Page images


No-Fault System Operating Mechanisms .....
Comparison Of Fault And No-Fault By System Model

Evaluation .......
Combined Effect Of Parameters .......


Frustration And Aggression
Financial Burden And Fault ..
Criminal Law Deterrence





Radical proposals have been made to recompense all persons injured in highway accidents regardless of fault. This attempt to meet a social problem would, if accomplished, weaken or destroy the legal system that has been erected so that citizens may gain justice through the orderly process of tort law.

In arriving at their conclusions, proponents of "no fault" compensation have assumed that this major legal change could be made with no noticeable effect on the highway accident level because the liability insurance system has already removed the need for individual responsibility on the highways. This claim is made without supporting evidence. Such a rash assumption is not a reliable basis for change; nor can the lives of drivers and passengers be gambled in such a manner. It should also be noted that this revolutionary proposal flies in the face of common sense, public and legal values. The fault concept--that one who causes injury to another should fairly and adequately compensate him for that injury--has been and still is very much a part of public consciousness which finds its counterpart in the law of the land.

What is needed is calm analysis aimed at strengthening the values of the present system rather than their destruction. This analysis should be rooted in scholarship and marked by deliberate application of knowledge to a great and growing problem--highway accidents which in 1968 alone claimed the lives of 55,000 persons.

Enunciating principles which must be applied to improve the present system, the Defense Research Institute special report, "Justice In Court After The Accident," led to another paper, "Responsible Re form--A Program To Improve The Liability Reparation System," which clearly delineates an action program designed to improve highway safety through concentration upon individual driver behavior.

Another important first step has now been taken with the completion of empirical research which provides definitive answers to fill the void left by mere common sense arguments. This work, "Psychological Aspects Of The Fault System As Compared With The No-Fault System Of Automobile Insurance," has been researched and written by Lawrence Lawton, professional engineer and traffic engineering consultant from Westchester, New York, under a grant arranged by the Defense Research Institute, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This study is available from the Defense Research Institute as is a summary, "Fault--A Deterrent To Highway Accidents," which has been adapted from the original work of Mr. Lawton. The author holds a B.S.C.E. degree from the School of Engineering, College of the City of New York, has engaged in advanced studies in traffic engineering

at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and has completed a Yale University seminar in application of computers to traffic engineering. A specialist in traffic safety and accident reconstruction, a traffic consultant since 1963 and author of numerous scholarly articles, Mr. Lawton has reviewed many hundreds of serious accidents, analyzed accident causes and determined measures to reduce or eliminate such accidents.

Gratitude is expressed by the Defense Research Institute to the following organizations of defense attorneys which aided in financing Mr. Lawton's research: Association of Insurance Attorneys, Federation of Insurance Counsel, Alabama Defense Lawyers Association, Association of Defense Counsel (Northern California), Association of Southern California Defense Counsel, Dade County Defense Bar Association (Miami, Florida), Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association, New Jersey Defense Association, Defense Association of New York (New York City), Defense Research Institute of Northeastern New York, Ohio Defense Association, Oklahoma Association of Defense Counsel, Tennessee Defense Lawyers Association, Texas Association of Defense Counsel, and Washington Association of Defense Counsel (Seattle).

In addition to spotlighting causes of many of today's highway accidents and suggesting their remedies in his complete study, Mr. Lawton has concluded that abandonment of the fault principle would increase highway accidents and thereby the number of deaths and injuries and costs to the American public. The Defense Research Institute has premised its opposition to radical change on the theory that fault is basic to the maintenance of a viable legal system of tort law and that removal of the fault concept in favor of a reparations system which would reward innocent and guilty equally would result in increased highway accidents with its resulting harm and death. The Lawton research supports this premise and buttresses the position that responsible reform of the existing system is the answer to the current concern over the increased cost of automobile accidents.

The Defense Research Institute
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

December, 1969


Lawrence Lawton, P.E.

Westchester, New York


Accidents, according to many recent articles are inevitable byproducts of our frantic industrialized society. Some argue that it is unrealistic and economically wasteful to determine fault in traffic accidents. A belief holds that car accidents are spontaneously generated in random fashion governed by the laws of chance. Some legal theoreticians who accept this view urge abandonment of the fault concept.

The present law is concerned principally with accident causation. If accidents are primarily the result of chance, then it would seem reasonable to consider changes in the law to reflect reality. However, if a significant number of accidents can be attributed to individual fault, then it is mandatory that individual behavior be studied to determine if proposed changes will affect the behavior of individual drivers, and thereby accident frequency.

While progress, whether sociological or technical is the result of innovation, new ideas do not always succeed. A significant portion of the practice of engineering is devoted to the systematized study of proposed changes in technology, the first step being to test the basic premises of the suggested advance. This is related to the three underlying assumptions of the no-fault concept in respect to traffic safety:

1. Automobile accidents are little more than the result

of random distributions of specific events in a complex
social process. I

2. A very large proportion of accidents are caused by

vehicle mal function, and are therefore not due to the
culpability of drivers. 2

3. No change in law can significantly affect driver

behavior because the over-riding factor is the driver's
fear of injuring himself.3

[ocr errors]

The first portion of this report will analyze the validity of the beliefs which form the foundation of no-fault. The next phase will determine the factors influencing the behavior of individual drivers. Finally, an evaluation will be made of the changes in driver behavior which could be expected as a consequence of the no-fault concept.


If accidents are a matter of mere chance, then driver fault is of small consequence. But if driver negligence causes a substantial number of accidents, it would be a tragic error to lessen emphasis on driver fault. If accidents occur merely by chance, then they should be uniformly distributed throughout the driving population. Should accidents occur at a greater unit rate in particular groups of people, however, there must be some characteristic in that particular group which cause an increase. Driver behavior as an accident cause can be independently tested by determining if accident involved drivers have different characteristics than those not involved. Those who have the identified personality characteristics are studied to see if they have a higher incidence of accidents than the average. If the rate is higher, it indicates that driver behavior, not chance, is a significant factor.

Night And Day

If accidents are primarily random, it might be expected that the number would vary in direct proportion to traffic volume. However, the night traffic problem is far more serious. Only one-third of the traffic flow occurs during darkness, when nearly sixty percent of all fatal accidents occur. Not only is the risk greater at night, but the severity of the collision is also increased. A recent study of the Washington, D.C. urban area showed that the average direct cost of daylight accidents was $400." At night this cost increased to $750.

At first glance, it might be expected that difficulties in seeing at night would account for the difference. To explore this matter, Baker determined the risk index for single-vehicle accidents by hour of day, for both the California State highways and for Route U.S. 66.5 If visibility were the only factor, the risk index for accidents in the four dark hours before midnight should approximate the four hours after midnight. However, the accident exposure rate was more than doubled during the second night time period. As Baker pointed out, cars and roads are constant factors before and after midnight. Therefore, the quality of driving must decrease sharply after midnight. Fatigue and alcohol are suspected.

« PreviousContinue »