your own following distance to the vehicle ahead. Slowing down will make it easier for your tailgater to pass you when it is possible to do so. Increasing your own following distance takes into consideration the reduced reaction and braking time of your tailgater. Your increased cushion will allow you to brake more gently and reduce the chance of the tailgater rear-ending your vehicle.

Studies have shown most people think they drive more safely than the average driver does. Logistically, this is impossible. However, by following the guidance provided here, you can reduce your driving risk and practice the ultimate act of charity by possibly saving someone else's life — or your own.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and legal advice to determine appropriate policies regarding the use of volunteer drivers and their vehicles.