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Questioning a longtime accident statistic

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” is a quote that, in various forms, has been attributed to high-profile dignitaries that include Mark Twain to Winston Churchill.

A longtime statistic often cited in traffic safety campaigns in states and throughout the country is that 94 percent of accidents result from human error. Credited to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, the number serves as a so-called factual foundation in promoting the prevention of tragic collisions.

Detractors claim that the stat is nowhere near a fact. Many consider it a lie.

Shifting the blame for collisions

As autonomous vehicles come of age, the stat has been dusted off yet again. Driverless car manufacturers believe that their technology can reduce, if not eliminate, a vast majority of crashes.

Yet, when it comes to the human error factor, the devil is in the details. One of those details is the complete misinterpretation and misuse of the NHTSA’s infamous 94 percent state as a potentially universal cure-all. It has been propped up to be an excuse to avoid blame for system design errors. To assign a number so close to 100 percent ignores the complexities of accidents and paints broad brush strokes over the actual and multiple sources of these tragedies nationwide.

Risk factors are much more nuanced than a set percentage, shifting the blame away from legislators ignoring unnecessarily excessive speed limits and engineering shortcomings. Roads designed to be safe into streets and highways that are increasingly and unduly dangerous.

Calls to put the 94 percent myth to rest comes at a critical time when technology is taking over vehicle operations. Yet, it has fallen on deaf ears as it remains front and center. Perhaps it has become a deadly form of passivity. Its overreliance prevents real solutions that can save the lives of drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

For safety’s sake, the “truth” can hopefully catch up to the “lie” before more negligence results in severe injuries and deaths.