Top Causes of Car Accidents and How to Avoid Them


damaged car from accident

In 2021, traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle accidents that year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020.

Tragically, the vast majority of car accidents are preventable and result from driver errors. In fact, an NHTSA survey attributes 94% of crashes to drivers.

In this article, we’ll go over some of the top driver-related causes of car accidents and then also cover some unrelated to driver error.

Let’s get started!

Driver-related car accident causes

1. Drunk driving

Driving while drunk (aka driving under the influence) is one of the top causes of fatal car accidents. According to the NHTSA, there were 11,654 deaths from drunk driving in 2020. That’s about 32 deaths every day or one person every 45 minutes.

The reason drunk driving is so dangerous is that it reduces your reaction time, lowers your alertness, and impairs your vision and cognitive ability. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Of course, the same goes for any kind of debilitating substance, including drugs.

2. Distracted driving

Another leading cause of car accident deaths is distracted driving. It claims about 3,000 lives per year. In 2019, 424,000 were also injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.

So what counts as distracted driving? Anything that takes your eyes off the road. Common distractions include texting, calling, eating, drinking, talking to other passengers, and fiddling with the radio or GPS.

You may think you can multitask while driving. But the truth is you can’t. Studies show that nobody can truly multitask. It’s a myth. At best, you can alternate between tasks quickly. But trying to do this while driving can be deadly. A split second of distraction can make the difference between crashing and not crashing.

3. Speeding

Speed limits exist for a reason: to keep you and other drivers safe. In 2020, it killed 11,258 people.

And yet, many drivers regularly go over the speed limit. According to an American Automobile Association (AAA) report, nearly half of all drivers (48%) report going 15 MPH over the speed limit on a freeway in the past month, while 15 percent admit doing so fairly often or regularly.

Speeding is especially common among younger, reckless drivers, and it’s more common among males than females.

When you speed, you endanger yourself and others on the road. So don’t do it.

It’s also important to adjust your driving speed according to weather and road conditions. In some cases, you may need to drive even slower than the speed limit.

4. Tailgating

Tailgating refers to when you drive too closely behind another vehicle. Drivers may tailgate out of impatience, aggressiveness, or lack of awareness. Whatever the reason, the practice is a common cause of rear-end collisions.

When you don’t leave much room between you and the vehicle ahead of you, you may have less time to react to sudden breaks. In fact, not keeping a safe following distance has led to over 500,000 motor vehicle collisions globally.

So keep your distance. Other drivers (and your future self) will be glad you did.

5. Drowsy driving

Getting tired behind the wheel (aka driver fatigue) is another common cause of car accidents. It’s prevalent among those who drive trucks and other commercial vehicles over long distances. However, it could happen to anyone who doesn’t get enough sleep or goes on a long road trip without taking enough breaks.

Why is driver fatigue dangerous? The obvious answer is that it could lead you to fall asleep while driving and then cause an accident. However, even if you don’t fall asleep completely, drowsiness can reduce your response time and make it harder to notice changes in traffic and road hazards. As a result, you may run a red light, not see a pedestrian, or fail to break in time.

This is why there were 633 deaths from crashes related to drowsy driving in 2020.

To avoid becoming a part of another statistic, never overestimate your ability to stay awake when you’re tired. Pull over and take a nap if you’re struggling to keep your eyes open.

6. Running traffic lights and stop signs

Running traffic lights and stop signs also cause many accidents. This is partly because traffic flows overlap at intersections, making them particularly dangerous.

Yellow lights can be especially tricky. They require you to make a quick decision about whether to stop or, if you have too little time to come to a stop, keep going. Use your best judgment and err on the side of caution.

The same goes for stop signs. You should always come to a complete stop and check both ways before proceeding into the intersection.

Car accident causes unrelated to driver error

7. Auto defects

In some cases, a vehicle defect could be at fault for an accident. It could cause the car to malfunction and thereby cause a crash. For example, the brakes or the steering could give out.

In this case, the car manufacturer could be held liable for the accident if you brought a product liability claim against them and won.

8. Road hazards

Sometimes obstacles in the road can cause a crash. Some hazards include potholes, uneven road surfaces, sharp curves or inclines, and visual obstructions.

If the road hazard was created by a particular road crew or organization, you may be able to hold them responsible if it wasn’t clearly marked or if traffic wasn’t properly directed.

9. Poor weather conditions

Lastly, poor weather conditions can also lead to car accidents. For example, rain, snow, ice, and fog can make it more difficult to see or make the roads slippery. If you’re not careful, you could end up in a crash.

That said, a driver could still be at fault if they were driving too fast for weather conditions. If that happens, you may be able to hold them liable for causing the accident.

The bottom line

There you have it! Some of the top causes of car crashes. Of course, there are many other reasons people get into accidents, but now you know what to keep an eye on most.

If you still manage to get into an accident by no fault of your own, be sure to consult a reputable car accident lawyer. They can help you navigate the complex legal system to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.


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