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.
As 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 Influence
Intoxicated 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.
Impairment by alcohol or drugs can create deficits in the brain functions needed for safe driving, including the ability to maintain a single lane of travel, control one’s speed, or respond appropriately in emergency driving situations.
3. Distracted Driving
Three 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.
There are many examples of driving distractions, such as eating or drinking, visiting with passengers, attending to children or pets in the back seat, or even looking at other drivers or vehicles.
One of the distractions that have caused the most concern for traffic safety experts is texting and other use of handheld devices. Texting is an example of all three types of driver distractions, as the driver takes their hand from the wheel to hold the phone and input letters into it in response to a message, takes their eyes from watching the roadway to read or respond, and focuses more on the message they’re sending or receiving than safely operating their vehicle.
4. Failure to Yield the Right-of-Way
All drivers are required to yield the right-of-way to other roadway users at certain times, including when stopping at red lights or stop signs, stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, or even stopping at train crossings or when following a school bus that has its red lights flashing and its stop arm extended.
Many accidents in intersections including T-bone (broadside) collisions result from drivers failing to yield when legally required.
One of the most confusing times for drivers to determine if they have the right-of-way is when making a left turn.
Many roadways feature a designated left turn lane and even a green arrow that indicates that the right-of-way belongs to the turning driver. However, drivers are also permitted to turn on solid green lights as long as there is a sufficient gap in traffic going straight through the intersection. However, the driver must yield to approaching vehicles when turning on the solid green light or a flashing yellow arrow.
5. Failure to Properly Maintain the Vehicle
Drivers 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.
In addition to making it difficult for the driver to maintain control, poorly maintained cars also pose an increased risk of causing an accident simply by being broken down on the roadway or even on the shoulder of the road, where they can be struck by vehicles that are driven by speeding or distracted drivers.
6. Driver Fatigue
Fatigue 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.
Driver fatigue exhibits many of the same impacts to driving a vehicle as alcohol impairment, including slow response times to hazards on the roadway, difficulty maintaining a single lane of travel, and making safe driving decisions.
7. Inattentional Blindness
It 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 Rage
According 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.
While the term aggressive driving is often used interchangeably with road rage, these are actually separate driving risks. While aggressive driving involves numerous traffic infractions, road rage involves the deliberate attempt to harm another driver, commonly over perceived defects in their driving skills.
Examples of road rage include:
- 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.
- 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.
What to Do After a Car Accident Caused by Someone Else’s Negligence?
If you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by another driver’s negligence, two of the most important things to do include obtaining medical treatment for your injuries and contact San Diego personal injury law firm’s an experienced car accident attorney for a free case evaluation to learn how they can determine your legal options available for seeking compensation for your losses.