Driving is risky business. Only cancer, heart attacks, and strokes cause more unintentional deaths among the general population. Driving is the leading cause of unintentional death for those between the ages of 4 and 34.
Unlike cancer, heart attacks, and strokes, driving does not discriminate by age. More than 37,000 deaths occur each year from crashes on US highways. Many of these crash victims are teenagers or young adults according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (commonly referred to in our industry as FARS). In fact, all you have to do is look at the 2016 NHTSA Summary of Motor Vehicle Crashes fact sheet—which is based on FARS information—for a sobering reminder of the risks that drivers face, from more than 3.14 million injuries sustained during the year to nearly 11,000 fatalities due to alcohol-impaired driving.
Maybe the risk of experiencing a fatal or disabling crash looks, relatively speaking, pretty low. After all, there are more than 320 million people in the US alone, 225 million of whom are licensed drivers. Let’s put your crash risk into perspective, though: by far, more people die from driving than from many of the recreational activities we think of as “dangerous.”
Throughout the book I will be giving you estimates of the odds associated with certain aspects of driving aspects ranging from distraction (think texting) to driving under the influence of alcohol. The concept of “odds” is not difficult to grasp. In essence, odds are the likelihood—or risk—of something happening. For our purposes, that something is a crash, and most often the odds I give you will tell you how much risk you face of being in a crash under certain conditions (whatever those conditions might be) compared to the ideal conditions of driving on dry roads in daylight while alert, attentive, and unimpaired (sober). If the odds I give you are not based on that comparison, I will let you know. Therefore, if I tell you that your odds of being in a crash are 1.0, this means that you would have exactly the same risk if you were driving under the ideal circumstances described above. If the odds are 1.3, you are about 30 percent more likely to crash than if you were driving under ideal conditions; if the odds are 2.0, then you are twice as likely to crash; if the odds are 6.0, then you are six times, or 600 percent, as likely to crash, and so on.