Getting in a car accident is a highly frustrating experience regardless of who caused the accident. No one expects to get into a car accident when they get behind the wheel, which is why the experience is so jarring and scary. Fortunately, many times when you are in one, you can walk away safely and only have property damage to consider. But in other scenarios, you might find you and your loved ones have been seriously injured.
When you get into a severe car accident, you may be facing life-altering injuries. You can experience a whole range of emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression. It's not unheard of to have mental trauma after a car accident. Some people even develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes them hyper-aware and stuck in a constant cycle of danger.
While almost every reasonable driver tries to operate their vehicle safely, sometimes mistakes are made that have enormous consequences. Being vigilant while behind the wheel is the duty of every driver. It's not just a social contract. It's a legal contract called duty of care. When that duty is breached, they introduce themselves to liability. Let's take a look at the 10 top causes of car accidents in the U.S. and the repercussions that follow negligent driving.
10 top causes of car accidents in the U.S
- Distracted driving: Distracted driving is considered risky behavior, and it's defined as any activity that takes your attention away from driving. A driver can be distracted from their duty to drive safely by many things, but one of the most alarming causes is texting while driving. What people may not realize is if they take their eyes off the road to send a quick 5-second text while driving at 55 mph, their vehicle travels the length of a football field. Imagine what hazards could present themselves on the road during that distance. It's a terrifying prospect, so many states have enacted laws that prohibit the use of any hand-held device while driving.
Distracted driving isn't limited to texting or cell phone usage. As stated previously, it's anything that diverts your attention from the road ahead. Things like talking to passengers, eating, digging around in your briefcase, messing with your GPS, applying makeup, daydreaming, or even changing the radio station have the potential to cause an accident.
The consequences: Distracted driving causes an average of 3,000 deaths per year and about 280,000 injuries every year. Additionally, distracted driving is the cause of 920,000 accidents per year, including those causing injury and death.
- Intoxicated driving: Each day in the United States, 28 people lose their lives from drunk drivers. According to the data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), that's 10,142 people per year. That is an astonishing number since it is illegal to get behind the wheel while intoxicated in every state. Think about it. That's one person every 52 minutes! The worst is that all of these deaths were 100% preventable.
Driving while intoxicated means your brain isn't functioning at its full capacity. The effects of alcohol impair a driver's ability to think and reason normally and can affect muscle coordination. All of which are fundamental to driving with care. Every state has its own acceptable blood alcohol concentration levels for drivers. But even while driving at so-called acceptable levels or less, you run the risk of hurting others. In 2019, 1,775 people were killed by drivers that had consumed alcohol yet weren't legally considered intoxicated.
The consequences: Drinking and driving are a deadly combination. Drivers who disregard the law face incarceration with charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Furthermore, they run the risk of having their driver's license revoked and heavy fines. When a drunk driver causes an accident, they are almost always considered at fault, and their insurance company can deny their claim for their own injuries. If they injure others, they have no defense when it comes to liability and lawsuits.
- Speeding: Exceeding the speed limit is illegal in the United States. Speed limits are created because they are deemed the speed at which your vehicle can travel safely under road conditions. Often speed limits will be reduced when approaching a curve, school zones, areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic, and road construction sites. While every driver has the duty to follow posted speed limit signs, they also have the duty to reduce their speed if there are other road conditions such as rain, ice, sleet, and snow.
The consequences: Speeding reduces a driver's reaction time to dangers up ahead. It increases the chance of a rollover, total loss of control of a car, and more serious injuries when an accident occurs. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), speeding was a contributing factor to 26% of all traffic fatalities during 2019, with an average of 25 deaths per day and a total of 9,478 victims. Young male drivers make up the largest demographic of speeding accidents.
- Reckless driving: Reckless driving, also known as aggressive driving, is a major factor in crashes in the United States every year. The definition for reckless driving is broad but can include:
- Following improperly
- Improper or unusual lane changes
- Illegal driving in areas other than the road like sidewalks or the shoulders
- Passing in restricted areas
- Failure to yield right of way
- Failure to obey traffic signals and signs
- Failure to observe warnings on other vehicles like "stay back"
- Failure to use signals
- Improper turns
The consequences: Reckless driving accounts for 33% of all deaths on the roadways each year, which averages more than 13,000 annually. Additionally, 30% of all car accidents have reckless driving as a contributing factor.
- Rain/Wet Pavement/Weather: While it may not be possible to avoid driving during inclement weather, it's recommended to proceed with more caution because of the known dangers. Weather can impact a driver's ability to see properly and affects vehicle performance, such as traction, stability, and maneuverability.
The consequences: According to a study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA ), wet pavement was a factor in 860,286 crashes from 2007-2016, causing 324,394 injuries and 4,050 fatalities. Rain contributed to 556,151 crashes, 324,394 injuries, and 2,473 fatalities during the same time frame.
- Running red lights: If a driver enters an intersection at any time after the light has turned red, they are guilty of a traffic violation. Running red lights is the most common cause of all crashes in urban areas costing society $230 billion annually, all of which is totally preventable. Half of the people that are killed by red-light runners are not the violators; they are passengers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists.
The consequences: In the last ten years, nearly 9,000 people in the United States have been killed due to red-light runners. An estimated 165,000 people are injured each year. Red-light runners who cause injury to others might be held financially responsible and even charged with manslaughter if they caused someone's wrongful death.
- Driving at night: While driving at night is a necessity sometimes, it actually is more dangerous to drive at night because we simply can't see as well after the sun has set. Furthermore, some kinds of lights can add to the problem because of glare.
The consequences: Fatal accidents are three times more likely to happen at night, and the rate of fatal accidents involving alcohol impairment is four times higher. Accidents caused by fatigue are most likely to occur between midnight and 6 AM.
- Vehicle defects: While drivers are usually the culprit in car accidents, sometimes a vehicle defect can be the primary cause of an accident or at least a contributing factor. Vehicles go through rigorous testing before being released to the public. Still, sometimes a defect can go unnoticed until it's too late, as is the case with Takata airbags. It's essential for drivers to stay on top of things like recalls and vehicle maintenance.
The consequences: The National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS) found during a two-year study that vehicles were the cause of 2% of accidents. Out of that 2%, 35% was tire/wheel related, 22% was brakes-related, and 3% was attributed to steering/suspension/transmission/engines. Drivers who knowingly drive vehicles that haven't been properly maintained could find themselves legally liable if it's found to have contributed to the accident.
- Tailgating: Not only is tailgating an annoying behavior, but it's also very dangerous. Tailgating makes it impossible for drivers to avoid rear-ending other drivers if they have to stop for any reason suddenly. On average, 14 out of 10,000 drivers have been cited for tailgating.
The consequences: 33% of car collisions are rear-end impacts, and the traffic fatality rate per 100,000 is 11.4, according to the NHTSA. If someone causes an accident due to tailgating, the driver will almost always be considered financially liable.
- Wrong-way driving and improper turns: Wrong-way driving is an obvious mistake. Sometimes people miss the one-way, wrong way, or do not enter signage. This is particularly scary when it comes to entering a freeway. Often, these drivers are impaired, and the result of wrong-way driving is a head-on crash. An improper turn is dangerous because it can result in entering the roadway on the wrong side.
The consequences: In 2018, 36,560 people lost their lives due to wrong-way driving. 60% of these crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Unfortunately, wrong-way driving has increased in recent years. Wrong-way crashes are much more likely to be fatal, with death occurring in one out of five wrong-way accidents.