How to Determine a Preventable Versus a Non-Preventable Vehicle Accident

Topics: Loss Control

Summary: Motor vehicle accidents come in many forms, from collisions to mechanical failures. Learn how to determine what is a preventable versus a non-preventable type of motor vehicle accident and the importance of a safe driver program for your company.

How to Determine a Preventable Versus Non-Preventable Vehicle Accident

When investigating a vehicle accident, we often rely upon an adage of trying to find out who is at fault. After all, if it was determined our driver is not at fault, then they were operating the vehicle correctly.

Believe it or not, just because a driver is not found to be at fault does not mean that they could not have done something to avoid the accident in the first place. Our primary objective in investigating vehicle accidents should be to prevent drivers from being involved in ANY accident, regardless of fault.

The questions we typically ask include:

  • Was someone cited?
  • Was a claim paid?
  • What did the police report say?

These questions are certainly valid. But they focus solely on assigning blame or placing the burden of safe driving on a single individual instead of many or all parties who may have contributed to it.

By determining an accident’s preventability rather than just fault, you can focus on the root causes and increase the likelihood of developing the proper corrective actions to address the issues. Anyone assessing or judging an accident must gather as many facts about conditions and circumstances as possible, whether they are in the driver’s control or not.

What is Preventable Accident?

The National Safety Council (NSC) defines a preventable collision as “a collision in which the driver failed to do everything reasonable to avoid it.” On the other hand, an accident is non-preventable when the driver is legally parked or properly stopped at the direction of a law enforcement officer, a signal, a stop sign or traffic condition. There are exceptions to these definitions, but treat them as such and do not allow excuses to influence the determination, such as weather conditions or actions of other drivers.

The California Highway Patrol describes crashes using the word “collision” rather than “accident” because they consider almost all collisions not as accidents but as perfectly preventable collisions.

Types of Preventable and Non-Preventable Vehicle Collisions

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 94% of vehicle crashes are caused by human error. Many types of preventable vehicle accidents can also be considered non-preventable, depending on the circumstances. Below is a list of some of these types of collisions, including the following:

Intersection Collisions

Failing to observe the right-of-way, whether a stop sign or light is present, is preventable. To be deemed a non-preventable accident, the vehicle must be struck in the extreme rear or side while the driver is protected by lights or stop signs. At an intersection, regardless of lights, signs, or right-of-way, a driver should know to yield to anyone who assumes the right-of-way. A responsible driver should also know and understand the vehicle’s turning radius and avoid damaging others.


Drivers should be able to judge distances properly when leaving a parking spot and enter traffic safely. Drivers should be able to pass other vehicles and pull back into the lane of travel when the other car in the rearview mirror becomes visible. Similarly, a driver can prepare for a passing vehicle by slowing down to let another vehicle overtake them while passing. Parked vehicles can have people opening doors unexpectedly, and a driver should anticipate this. This type of accident is non-preventable only if the driver is already passing and the door opens. A skilled driver knows how to stay out of another vehicle’s blind spots.

Pedestrian and Animal Collision

Collisions with a pedestrian are usually considered preventable, even when pedestrians come out from between parked cars. Awareness of the presence of children, congested areas, bus stops, etc., is critical. Similarly, collisions with animals are typically preventable when the driver can recognize the presence of animals in the area. In either case, the collision should only be considered non-preventable if the pedestrian was behaving so unreasonably that there was no way for the driver to have anticipated the actions or the animal was acting unusually or unexpectedly in an area where animals are not expected to be present.

Parked or Stopped Vehicle Collision

A collision is non-preventable if the vehicle is properly and legally parked. All other accidents with the car double-parked or in a “No Parking” zone are preventable.

Mechanical Failure

Mechanical defects and failures, such as bad brakes, blown tires, etc., should be considered preventable. The driver should know how to properly conduct a pre-trip inspection before operating the vehicle at the beginning of each day. If the failure was sudden and unexpected, not due to abuse or wear and tear, the collision may be considered non-preventable.

Setting Standards for Company Drivers for the Prevention of Vehicle Accidents

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage and lost productivity. The NSC reports that motor vehicle fatalities grew for the third year. In 2021, 46,980 people died in motor-vehicle crashes compared to 42,338 in 2020 and 39,107 in 2019.

Driving is a universal hazard, and vehicle crashes can have a devastating impact on households and businesses alike. This is why preventing future motor vehicle collisions at your organization is critical to your success.

The bottom line is – what are the company standards for safe and authorized drivers? Does the company train drivers in defensive driving skills as part of the employee eligibility and qualifications process? Does the company provide a distracted driver training policy?


AmTrust Loss Control Team Provides Transportation Safety Resources

AmTrust’s Loss Control Department recognizes that safety starts with knowledge. We offer a variety of transportation safety resources, including streaming video training materials, to our policyholders as a value-added feature. Whether your employees drive personal vehicles, company vehicles or heavier commercial vehicles, it’s our goal to help your organization reduce and manage the risks these drivers face. Contact our team for more information about creating a customized loss control program for your organization.


This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.


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