15 most common causes of road accidents

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Until every ounce of human error is removed from our transportation system, major car accidents will likely always be a reality of driving life.

The automotive industry has come a long way in recent years in trying to improve the safety standards of cars, making them more durable in crash conditions, or rather avoiding and mitigating crashes altogether.

As scientists and engineers continue to work on these issues, one thing we can do to be safer drivers is to learn about the most common causes of road accidents.

Below is a list compiled from information provided by the nation’s leading insurers over the years that offers a window into what is causing many of the road accidents today.

1. Smartphone distractions

The first several items on our list all fall into the broader category of “distracted driving”, which remains the main cause of road accidents in 2021. Among the main distractions are those annoying but very useful devices that we seem to keep on our person 24 / 7 – the smartphone.

Whether it’s replying to messages, scrolling through social media, sharing hilarious memes, or fiddling with music and video apps to get the right playlist, smartphones are a huge distraction that is causing thousands of accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, 1 in 4 accidents are caused by texting and driving, and the largest cell phone-related accidents account for approximately 1.6 million accidents each year. These are numbers that should be scary enough to keep us from allowing our phones to distract us on the road.

2. Passenger distraction

Another major cause of accidents in the category of distracted driving is the distractions caused by the passengers in the vehicle.

There are many ways this kind of bad luck can happen, but an example would be children arguing in the back seat, or the driver and passenger who are too caught up in conversation to take their attention off the road. You can imagine the possibilities.

3. Food and drink

Finally in our category of distracted driving we have the problem of food and drink in the car. For this entry, we don’t include alcohol (see more below), but regular food and drink can prove to be just as deadly.

Driving a car safely is a kind of balancing act between your hands on the steering wheel, the shift lever, the other controls, and your eyes on the road. When you try to get food into the balance equation, things start to get a little out of place.

Once again there are many possible scenarios, all easily imaginable and plausible. It could be someone spilling hot coffee on their lap, or biting into too spicy food and making their eyes water and burn, or even the act of eating itself obscuring the driver’s field of vision, even if only for a moment – this that’s all you need!

4. Speeding

Moving away from distracted driving, we now enter the arena of “reckless driving”. Breaking the speed limit is the next big killer on the road. Interestingly, we’re not talking about people whizzing down the highway at 100mph. In fact, a much bigger killer are people who exceed lower speed limits like 30 mph and 40 mph, thinking that “just being 5 mph over” doesn’t make any difference.

What many drivers seem to be unaware of is how much difference even 5 mph makes in their braking and stopping distances. It is much more than you think. Even when we use a larger gap like 20mph, the change in distance is astonishing.

When you drive at 20mph, you have 20ft thinking distance and another 20ft braking / stopping distance, for a total of 40. If we double that to 40mph, does that mean stopping distance goes to 80ft? In reality, your thinking distance doubles to 40 feet, but your braking distance quadruples to 80 feet, for a total of 120 feet.

5. Drunk driving

The next type of reckless driving is drunk driving. Alcohol severely impairs reaction times, coordination, concentration and vision. In other words, no part of alcohol consumption makes your driving safer. If you ever come across those people who claim that a little beer and a buzz makes them “a better driver,” steer clear of them.

According to the NHTSA, there is one alcohol-related death every 52 minutes as well driving under the influence of alcohol more than 10,000 deaths each year, accounting for around one third of all traffic-related deaths. Particularly affected are those who are not drunk and behind the wheel, such as the more than 200 children who are killed.

6. Dangerous driving

Another form of reckless driving is represented by those who believe they are the kings of the road and who treat the highway as a race track. These people get in and out of fast-paced traffic, cut people out, overtake cars in blind spots, and more.

Their arrogance and lack of adequate control and discipline behind the wheel is usually the result of years of accumulating bad habits and lucky mistakes. Whenever they do something stupid and don’t get hurt, it encourages them to do more.

7. Failing to stop

Next, we have those who think that a “Stop” sign only applies to other people and that red lights are just a warning. The simple act of not stopping when asked can lead to catastrophic results on the road, sometimes just for yourself, your passengers and your vehicle, but very often for others as well.

