Why it’s important to learn from near misses

Posted on August 15th, 2012 by James Luckhurst

Why it’s important to learn from near missesEver wondered about that near miss you may have experienced the other day? That heart-stopping moment when you thought there might have been a nasty collision? Thankfully it didn’t happen, but it’s certain we can all learn from those moments with a view to reducing the chances of their happening again.

Many companies encourage their employees to report the near misses they experience while driving. By getting employees to report close calls, the belief is that identification and discussion of these incidents can help to improve driving and reduce future collision potential.

Unfortunately, when someone does open up about a near miss incident (and, in most cases, they won’t come forward on their own), they tend to start from the position that there was nothing I could do about it; it was the other driver’s fault.

So, on this basis, are near misses a good indicator that we’re at risk of a collision. And if so, does it matter whose fault it was? In other words, is it only when we’re at fault that indicates our level of risk or is it all near misses, even those that weren’t our fault?

A recent study in the USA, using in-vehicle camera technology, focused on two sorts of near miss: the near collision avoidable and the near collision unavoidable. Results showed that a driver with one or more near collision avoidable (NCA) incidents was significantly more likely to have a collision than a driver without an NCA. For example, a driver who had four NCAs had a four-times greater risk of a collision than a driver with none. And, a driver with 10 NCAs during the 26-week period of the study had a seven-fold increase in having a collision.

Additionally, a driver with one or more NCAs was significantly more likely to have multiple collisions than a driver without an NCA. For example, a driver who had four NCAs had a 13 times greater risk of multiple collisions than a driver with none.

So Near Collision Avoidable incidents really are a very good predictor of future crash risk. Although not quite as dramatic, the data also shows that Near Collision Unavoidable incidents are also a very meaningful predictor of future crash potential.

This should come as no surprise. In our experience, the best drivers constantly scan the traffic scene, maintain adequate space away from other vehicles and operate at reasonable and safe speeds. With these techniques in action, these drivers simply make early, well-thought-out adjustments when other drivers make mistakes. Their decisions and actions occur while they are farther away from the other driver.

The less skilled driver commonly has less awareness and limited space. Consequently, these drivers are forced to make abrupt, emergency responses when someone else makes a mistake. So, even if the close call wasn’t their fault, it is probable that the techniques the driver was employing increased the chances of a near collision.