In most areas of the country, driving remains the most reliable and most efficient way to get from one place to another. But even if you’re experienced and careful, there’s a chance you could end up in a car accident; in fact, there are more than 35,000 motor vehicle deaths in the United States each year and tens of thousands of accidents that only result in minor injury.
The good news is that most car accidents are preventable – but you have to understand and respect the causes of those car accidents.
The Most Common Causes of Car Accidents
These are some of the most common causes of car accidents in the United States, in no particular order:
1. Distracted driving
One of the most common causes of accidents is also one of the most preventable: distracted driving. When traveling at high speeds, taking your eyes off the road even for a second can render you incapable of responding to a sudden change in your surroundings. For example, if you look at your phone for a second while driving on the highway and a person in front of you slams on the brakes, you might be incapable of stopping in time. Avoid distractions at all costs, keeping your attention on the road and the drivers around you.
2. Manufacturer defects
We trust the manufacturers of our vehicles to equip them with everything they need to drive reliably and safely – but even small manufacturer defects can lead to major accidents. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about this to proactively prevent accidents. Choose reliable manufacturers with a strong reputation – and if there’s a recall for your vehicle, take care of it immediately.
3. Intoxicated driving
Despite widespread knowledge that drinking and driving is a major public health hazard, people still drink and drive. Alcohol and other drugs impair your ability to respond in a timely and appropriate manner. They may also impair your perceptions and judgment. If you’ve consumed alcohol recently, or other drugs that affect your perceptions, you’re best off getting a designated driver to take you home.
4. Fatigued driving
Most people know that alcohol can affect your driving, but those same people may underestimate the effects of fatigued driving. If you’re especially tired, your perceptions can be as distorted as they would be after a heavy round of drinking. Get a ride home or take some time to nap before attempting to drive when tired.
5. Inclement weather
Bad weather can limit visibility, reduce traction on the road, and affect your vehicle’s maneuverability, all of which lead to higher rates of car accidents. In cases of severe bad weather, such as thick fog or a major blizzard, it’s a good idea to stay home and not drive at all. Even in cases of mild bad weather, like a thunderstorm or moderate snowfall, you’ll want to exercise caution, giving yourself extra stopping distance and keeping your headlights on at all times.
Speeding is a leading cause of car accidents for several reasons. First, it affects your maneuverability, making it difficult to handle sharp turns and making it more likely you’ll lose control of the vehicle. Second, it increases your stopping distance, giving you less time to react to sudden changes in front of you. It also increases the force of collision, so accidents involving speeding have higher fatality and injury rates. Remain at or under the speed limit and reduce your speed further when necessary.
7. Ignoring traffic signs/laws
Traffic signs and laws exist for a reason: to keep you and other drivers safe. Reckless driving, running a red light, merging without a turn signal, or failing to yield may seem inconsequential in the moment, but they can sharply increase your risk of an accident. Obey these signs and laws at all times.
8. Poor road conditions
Bad roads can also lead to accidents. Major potholes or bumps can cause you to lose control if you’re not careful. Avoid construction sites when possible and pay attention to your surroundings to minimize risk here.
9. Lack of maintenance
If you don’t keep your vehicle well-maintained, it can be harder to control – and may break down unexpectedly. At least annually, you should have your vehicle inspected (and repaired if/when necessary).
Understanding Other Drivers
You may be a safe, attentive, and obedient driver on the road, but you’re still just one of many variables that interact (and could potentially lead to an accident). In addition to driving cautiously and obeying the law, it’s important to observe and proactively respond to the drivers around you. Don’t be afraid to pull off to the side of the road or take an alternative route if it means getting out of the way of a reckless driver.