Driving is one of the most dangerous things that we do—and we do it every day. This fact was reinforced on Tuesday morning, February 11, when two men were killed in a crash along I-696 in Oakland County.
Worse? The fatal crash was a secondary car accident, brought on after the two men got out of their cars to exchange information following a minor collision and were struck and killed by another driver. This accident is still under investigation by police.
Sometimes, secondary car accidents can be more dangerous than primary accidents, and they can escalate minor scrapes into fatal accidents. Here’s what went wrong on Tuesday morning and what to do if you and your family are in a similar situation.
The original crash happened around 5:30 a.m. in the eastbound I-696 lanes between Woodward and Coolidge. It involved a 61-year-old from Westland and a 39-year-old from Oak Park.
The two drivers were caught in a minor accident and were both unharmed. They pulled off to the side of the road to exchange information.
This is where things went wrong. When the two drivers got out of their cars, they were both hit by oncoming traffic. Police and first responders pronounced them dead on the scene.
While the drivers had the right idea—they did it in the wrong place. Most of the time, drivers are instructed to stay on the scene and wait until police arrive. However, there is a critical second component—you can get out of your car to exchange information, but only if it’s safe to do so.
After the incident, police have reminded Michigan drivers that the side of the freeway is not a safe place to get out of your car. You can wait on the side of the road for police to arrive and block off the area, or you can exit the freeway and meet police in a nearby safe site.
“We want to remind people not to get out of your car on the side of the road. This was an incident that could’ve been prevented if they waited in their cars and waited for police,” said Ft/Lt. Michael Shaw. “People don’t realize how fast 70 mph really is until it’s too late. Drivers can consider exiting the freeway and meeting police in a parking lot.”
The second part of the problem comes from other drivers on the freeway.
You’re taught as a teenager that you need to keep your eyes on the road. But this isn’t just something that your parents and your driver’s ed teacher tell you. There’s a critical psychological reason, reinforced by basic physics.
Most of the time, our brain handles automatic processes without our conscious awareness, allowing us to predict events accurately with minimal cognitive effort. We become aware of events when our predictions fail, i.e. when they warrant our conscious attention. This allows us to function smoothly in the world and allocate conscious processing toward tasks difficult enough to merit it.
This is important for common tasks like driving a car, which most of us do regularly. Experienced drivers allocate the basic mechanical tasks of driving, like steering, braking, and accelerating to automatic attention processing, especially when we’re driving a familiar route. In effect, we’re turning on autopilot.
With automatic processing at the wheel, you can make dozens of discrete hand and foot movements with little (if any) direct awareness of these movements. We only use conscious processing when we need to make larger corrections to stay in the dotted lines, which means that we’re generally free to allocate our conscious attention to other tasks.
We’re told to keep our eyes on the road because of this cross-section of conscious and unconscious processing. Your conscious mind does not process basic mechanical tasks like steering, instead focusing on surprises—like, for example, a car accident on the side of the road.
So when you look to the side of the road, your unconscious mind is still processing steering, braking, and accelerating without conscious input. This is why, as a famous quote from The Art of Racing in the Rain notes, your car goes where your eyes go.
If your eyes turn to look at an accident, your unconscious mind assumes this must be where you want to steer, and you’ll find yourself steering in that direction without realizing it. On the freeway, physics will take care of the rest.
And just like that, you have a secondary car accident, just like the one Tuesday morning.
The problem is that we cannot necessarily control how our conscious and unconscious minds correlate. After all, your conscious mind deals with important surprises. Two people standing on the side of the freeway qualifies as an unexpected surprise.
If you want to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, you have to think from both sides of this accident.
If you were involved in a secondary car accident as a result of someone else’s negligence, know that you should not have to suffer from someone else’s reckless driving. You and your family deserve better than that.
At Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys, our team of experienced auto accident attorneys knows what it takes to make the system work for you, and we won’t stop fighting until we get the results you deserve. We deliver great results for your family because our work is based on a foundation of good law—hard work, integrity, and dedication.
Need to talk with an attorney about your next steps? Schedule your free consultation today.