Research psychologist and NASA scientist Steve Casner doesn’t believe accidents are unavoidable – he calls them“preventable injuries.” He explains how human psychological vulnerabilities contribute to car crashes, accidents,mistakes and close calls. Casner says you can avoid most trips to the emergency room by considering what could go wrong and adopting strategies to be more careful. His dry sense of humor, conversational style and relatable case studies make this safety guide eminently readable, even though readers might want more practical advice.
Kind of remind me of the movie, final destination. Maybe you will see why.
The Not-So-Good Old Days
Historically, people didn’t wear seat belts and some of humanity nowadays still doesn’t. They warmed their homes with kerosene space heaters, worked in construction without helmets or safety harnesses, rode untethered in the back of pickup trucks and killed head lice by pouring gasoline on children’s scalps.
One in 20 people died in an “accident” of some sort.
The addition of safety devices such as childproof caps on pill bottles, smoke alarms and seat belts prevented countless common accidents or limited their harm. This reduced accidents so that by 1992, the number of fatalities due to preventable incidents became one in 40. Yet, safety statistics have changed little since then.
“Today we are back to the safety record we had 30 years ago, and we seem to be stuck with it.”
The first step in avoiding accidents is understanding where pitfalls and obstacles lurk. Experts in injury prevention report that most accidents occur due to common psychological slipups.
Human beings share six major vulnerabilities that contribute to injuries and accidents:
Basically a guide to survive in the movie “final destinations”.
(1) Paying Attention
In 2014, distracted drivers in the United States caused 1,181 injuries a day mostly by people think they can multitask and use smartphones while driving. Psychologists use the term “task switching” rather than multitasking, because humans can’t do two things at once; they switch their attention back and forth.
Hence, they miss telltale clues, such as the brake lights lighting up on the car in front of them.
With every switch of attention, the brain needs time to catch up. Getting up to speed can take up to 27 seconds. Juggling two activities taxes the brain’s working memory, which is busy processing information from a current task. “Change blindness,” the loss of detail when switching attention from one thing to another, occurs during task switching.
Historical example of failure to pay attention
In 1972, a landing gear warning light caught the attention of a flight crew. While they tried to solve this problem, they failed to notice that someone had inadvertently turned off the autopilot. The plane went down in the Everglades, killing 101 of its 176 passengers.
Nowadays, pilots follow safety procedures to avoid this preventable accident. People’s attention wanders for up to half of their waking hours. The brain can focus intensely for only short periods of time. Thus, air traffic controllers work short shifts with breaks in between each round of intense attention.
(2) Making Errors
It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable you are. You’ll still make mistakes. I know I do, most recently was yesterday, I accidentally made a mistake in calculating the volume of floating hose pipeline. It took me a few hours to re-calculate and admit my mistake (and that including lunch break). And it was not easy. to admit that I made a mistake. Yeah, I might have an ego problem.
An example of much more high profile errors, consider this.
In 1964, All-Pro football player Jim Marshall picked up a fumble and ran down the field for what he thought was a touchdown. Unfortunately, he ran the wrong way and scored a two-point safety for the opposing team. Marshall was one of the best football players of all time, but he still messed up. Being an expert can work against you.
Once you’ve mastered something, that task doesn’t require the same amount of thought or focus as it did in the beginning. When your mind is elsewhere, you’re apt to stumble. People make mistakes performing activities they’ve repeated hundreds of times, such as turning on the teakettle, but failing to fill it with water.
Other form of blunders come from assuming you know what you’re doing or trusting the expertise of others. Purchasing a stock on a gut feeling or using a nail gun without reading the directions are examples of having misplaced belief in yourself. When people learn of someone else’s mistake, they blame that person. But when people make a mistake themselves, they excuse or deny it.
Accept that sooner or later, you’ll mess up. Put procedures in place to avoid common mistakes. Use checklists and simplify your routine processes. Double-check your work or ask someone else to check it. Build up your “error tolerance” by creating a backup plan whenever possible.
(3) Taking Risks
Pushing boundaries is fun, and taking risks is exhilarating. However, taking risks is also a leading cause of unintentional injury. People incorrectly assess the risks they face according to what they experience firsthand, read, hear or watch on TV.
Bad news tends to be more viral material compared good, so parents fear kidnapping and terrorists more than they fear the backyard pool.
Yet children drown at the rate of one per day in the United States. Most folks believe that other people are more likely to suffer negative outcomes. For example, the survival rate of new small businesses in the United States is 35%, yet entrepreneurs believe they will succeed. This misplaced feeling of invulnerability leads people to run red lights or balance on top of a ladder.
Some people are “sensation seekers” and actively court risk to experience a thrill or adrenaline rush. When you’re angry, impatient, anxious or stressed, you’re more likely to indulge in risky behavior such as driving too fast or drinking to excess.
Know the human biases that affect your ability to assess risk, such as feelings of invulnerability, peer pressures or your emotional state.
(4) Thinking Ahead
On February 20, 2003, a crowded Rhode Island nightclub caught fire when the performing band’s manager set off a pyrotechnic device. Within seconds, flames engulfed the club, trapping hundreds of partygoers inside. The club’s sound engineer and a bartender knew of a rarely used exit at the back of the kitchen and led several people to safety. Ahead of time, they had thought about what to do in an emergency, so they had knowledge they could put to use, thus saving themselves and many other people.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman would categorize their actions as System 2 thinking: deliberate consideration of all relevant factors, rather than System 1 thinking, which is the fast, intuitive thinking that most people rely on throughout the day. Danial Kahneman book, thinking fast and slow is still one of my all time favorite. Maybe I re-read that once my reading pending list. I think I got around 100+ books to go through.