A “Stop” sign or red light is present because that part of the road you are on is commonly or is about to be busy with other traffic. He is telling you to stop and consider the road around you for your own safety. Thinking that these signs and lights are an obstacle that are only there for others is a great way to cause accidents on the road.

8. Teens and new drivers

Most teenagers are new drivers, but it is true that not all new drivers are teenagers. One of the reasons insurance companies are so strict on policies for teens is that statistically they are more likely to make bad decisions behind the wheel, or that their inexperience will cause problems for themselves and others.

Sometimes teens are the cause of other people’s accidents, or they may be involved in accidents themselves. Either way, they remain a major cause of accidents.

Even if the new drivers are older, the problem of inexperience remains. They are more easily frightened of things on the road and are more likely to miss road sign instructions or make other mistakes while driving that lead to accidents.

9. Weather

Now let’s move on to the first reason on our list which is unrelated to humans. Time is a major cause of accidents, particularly if it exacerbates one of the human-related problems we have described elsewhere in today’s blog.

The winter climate in particular with its snow and ice creates continuous driving conditions. Rain also makes roads more slippery and visibility poorer. The weather can disproportionately affect people who rely excessively on their car’s ADAS systems.

Tesla’s autopilot system, for example, is severely compromised by heavy rains as cameras and sensors can’t detect things with the same clarity. If you’ve been using it a lot and have become complacent, a sudden rainy day can put you in danger.

10. The rage of the street

Some people joke about road rage and may attribute it to anyone who demonstrates even the slightest aggression on the roads. The fact is, however, that street rage is serious business problem. In the United States, there have been something like 30 homicides linked to road rage, and AAA has linked more than 12,500 injuries and 10,000 road accidents to road rage since they began monitoring it in 2007.

11. Fatigue

Another big cause of road accidents is our own fatigue. Drowsiness and fatigue are particularly deadly because they can arise at times when we don’t suspect they will, or right after periods of great energy and exuberance.

We may get behind the wheel feeling good, but in no time on the road we can succumb to the many factors that try to force us to sleep.

Fatigue behind the wheel does not always have to do with real tiredness, but also only with the boredom that can overwhelm us when we have been behind the wheel for many hours on long, straight and devoid of detail roads. The car can also be very hot, and if you are just the silence of the car it could even make you fall asleep. There is much more to it than people imagine.

12. Road conditions

Here is another one that is not due to driver error, which is the sometimes bad road conditions. Accidents caused by unfortunate pothole encounters, for example, can be extremely dangerous.

If you are driving on a poorly maintained road and hit a pothole at high speed, you may lose alignment or cause a tire to blow out which causes you to lose control of the vehicle. If you’re driving fast, losing control can amount to a death sentence.

13. Vehicle defects

Another cause unrelated to driver error is severe vehicle defects. There’s a reason automakers get embroiled in national scandals whenever there’s a recall, because a recall typically means there’s something wrong with the cars that are affecting their overall safety.

A recall means you shouldn’t drive your car unless you’re going to the dealership to fix the problem.

These defects can be deadly. Anyone whose car is involved in the Takata airbag scandal, for example, will be aware of how terrible it can be. Japanese manufacturer Takata makes airbags for multiple OEMs and has admitted to having built around 4.5 million defective inflators over the years. These failures can cause the airbag to inflate to throw debris directly into the driver’s face.

14. The night

Another of nature’s interesting oddities is a major cause of accidents, and it’s the night. Driving at night statistically increases the risk of accidents potentially doubling.

Visibility is reduced, but people’s everyday distractions such as the infotainment system, smartphones and passengers remain. The night requires more vigilance, but it causes accidents because people don’t turn up their driving game enough.

15. Pursuit

Finally, we have the problem of tailgating. This should fit the concept of dangerous driving, actually, but it’s so common that it has earned a spot on our list. To be clear, tailgating refers to the act of following other drivers too closely and then bumping into them if and when they suddenly brake.

A good rule of thumb for maintaining a safe distance is to use the “two second” rule, which is then increased in bad weather or winter conditions. Pick a landmark further ahead such as a road sign, a bridge, a tree … everything will be fine. When the car in front passes it, it starts counting. If two seconds pass before you reach the same reference point, then your distance is safe. If you get there first, go back.

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