What Are the Common Causes of Car Accidents?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

causes of car accidents

Despite fewer Americans being on the road last year due to the pandemic, the projected number of car accident fatalities for 2020 is the highest since 2007. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes — up 7.2 percent compared to 2019 (36,096).

While we don’t have data for non-fatal crashes in 2020, we know that in 2019, there were an estimated 6,756,000 police-reported traffic crashes, injuring approximately 2.74 million people.

But what is causing these accidents? We take a look at the most common causes of car accidents.

Common Causes of Car Accidents: The Definitive List

      1. Distracted Driving
      2. Speeding
      3. Driving While Intoxicated
      4. Reckless Driving
      5. Tire Blowouts
      6. Brake Failure
      7. Inclement Weather
      8. Poor Road Design
      9. Potholes
      10. Uneven Pavements
      11. Obscured Signs

      The top causes of car accidents typically fall into one of three categories:

      • Driver error
      • Vehicle error
      • Environment-led.

      Driver error is, by far, the most common cause of car accidents, with vehicle error and environmental factors responsible for a much lower number of accidents.

      Causes of Car Accidents from Driver Error

      1. Distracted Driving

      Driving while distracted is one of the top causes of death in car accidents. Distracted driving can be anything from eating food, sending a text, or talking on a cell phone to changing the radio station or simply talking to other passengers while driving.

      Even the simple act of quickly checking your phone to read a text can take your eyes off the road for a full five seconds. It might not sound like a long time, but at 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.

      Most people think they can multitask while driving, but studies show that the brain is incapable of performing multiple tasks simultaneously. Instead, the brain toggles back and forth between them, doing neither adequately and multitasking while driving can mean missing a hazard or not reacting in time.

      2. Speeding

      When a driver is in a rush and running behind or against a tight deadline, speeding can be tempting. But speed kills, and it’s a leading cause of car accidents. The faster you drive, the less time you have to react to potential hazards on the road, and the consequences can be deadly.

      Speeding in any vehicle is dangerous, but car accidents involving semi-trucks can be particularly dangerous. Semi-truck drivers are often under tight deadlines to make deliveries, and a driver might go above the speed limit to get to their destination on time.

      But semi-trucks require more time to stop compared to light passenger cars. A loaded truck traveling at 65 miles per hour takes 525 feet to stop, or about the length of two football fields.

      If a speeding truck driver sees a hazard, they might not stop in time even if they hit the breaks.

      Speeding can also indirectly cause car accidents. If you’re on the road and encounter a speeding car or truck coming up behind you, you might swerve off the road to get out of the way — right into oncoming traffic.

      3. Driving While Intoxicated

      Every 52 minutes in the US, a person loses their life to a drunk driver. While fatalities from drunk driving have decreased over the years, reaching the lowest percentage since NHTSA started reporting this data, it’s a leading cause of car accidents — and entirely preventable.

      Drinking impairs concentration and focus, making driving under the influence incredibly dangerous.

      But it’s not just drunk driving that motorists have to watch out for.

      Driving under the influence of drugs is also common. The use of stimulants among truck drivers is particularly high, with one study finding that 27.6% of truck drivers take drugs while driving, with amphetamine especially prevalent (21.3%).

      Over-the-counter and prescription drugs also pose a threat, with seemingly innocent medications like antihistamines able to make drivers feel drowsy and have slow reaction times.

      4. Reckless Driving

      Reckless driving can comprise many behaviors, and it results in car accidents that are entirely preventable. Just some examples of recklessness that can cause car accidents include:

      • Running red lights or stop signs
      • Changing lanes in an unsafe way
      • Driving the wrong way on the road
      • Tailgating
      • Getting road rage
      • Driving while tired.

      Causes of Car Accidents from Vehicle Error

      5. Tire Blowouts

      We don’t always check our tires before a long drive, but tire blowouts are a leading cause of car accidents. If a tire isn’t properly inflated and pressurized, or if it’s seen better days, it only takes the smallest impact for it to burst.

      In some cases, a tire may be faulty from the get-go, and you might not know about it until it’s too late. When combined with road hazards like potholes, the results can be disastrous.

      6. Brake Failure

      It only takes one car or truck to suffer a brake failure to cause a multi-vehicle collision. Car accidents caused by vehicle error may be a minority compared to driver-led incidents. Still, with millions of crashes occurring each year, even the smallest percentage can mean a hefty number of accidents. You can’t control the behavior of other drivers, and if you’re in your car and get cut up by another vehicle, you rely on your brakes to help you take evasive action. If your brakes fail, there’s little you can do to avoid a dangerous and potentially fatal accident.

      Environment-Led Causes of Car Accidents

      7. Inclement Weather

      Inclement weather can include high winds, snowstorms, ice, and heavy rain, and it can cause havoc on the road. Snowstorms and heavy rain can make conditions difficult to navigate, no matter how familiar a driver is with the road.

      Icy or wet weather can also cause hydroplaning, skidding, or jackknifing. In these scenarios, the driver becomes a passenger and will lose complete control of their vehicle. While there’s little a driver can do about such conditions — apart from avoiding driving — individuals should take care not to drive even at a normal speed during inclement weather.

      8. Poor Road Design

      None of us expect the roads we drive on to be dangerous, but poor road design is a common cause of car accidents. If defective road plans result in a sharp or blind turn being built, or if plans don’t account for life-saving measures like guardrails and lighting, dangerous — if not deadly — car accidents can result.

      9. Potholes

      Potholes form when water seeps under asphalt and freezes, then melts. This puts pressure on the surface and causes cracks to expand, making it easier for more water to seep through. The process then repeats over and over, gradually doing more damage to the pavement.

      Over time, this causes a hole to form in the ground, presenting a major hazard for vehicles. Driving over a pothole can cause tires to burst, leaving drivers unable to control their vehicle. Swerving to avoid a pothole is equally dangerous, as cars may plow into traffic.

      10. Uneven Pavements

      Uneven payments can surprise even the most diligent driver, and it’s a major cause of car accidents. This can occur when a road is only partly resurfaced, leaving an alarming elevation change that can cause a driver to lose control. Drivers may veer into oncoming traffic or meet resistance trying to get back on course, resulting in drivers being overly aggressive and causing a crash.

      11. Obscured Signs

      Road signs are vital for driving safely. They tell us the speed limit, when a sharp turn, intersection, or railway is up ahead, when there’s a school or pedestrian zone — even when there may be deer or cattle on the road. If a sign is obscured by foliage or trees — or, worse, is missing entirely — it can cause a dangerous car crash.

      What to Do if You’re in a Car Accident

      Now you know the common causes of car accidents, what should you do if you’re in one? A car crash can happen at any time, and it can have devastating consequences. At best, you’ll need medical treatment and may have to take some time off work. At worst, a car accident can be fatal. But you could be entitled to compensation to cover your past and future medical bills and lost wages, and for the lasting impact of your accident on your life. If your loved one has died in a car accident, our Texas wrongful death lawyers can help you receive a payout to cover funeral costs and compensate you for your loss.

      Our car accident lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio can help you get the justice and compensation you deserve. To find out if you have a claim, call us today on 855-LAW-NINJA or fill in our contact form.

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