Fatal car accidents happen.
There are many consequences of a fatal car crash. The most significant is the death of a fellow human being. Every other consequence pales in comparison.
But there are other consequences too. The second most significant is survivor’s guilt. This is an article about auto insurance. We’ll get to that later because the psychological health of survivors is paramount.
Survivor’s guilt, once classified as a diagnosis in its own right, is now generally accepted among mental health professionals to fall under the category of post-traumatic stress disorders. One who survives a fatal event will almost inevitably — according to a recent U.K. study, 90% of car crash survivors — be haunted by why they survived, what they could have done differently, what they could have done to preserve life.
This is a serious condition whose symptoms include obsessiveness, irritability, headaches, nausea and suicidal thoughts. It requires immediate medical attention.
What are the causes of fatal auto accidents?
Before looking at the legal and financial consequences of a fatal car accident, let’s look at why they happen in the first place.
Three-quarters of fatal car crashes in Ontario happen during the summer months. That’s not a surprise when you think it through. More mileage, vacation time, trips to the cottage … oh, right, and drinking alcohol. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, more than half of road fatalities involve drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs. Other causes include:
- The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) claims that distracted driving causes more accidents than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While predominantly cellphone-related, eating, checking a GPS, or self-grooming are also frequent causes. According to the OPP Sergeant Carlo Bernardi, "At times I know there are a lot of things going on in peoples' lives, but they have to think about driving when they're actually driving." The OPP has noted an uptick in traffic fatalities due to distracted driving.
- Excessive speed is frequently a factor; hence the recent addition of stunt driving (or street racing) to the Criminal Code as an offence.
- More than 90% of Ontarians wear seatbelts while they’re in a moving vehicle. What’s a surprise is that almost 5% don’t. Your chances of surviving an auto accident are improved by almost 50% by properly buckling up.
- The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety in the U.S. reports that about a quarter of accidents are side-impact — T-bone — collisions. These are largely because of drivers running red lights or ignoring signage and colliding with vehicles that have the right-of-way.
- 30% of drivers admit to having “nodded off” while at the wheel. Driver fatigue is a major contributor to road accidents in Canada, according to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, especially during the summer when people take longer road trips.
What you should do if involved in a serious car crash
If you are in a serious accident in which there’s the potential of serious injury, call 911 immediately. Summon all the first responders you can. The legalities and implications can wait. Lives cannot.
The Co-operators offers these tips for any car accident or collision:
- Call 911 if there are injuries.
- Do not admit fault or accuse the other driver of fault; determining fault is a job for the authorities.
- If other parties at the scene become abusive, distance yourself until authorities arrive.
Safe driving habits are paramount
If you are deemed to be at fault in a fatal accident, there are more important implications than how it will affect your car insurance premiums.
Depending on the authorities’ determination — carelessness, recklessness, dangerous or involuntary manslaughter — you could face a jail term of up to life in prison. In any event, you’ll need legal help to have your driving privileges restored. You could be banned from driving for life. Your auto insurance company may not cover any lawsuits that stem from the accident if there is deemed to be criminal intent. In that event, an increase in your premiums is the least of your concerns.
Accidents happen. But preparation can avoid them. Don’t drink and drive. Be aware of any weariness or drowsiness and rest when necessary. Drive according to road conditions. Resist the urge to drive aggressively or exceed the speed limit. Focus on the road, not your cellphone. In other words, drive safely.