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How likely is it for me to be in a car accident?

People certainly feel like they can avoid being in a car accident. But how valid is that feeling?

For instance, perhaps you're like many people and you're nervous when you fly. You've seen the statistics, and you know that you're vastly less likely to die in a plane crash than a car accident. But that doesn't calm your nerves on the plane.

Meanwhile, you're almost never nervous behind the wheel. You drive to work every day. If anything, you're bored.

A sense of control

The reason for this is likely that you have a sense of control when you're in the car. You're holding the wheel. Your foot is on the brake. In a plane, someone else is flying. Never mind that you've received almost no training and that pilot has logged hours and hours. Knowing that someone else is in control makes you nervous.

That brings us back around to car accidents. If you're not nervous because you're in control, that suggests that you feel like you can always avoid accidents. Can you?

Average accidents

While outliers exist, the reality is that you likely can't avoid a crash. In fact, some estimates say that average drivers get in accidents every 17.9 years. Did you get your driver's license when you turned 16? If so, that means you're unlikely even to make it to 34 without a crash, much less your entire life.

Another way to look at it is by raw statistics. The National Safety Council says there are roughly 10 million crashes annually. This includes everything from fender-benders in the parking lot to injury accidents on the interstate to deadly head-on collisions on two-lane roads.

If you've been driving for 18 years, that means 180 million car accidents have occurred over that time period.

Out of your control

The reality is that much of what happens on the road is completely out of your control. You feel like you have control as you grip the wheel, but you don't. It's the illusion of safety.

You could pull through a green light legally, and a red-light runner could t-bone your car at 45 miles per hour.

You could head east on the interstate, driving carefully five miles per hour under the speed limit, and get hit by a wrong-way driver going west.

Even the best drivers can't avoid these crashes all the time. Caution is good. Defensive driving is smart. But don't assume it means you'll never be in an accident. That's largely out of your hands. Human error causes most accidents, and it only takes an error by one driver to draw two or more vehicles into a wreck.

Your rights

That's why it's so important to know your rights after a crash. If you can't avoid all accidents, you at least need to know what to do after one happens.

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