Vehicle crashes have been declining across the nation for years thanks to better regulations and improvements in safety technologies. However much the numbers have dropped, the fact remains that the number of accidents each year still remains unacceptably high. Eliminating traffic crashes entirely is still firmly in the realm of a high-technology future; no system that fundamentally relies on human operators can ever be completely free from error. Humans aren’t perfect, which is why crashes are so often referred to as accidents.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) maintains a Crash Data Analysis Manual to help identify, define and categorize different types of crashes to enable comprehensive tracking and analysis. The document is intended to provide a common reference framework for anyone accessing crash data, and defines common terms and procedures used to describe any given crash from start to finish. One of the more confusing terms included in the manual is a “non-collision” event, begging the question of how a crash can happen without a collision.
What is a non-collision car crash?
Official reports of vehicle crashes describe a series of cause and effect events. The proximate cause of any accident is referred to as the “first harmful event.” Non-collision refers to a crash that was not caused by a collision with another vehicle or object. However, this phrase does a lot of heavy lifting. The Crash Data Analysis Manual gives this definition for “non-collision” crashes:
A crash event not involving a collision. Includes overturn/rollover, fire/explosion, immersion, jackknife, cargo/equipment loss or shift, equipment failure, separation of units, ran off road, cross median, cross centerline, downhill runaway, fell/jumped from motor vehicle, thrown or falling objects.
That covers an awful lot of territory, so let’s break it down a little further. First and foremost, reported crash events always refer to a vehicle in transit, so we can eliminate other vehicles and focus on what’s going on with a vehicle in motion. We can’t speak for the future, but for now, any vehicle in motion requires an operator. Therefore, we can consider the driver to be one of the control systems in play during operation.
From there, we can break down failures into three main categories. First, the operator can suffer a malfunction in the form of a medical emergency. These can range from the minor (a muscle cramp that pins the accelerator) to the extreme (heart attack or loss of consciousness). Next, major or minor mechanical components of the vehicle can fail, causing loss of maneuverability or control. Finally, external factors like poor road or weather conditions can impair both driver and vehicle.
What is the most common type of fatal accident?
It may surprise you to know that the vast majority of crashes in the US involve only a single vehicle, and Virginia is no exception. According to the US Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, “Single Vehicle Roadway Departure (SVRD) crashes are the single largest cause of driver fatalities in the United States, accounting for 36 percent of all roadway fatalities….” The full text, a review of adaptive interface Technologies that provide Safety Warning Countermeasures, is available here.
To underscore just how frequently these crash events happen, we turn Richmond’s own NBC 12. An article published in early October details four separate incidents in the Richmond area spanning just 48 hours. Starting on October 1, these are the details:
- On Friday evening in New Kent, a 25-year-old man drifted off I-64 and struck several trees in the median.
- On Saturday in Louisa County, a 39-year-old man’s truck drifted off I-64, struck a tree and caught fire.
- On Saturday in Westmoreland County, a 47-year-old ran off a curve in the road and was thrown from his motorcycle.
- On Sunday evening in Louisa County, a 69-year-old man crossed the center line, causing a chain reaction that ultimately involved three other vehicles.*
Aside from the fact that none of these events technically involved a collision between vehicles –even the last one*, as the driver who crossed the center line did not hit any other cars – they all share another striking commonality; each and every one of the drivers died at the scene. Four separate incidents, four different locations, and four deaths that left families mourning the sudden loss of a loved one – and wondering if they’ll ever find out exactly happened.
When a family member is killed in a single vehicle accident, it can be hard for surviving families to process the sudden lost, much less know how to proceed. Certain procedures happen automatically, but knowing whether you should pursue further information or retain legal counsel can be the furthest thing from your mind.
Why you should find a lawyer after a fatal single vehicle crash
Understanding the circumstances that led to a single vehicle crash is critical to providing closure to victims family members, and crucial to preventing others from suffering the same fate. While the effects of simple mistakes are magnified at highway speeds, a closer look into the circumstances is almost always warranted, and often reveals that additional factors contributed to the crash.
In some cases, experienced legal counsel and subject matter experts are able to identify that a mechanical defect or improperly maintained road surface was the first harmful event. Occasionally, this information reveals that others have suffered similar accidents for the same reason; in these cases, investigating your loved one’s accident has a real potential to save many other lives.
When your loved one is the victim of an accident, the compassionate attorneys at Phelan Petty know that the path forward isn’t always clear. Our Richmond-based car accident attorneys and personal injury lawyers work hard to investigate the details of your case to help your family get the compensation you deserve. Every car crash is different, and we treat each case and every client with integrity and respect. To discuss your case today, please call 804-980-7100 or fill out our contact form. Proudly serving Richmond and all of Virginia.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.