What Are the Most Common Causes of Car Accidents?

What causes most car accidents?

Two men looking at car collision on road; woman standing near car

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Despite a sharp drop in miles driven in 2020 due to the pandemic, it’s estimated that more than 42,000 people died in car crashes. This is the highest number of U.S. automobile accident deaths in the last 13 years.

With the number of fatal car crashes up, it’s more important than ever to examine the data and see what’s causing these accidents. After all, observant, defensive drivers can help prevent incidents on the road.

To help you better understand your greatest risks while driving, we will explore some of the data related to car accidents, along with the top causes of crashes in the U.S., led by driver error.

Key Takeaways

  • Human error causes almost all car accidents.
  • In 2020, more people died in car crashes than in the previous 13 years.
  • Other causes of auto wrecks include mechanical failure of the vehicle and adverse environmental conditions.

An Overview of Car Accidents in the U.S.

Driving can be dangerous. In 2018, for example, there were 13.5 million car crashes on U.S. roadways. Of these, more than 36,000 were fatal.

And while these numbers went down in 2019, they again rose rapidly in 2020—despite scores of people driving less because of stay-at-home orders, work-from-home situations, and contagion fears.

How is this possible? Research shows that the drivers who went on the roads during lockdowns engaged in risky behavior. More drivers went over the speed limit, failed to wear a seat belt, and drove under the influence of alcohol when compared with the previous year.

Though the preliminary data for 2020’s traffic fatalities is in, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet released an official report. So, for now, reviewing statistics from prior years can help you learn more about the causes of crashes, to improve your chances of staying safe.

Human Error

Driver error is responsible for most car crashes in the U.S.; a full 94% of them are the result of a driver making a mistake. In 2019, there were nearly 6.8 million car accidents reported to the police. Of these, 33,244 were fatal.

Here’s a look at the top types of fatal accidents caused by human error during 2019. More than one of these factors may have been in play in some of the deadly crashes, according to NHTSA.

Cause  Number of Fatal Accidents 
Speeding 8,746
Driving under the influence 5,164
Failing to yield 3,728
Failing to stay in lane 3,381
Operating vehicle carelessly 3,302
Distracted driving 3,008
Failing to obey traffic signals 2,054
Reckless or negligent driving 1,880
Overcorrecting or oversteering 1,569
Drowsy driving or medical issue 1,240

Most driver-caused accidents are avoidable. To stay safe on the roads, pay attention to your surroundings and stay mindful of your driving. Don’t get distracted by your cellphone or try to put on makeup while on the road. Also, don’t drive over the speed limit or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Alcohol plays a role in about 28% of all fatal crashes. Each day, about 29 people die in a car accident related to impaired driving. You can save lives, including your own, by not driving under the influence.

Mechanical Failure

While human error accounts for most car accidents, there are times when the vehicle is at fault. Vehicle-related crashes typically involve tires, brakes, or the suspension system. For example, in 2017, there were 738 fatal crashes involving malfunctioning tires or wheels.

Often, mechanical failure is avoidable if it’s caught in time. As a driver, you’re responsible for maintaining your vehicle. If your tires are bald, it’s time to replace them. If your brakes are squealing, get them checked out.

Weather and Environment

Another common cause of car accidents is the weather, road conditions, and the environment. According to the NHTSA, these factors caused about 2% of all accidents in prior years. Of these, slick roads and obstructed views caused by glare, lights, buildings, trees, or other factors were the top causes of crashes.

Here’s a look at how these factors played a role in fatal car crashes in 2019.

Type of Weather or Environment Problem Number of Related Fatal Crashes in 2019
Vision obstructed  1,543
Slippery roads 1,148

To help avoid these types of accidents, be aware of weather conditions and the road around you. Stay off the roads in severe weather, such as during winter storms, if possible. Also, reduce glare with the nighttime setting on your mirror and keep your windshield clean; dirt can reflect rays of light and make glare worse.

Rain can be dangerous. Research shows that 75% of weather-related crashes were on wet roads, and 47% occurred while it was raining. Slow down when the roads are slick.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many people die in car accidents every year in the U.S.?

On average, car accidents kill between 33,000 and 35,000 people each year. In 2017, for example, 34,560 people died in a car accident. In 2018 and 2019, totals were 33,919 and 33,244, respectively.

How many car accidents happen per day?

In 2019, there were 6,756,000 car accidents reported to the police. This breaks down to an average of about 18,500 per day.

How do I avoid car accidents?

Many car accidents are preventable. You can significantly reduce your risks by:

  • Obeying the speed limit
  • Not drinking and driving
  • Avoiding distractions while driving
  • Wear a seat belt

What color car has the most accidents?

A study found black vehicles had more accidents than vehicles of other colors. This same study discovered that white cars are the safest because they are the most visible.

Which state has the most car accidents?

In 2018, Texas had 3,642 fatal car crashes. California was close behind that year, with 3,563, followed by Florida with 3,133. In both of these states, drunk driving played a significant role in causing crashes.