Now, thinking ahead is a proactive method for identifying dangers and planning how to react.
Hence, when engaging in a new situation or activity, ask four questions:
- “How could this go wrong?”
- “Should I really do this?”
- “What can I do to prevent this from going wrong?”
- “What would I do if it did go wrong?”
(5) Looking Out for One Another
Most people like to believe they’re kind and considerate of others. At least I thought I am. But most of the time, when I reviewing my own action and words during the day, I would come across as both sarcastic and mean. No worries, I’m working on that. Now let takes a further look into this.
When situations become stressful, this thoughtfulness goes out the window and not because humans are innately awful. Rather, biological wiring leads people to become less sensitive to other people’s needs when they are under duress.
Note: Duress means threats, violence, constraints, or other action used to coerce someone into doing something against their will or better judgement.
Additionally, people have difficulty envisioning how their actions affect other people. For example, do you stop and look before opening your car door on a busy city street? Most people don’t, yet suddenly opened car doors cause many fatal bicycle crashes.
Even when you’re struck with the impulse to help, several instinctive responses may keep you in check. The belief that someone else will step up comes from a normal psychological process called “diffusion of responsibility.”
You’re less likely to assist when you’re in a hurry or in a bad mood.
Some psychologists theorize that empathy is on the decline. Studies show that people feel more narcissistic and entitled. That clouds their ability to empathize with other people.
(6) Taking and Giving Advice
When you’re trying something new or you’re in an unfamiliar situation, get advice from someone in the know. Specialists of all kinds are more than willing to offer counsel or provide instructions. So why don’t people take advantage of the plethora of great information available to them?
First, they may be suffering from information overload.
When so much information is available, people become desensitized. After all, who really reads the safety instructions that accompany nearly every item you purchase?
Second, the person giving the guidance may not explain why his or her advice so valuable. Lastly, someone’s ego might get in the way. Why listen to advice, especially unsolicited advice, if you already believe you know what you’re doing?
Recognizing how you’ll benefit from someone else’s expertise helps you keep an open mind.
When giving advice, do so with confidence and authority. Research shows that people are more likely to listen and absorb your guidance when you deliver it this way. Provide the backstory – that is, the reasons why people should listen to you.
In the Home
Approximately one in 15 people will suffer an accident at home.
In 2014, more than 300,000 people visited their local emergency room with an injury from a kitchen knife; 140,000 fell from a ladder, and more than 28,000 got hurt with a hammer. Using the wrong tool for a job or using the right tool in the wrong way can result in many accidents.
You can avoid in-home accidents by envisioning what could go wrong. For example, if you use a screwdriver to pry open a metal box, anticipate of all the ways you could get hurt. Incorporate the practice of envisioning negative outcomes into your routine whenever you embark on a project.
With the Kids
Around 4,000 children suffer fatal injuries annually in the United States, and approximately 630,000 children worldwide die due to injuries. Childproof your environment by seeing it through your child’s eyes and asking yourself, “What could go wrong?” In 2013, “mechanical suffocation” on pillows, blankets and cushions caused 81% of infant fatalities. Five percent of infant deaths are due to drowning. Babies can fall into bathtubs or toilets.
Babies and toddlers are prone to choking, falling off beds or falling down stairs.
Preschoolage children get into everything, so keep all dangerous objects locked up or out of reach.
As your kids get older, teach them to think about consequences.
In the Car
Car crash fatalities have declined for decades due to seat belts, improvements in car design and better trauma care. But fatalities have increased since 2015. Pedestrian deaths rose 10% in 2015. Everyone is in a hurry. Two people die per day in the United States because someone blows through a red light. Some 20% of car crashes occur when someone tailgates or weaves in and out among lanes of traffic.
A quarter of speed-related accidents occur on neighborhood streets with speed limits lower than 35 miles per hour. If everyone slowed down and followed traffic rules, they’d get where they are going much faster with fewer injuries and deaths.
Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents. Using a hands-free device doesn’t greatly improve the odds, even though it is legal in many states. Using smartphones to text while driving is dangerous. Talking, texting or listening to music is dangerous even while walking. They heighten your risk of getting hit by a car.
At the Office
People are safer at work than at home. Companies seek to ensure employees’ safety. Employers want to control the costs of providing medical care, settling lawsuits or replacing injured workers.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed workplace safety standards for everything from disposing of hazardous materials to the width of a hallway. It still issues thousands of safety violations, but most people who get hurt at work didn’t follow the rules due to feeling complacent or exempt from the rules or due to a breakdown in the safety culture.
Accidents Versus Preventable Injuries
True accidents such as getting hit by a meteorite rarely happen, I mean what are the odds of that happening. Most injuries that result from so-called accidents are preventable. Commitment and willpower aren’t enough to make a lifestyle change.
Social support such as making a change with friends would proves effective. Enlist a friend or two to join your safety campaign. For instance, agree that you will both put your phones away when you’re driving.
Set up reminders that prompt you to think of safety.
Robert Sumwalt founded End Distracted Driving after a distracted driver killed his daughter. The organization gives out rubber bracelets that people wear to remind themselves not to reach for their phones while driving.
Incorporate safety rituals into your daily routines.
Practice and repeat until certain behaviors become automatic, such as putting on a seat belt when you get in the car or looking both ways before crossing a street.
See. It’s like a surviving guide for Final Destination. However, I won’t recommend going overboard with these precaution. You really don’t want to end-up as some “weirdo”.