The accident prone syndrome

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In 1919, Greenwood and Woods reported that a small number of individuals appeared to sustain a majority of the industrial accidents within the studied industrial workforce, and suggested these individuals were accident prone. Since that publication, there have been literally hundreds of studies of the personality characteristics of individuals who have been involved in accidents. In recent years, many investigations of the personality characteristics have focused upon drivers injured or killed in vehicular accidents. Although seriously or fatally injured drivers are a biased sample of all accident victims, the findings from these studies have contributed to knowledge about accidents in general. The opportunity for studying drivers who were involved in fatal accidents with reference to normal samples presented itself during the course of a multidisciplinary investigation of vehicular deaths. In addition to in depth psychological investigations, the overall study included postmortem and toxicological examinations (blood and urinalysis), completion of the General Motors Collision Performance and Injury Report, mechanical dissection of the vehicle, and review of Department of Motor Vehicle's traffic records. The mean age of the sample was 34 years. According to the Hollingshead 2 Factor Index of Social Class, 14 percent were Class 5, 54 percent were Class 4, and 32 percent were Class 3 or above. Thirty eight percent of the sample were married, 38 percent were single, and the remainder were separated, widowed or divorced. All but 10 percent of the sample were employed. Review of driving records revealed many violations committed by the subjects. Exactly half of the sample had one or more prior speeding convictions, and 36 percent had two or more. Prior convictions for reckless or drunken driving occurred in 22 percent. Twenty eight percent had had their license suspended or revoked at one time or another and 16 percent had a history of previous accidents according to the Department of Motor Vehicle's records. Sixty percent of the sample had had prior moving convictions. With regard to the accidents themselves, 76 percent of the drivers were involved in single car accidents and of that percentage, 92 percent were considered to have been the responsible (at fault) driver. Seat belts were used by only 4 percent of the drivers. Toxicology studies revealed that 78 percent of the sample had a measurable level of blood alcohol at the time of autopsy. Fifty two percent of the drivers had blood alcohol levels in excess of 0.10 percent, a value at which driving ability is considered impaired. Twenty eight percent were described by informants as having been prone to bouts of heavy drinking. Males have higher death and injury rates than females at every age, with the exception of female children ages three to ten, who are subject to higher death rates from burns. One probable explanation for the higher accidental injury and death rates for males is that they are more frequently exposed to hazardous situations at work and play than females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-76
Number of pages16
VolumeNo. 7
StatePublished - Jan 1 1976

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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