Auto accidents are a significant cause of death in California and throughout the U.S., with hundreds of traffic crash fatalities daily. In 2016, 3,623 people died in traffic accidents in California alone. Understanding what causes car accidents can ultimately help drivers prevent them. One factor that can cause auto accidents is stress. Driving while stressed can lead to a dangerous loss of focus, as well as increased odds of making bad decisions such as speeding or aggressive driving. If a driver allows stress to cause a car accident, he or she will be liable for damages.
Stress and Reckless Driving
The body’s natural stress reaction can include physical, mental and emotional responses. This can make it difficult for a driver to think about anything else. Stress can amplify other negative feelings, such as anxiety, pressure or depression. This can make it difficult to have a clear head while driving. Being under duress could lead to making poor decisions a driver normally would not make, such as driving over the speed limit, tailgating or weaving between vehicles. Stress can fog the driver’s brain, making it difficult to make sound judgment calls. The driver might not be able to recognize the risks he or she is taking by driving recklessly.
Stress Can Cause Road Rage
A driver’s reaction to stress could come in the form of anger, aggression or frustration. This could lead to road rage. Road rage is a dangerous state of mind in which a driver’s anger clouds out all else – including good decision making, judgment and reaction times. A driver experiencing road rage is much more likely than other drivers to engage in dangerous actions and behaviors that could cause a car accident.
- Speeding or racing
- Cutting other drivers off
- Brake checking
- Making unsafe lane changes
- Flashing the vehicle’s lights
- Honking or shouting
- Weaving in and out of lanes
- Running red lights or stop signs
- Ignoring the right-of-way
- Driving the wrong way
- Threatening or assaulting another driver
A driver experiencing road rage should take steps to calm down before continuing to drive. He or she should pull over someplace safe to use relaxation techniques to get to a better, safer state of mind. Later, when not on the road, the driver should address the cause of the stress that led to road rage to prevent future incidents.
Stress Is a Cognitive Driver Distraction
Even if stress does not result in reckless, angry or aggressive behaviors, it could be enough to take a driver’s mind off the driving task (driver distraction) and cause a crash. In 2017, 3,166 people died because of distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While most people think of cellphones and fast food when they think about driver distraction, physical distractions are not the only culprits. Cognitive driver distractions can be just as deadly.
Stress can be a cognitive distraction that detracts the driver’s mind from the road and the driving task. Thinking about positive or negative sources of stress, from a new baby to getting fired, while driving means the driver is not thinking about operating the vehicle. This type of cognitive distraction can delay a driver’s reaction times enough to cause a collision. A driver distracted by stress may be looking at a red light, for example, but his or her distracted brain may not register the light until the vehicle has already crossed into the intersection and collided with another car.
Drivers in California should never underestimate the impact stress can have on the ability to safely control a motor vehicle. It is critical to reduce stress before a driver gets behind the wheel. If a driver struggles with controlling stress, he or she should use breathing exercises or see a therapist for coping tips. If a person is feeling stressed, overwhelmed or otherwise emotional, he or she should not drive.