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Mind-Blowing Realities: Surprising Facts About US Auto Accidents You Never Knew

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 42,939 people died on U.S. roads in 2021, the latest year full data is available. The NHTSA also reports that a whopping 250 million people were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes.

While we are sometimes powerless to prevent auto accidents due to causes outside of our control — such as another driver’s fault or bad weather — we can understand the commonalities surrounding crashes, injuries and fatalities.

Below, we’ll explore the seasons, days and times that auto accidents are most likely to occur, the contributing factors that make crashes more likely, and finally, what drivers can do to limit their risk. After all, an informed driver is always better prepared to navigate the hazards.

The Most Common Causes of Accidents

While car crashes occasionally happen by no fault of either driver, the U.S. General Services Administration Office of Motor Vehicle Management reports that 98% of crashes are caused by human error. Some of the most common causes of car accidents include:

  • Distracted driving (includes driving while texting, sending emails or talking on the phone)
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Speeding
  • Driving recklessly or aggressively
  • Ignoring traffic signs (running stop signs or red lights)
  • Fatigue (falling asleep or losing focus behind the wheel)
  • Poor weather conditions leading to hydroplaning, low visibility, etc.
  • Poor or unmaintained road conditions
  • Vehicle defect

The Most Dangerous Times To Be on the Road

Crashes are more common on the weekends — when more drivers are out on the road, and many more are under the influence of alcohol. The U.S. National Security Council reports that, on average in 2021, “fatal car crashes were more frequent on weekends, peaking on Saturday. The number of nonfatal crashes tended to be higher on weekdays, peaking on Friday.”

Among both fatal and nonfatal crashes, more crashes occurred between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7:59 p.m., accounting for rush hour — when drivers can be prone to aggressive driving, speeding, or distractions like their cellphones.

The NSC notes that peak times can vary throughout the year. During the spring and summer seasons, fatal car accidents were more common during the later evening, between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight. Nonfatal crashes in the summer are most common from noon to 3:59 pm, which may be explained by the rush to get to summer festivities (and the alcohol that may be involved in those plans).

The Most Dangerous Locations for Accidents

Car accidents can happen anywhere, but according to the NHTSA, most car crashes happen within just a five-mile radius of the victim’s residence. Familiarity can breed carelessness if drivers aren’t aware of this statistic. Even though you may know where you’re headed, it’s easy to forget that road hazards can constantly present themselves in new ways, and a driver’s full attention is always necessary.

Accidents also frequently occur:

  • on rural roads, where lighting is often inadequate, speeding can be tempting, and head-on collisions are common;
  • in parking lots, where disorganization, chaos and aggressive driving are plentiful;
  • and at intersections, where maneuvering a vehicle can be complicated.

What California Drivers Need To Know About Auto Accidents

While living and working in the Golden State can be a wonderful experience, driving in California presents its own unique set of challenges. If you drive in the state, you should be aware of crash data released by the California Office of Traffic Safety. The latest data on 2021 crashes and fatalities reveals some alarming trends. Consider the following:

  • An uptick in alcohol-impaired driving: In the State of California, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (involving a driver or motorcyclist with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher) increased 16 percent between 2020 and 2021.
  • In 2021, most drivers killed in crashes were under the influence of drugs: In2021, 52.9 percent of all California drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes tested positive for drugs, whether legal or illegal.
  • Seatbelt use is not up to par: Unrestrained (unbelted) passenger vehicle occupant fatalities increased in the State of California, up 12.4 percent between 2020 and 2021.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists are less safe: The year 2021 in California saw a rise in both the deaths of pedestrians (up 9.4 percent from 2020 to 2021) and bicyclists (up 8 percent from 2020 to 2021).

How to Keep Yourself Safe From Auto Accidents

While drivers are sometimes powerless in preventing car accidents, there are a certain number of factors within our control. We can always aim to stay alert, avoid distractions, obey speed limits, and adjust our driving behavior during adverse weather conditions. As you’re making your way to all the places you need to be, keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • Be aware of best practices for driving safety in winter road conditions, including avoiding standing or fast-moving water, and slowing down during heavy rain.
  • If you start to lose control of your car because of hydroplaning, release the pressure off the gas slowly. Keep your focus on the road ahead and try to keep the steering wheel aimed at where you want the front part of your vehicle to go.
  • Keep your car properly maintained. Remember to replace your tires or windshield wipers as recommended to improve your chance of avoiding an accident related to poor traction or poor visibility.
  • It’s always better to be late than to never arrive at all. If you start to feel drowsy while driving, pull over and rest. Driving while drowsy has the same effect as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • The greatest chance of a car accident is usually with the vehicle right in front of you. Always maintain a minimum distance of three car lengths between you and the vehicle in front of you while driving to help ensure adequate time for unexpected braking if necessary. Increase this distance in bad weather or busy traffic.