According to the National Safety Council, around 11,300,000 motor vehicle accidents occur annually on U.S. roadways. Of those accidents, nearly 8 million will involve property damages and non-disabling injuries to the vehicle’s occupants. Around 4.8 million people will incur injuries severe enough to need medical treatment, and more than 42,000 will die due to injuries sustained in the accident. The vast majority of car accidents result from negligent actions that one of the drivers took while using the public roadway, and this is where a car accident lawyer can help. Here is a look at eight of the most common causes of car accidents.
1. SpeedingAs noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding drivers kill more than 11,000 people each year, making driving too fast one of the leading causes of motor vehicle deaths. When drivers operate their vehicles faster than the posted speed limit or too fast for the traffic or weather conditions on the roadway, they risk losing control of their vehicle. Additionally, they deprive themselves of the time they need to detect a hazard on the roadway and react to the hazard by depressing their brakes. Driving too fast also causes the car to travel a longer distance after the driver has braked, as the brakes must work harder to pull the vehicle’s weight to a complete stop. Speeding makes it harder for other roadway users to judge a safe gap in traffic in which to enter or cross a roadway, also increasing the likelihood of a crash. When accidents do happen, the increased force of the collision created by the excess speed will generally produce a more severe accident and more severe injuries to the occupants of the vehicles involved.
2. Driving Under the InfluenceIntoxicated drivers kill more than 11,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drivers impaired by other drugs injure or kill several thousand more each year. A study of more than 4,000 seriously injured drivers treated by seven U.S. trauma centers revealed:
- 22 percent of these drivers tested positive for alcohol.
- 25 percent were positive for marijuana.
- 9 percent tested positive for opioids.
- 10 percent tested positive for stimulants.
- 8 percent tested positive for sedatives.
3. Distracted DrivingThree driving distractions can lead to accidents:
- Manual distractions cause the driver to take their hands from the proper position on the steering wheel.
- Visual distractions cause the driver to take their eyes off the road.
- Cognitive distractions cause the driver to think about other things besides driving their vehicle safely.
5. Failure to Properly Maintain the VehicleDrivers who wish to operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway have several legal responsibilities. They are required to register their vehicle, typically in the state where they live. They’re required to obtain and maintain the minimum level of auto liability insurance coverage required by their state. They’re also expected to ensure that their vehicle is properly maintained to reduce the risk of causing harm to others. Some of the types of vehicle maintenance issues that can lead to accidents include:
- Bald tires. These make it harder for the vehicle to stop quickly. Additionally, bald tires increase the risk of having a tire blowout, which can make it hard for the driver to maintain control of the vehicle.
- Worn-out brake pads and rotors. These can make it difficult for a driver to bring their vehicle to a quick and complete stop, increasing the risk of a rear-end accident if the driver is entering an area where traffic has slowed or stopped.
- Power steering problems. A driver may struggle to steer their vehicle properly and easily to make a sharp turn or avoid an obstacle in the roadway.
- Burned-out headlights, taillights, or turn signals. The lights of your vehicle not only help you see the road when operating your vehicle at night but also help other drivers to see you and understand your intentions, such as using the turn signal when changing lanes or making a turn.
6. Driver FatigueFatigue also produces deficits in drivers’ skills to drive their vehicles safely. While drowsy driving is most often associated with long-haul truck drivers or night shift workers, the CDC reports that any driver can feel the effects of driver fatigue in certain circumstances, such as:
- Going too long without adequate rest.
- Operating the vehicle when the body instinctively seeks sleep, such as the late night or early morning hours.
- Long periods of inactivity.
- Using medications that increase drowsiness, such as many common over-the-counter antihistamines and cold relief medications.
- A physical health condition, such as sleep apnea, impacts the quality of sleep a person gets.
7. Inattentional BlindnessIt is not uncommon for the at-fault driver in an accident to state that they didn’t even see the other vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian. While this seems like merely a convenient excuse and an attempt to avoid blame, there can be some validity to the statement due to inattentional blindness. As explained by the American Psychological Association, inattentional blindness also referred to as perceptual blindness involves how the brain processes information, focusing on certain objects in the driver’s view, such as larger vehicles and the changing of the light, while completely missing other details such as a pedestrian entering the crosswalk, or the smaller vehicle in front of them stopping at the crosswalk. Inattentional blindness is different from distraction in that the individual is actively watching the roadway but fails to take in and respond appropriately to all of the hazards. There is continuing research on inattentional blindness, including determining if the phenomenon impacts other senses and whether some people are more prone to suffering from inattentional blindness than others. As one Harvard researcher noted, experiments have not yet thoroughly answered the question as to whether everyone experiences inattentional blindness about 30 percent of the time or whether 30 percent of the people who were studied were characteristically inattentionally blind. That said, if a driver causes a collision because of inattentional blindness, they’re still liable for the harm caused to others.
8. Aggressive Driving or Road RageAccording to the AAA Exchange, the term aggressive driving refers to several deliberate, unsafe driving behaviors, often with ill intentions or disregard for others. Research by the AAA Exchange indicates that some of the most common types of aggressive driving include:
- Speeding in heavy traffic
- Following other vehicles too closely (tailgating)
- Cutting off another driver
- Running red lights
- Weaving in and out of traffic, often without the benefit of a turn signal
- Blocking other vehicles that are attempting to change lanes.
- Cursing, gesturing, or throwing objects at other vehicles
- Ramming another vehicle in an attempt to run it off the road
- Getting out of the vehicle to confront another driver
Aren’t Weather and Badly Maintained Roads a Major Cause of Collisions?Many believe accidents are caused by bad weather, such as snow, heavy rain, or poor visibility. They also believe that many collisions are caused by roads that city or state road departments have let fall into disrepair. While any of these conditions can contribute to the crash, there is usually also an element of negligence exhibited by a driver. For example:
- Drivers traveling below the posted speed limit must also adjust their speed to account for roadway conditions, such as poor visibility or wet or icy roads. Failing to do so will often result in an accident and a citation for operating the vehicle too fast for the conditions.
- A driver who fails to maintain their vehicle’s tires will find that they have less traction on wet or icy roads, which can cause them to be unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. When police investigate the accident, they will generally find fault with the driver for operating a vehicle with bald tires rather than finding fault with the roadway for being slippery.
- As the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) explains, hundreds of accidents occur yearly in road construction work zones. At the same time, government agencies and their contractors attempt to repair or widen roads. These work zones commonly feature changed roadway alignments, reduced speed limits, and the presence of flaggers and other workers and equipment near vehicles passing through the work zone. Around one-quarter of all work zone accidents involve one vehicle rear-ending the other. Drivers who cause work zone accidents due to following other vehicles too closely are usually considered at fault for the accident, not the agency or contractor who created the work zone.