The Most Common Causes of Car Accidents and How to Avoid Them

June 14, 2023

The Most Common Causes of Car Accidents and How to Avoid Them

Taking steps to drive safer can reduce car accidents by up to 71 percent, according to Recycling Today. Every day there are 14,386 accidents on America’s roads, 106 of which are fatal. Car accidents result in thousands of annual personal injury claims, vehicle losses, and property damage. So, as a driver, you must understand the common causes of car accidents and take preventative steps to avoid them.

Distracted Driving

The American Automobile Association’s Traffic Safety Division states that between 25 percent and 50 percent of all road accidents are caused by distracted driving. Distracted driving also causes 3,000 fatalities annually. The most common cause of distracted driving is cell phone use. Studies have found that at least 23 percent of all car accidents involve drivers using their cell phones.

This number will likely be underestimated as most people don’t admit to using a cell phone behind the wheel as it’s against the law. It’s too easy to get distracted by your phone when you’re in the car, so it’s best to put it in ‘do not disturb’ mode or turn it off for the duration of your journey. Another option is to put it in your car’s trunk so it’s impossible to get to it while you’re driving.

Other common causes of distracted driving include:

  • Children: Driving with child passengers is four times more distracting than driving with adult passengers. Infants are even more of a problem to share a car with, as they’re almost eight times more distracting than adults. Always properly restrain your kids in your vehicle so they’re comfortable and less likely to complain. Take regular breaks if you’re traveling a long distance to allow your children to stretch their legs. Providing entertainment, such as activity books or tablets, can also keep kids occupied. Meanwhile, older children should be educated on the importance of behaving appropriately when passengers are in a car.
  • Pets: Almost 80 percent of Americans say they travel with their pets at least annually. The problem is that pets are very distracting. An American Automobile Association (AAA) reveals that just 16 percent of pet owners use restraints when traveling with their pets. More worryingly, more than one-half of dog owners say they stroke their dogs while driving. You haven’t got to stop taking your pet in the car with you, but you must ensure that they are properly restrained with a pet harness, pet seat belt, carrier, or similar. Keeping your pet in the back of the car and putting a guard up between the front and back seats is also recommended, as there’s no chance your pet will climb through to get to you.
  • Eating and Drinking: More than 56 percent of drivers drink while driving. Doing this increases the risk of an accident by 80 percent, warns the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Being distracted by a tasty treat in front of you isn’t worth the consequences of being in an accident. Keep all food and drink in the trunk of your car to avoid temptation. And, if you do need refreshments, pull over safely and turn off the engine before you tuck in.
  • Putting on Makeup: This might sound unbelievable, but 27 percent of women say they’ve attempted to put makeup on while driving their vehicle. Science says that taking your eyes off the road for over two seconds increases your chances of crashing by 50 percent. You should never drive and apply makeup. If you want to put some on, do it before your journey or arrival. Otherwise, go au natural.
  • Using Technology: Cell phones are major distractions, and about 60 percent of American drivers use GPS navigation systems regularly. While they’re crucial for many drivers, they also contribute to 200,000 accidents in the U.S. every year. This technology can be very distracting because it takes an average of 40 seconds to navigate the system, plus another 13 seconds to refocus on the road. GPS systems are also distracting when drivers respond late to directions, the sound is turned off, and when searching for information, such as addresses or nearby services. For safety and to prevent a car accident, only program data into a GPS when parked, keep the sound on the device turned on, and if you miss a turning, drive on rather than make a sharp and dangerous turn.

Drunk Driving

Drunk drivers are a big problem on America’s roads and contribute to more than 13,000 deaths yearly. Researchers have found that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous because it increases drivers’ average speed, speed standard deviation, and lane position standard deviation. What’s worrying is that 43 percent of Americans drink and drive. The reasons for this vary, but 46.5 percent say they drive after drinking because they feel capable of doing so. Other reasons people do it are:

  • Because they haven’t got far to drive (10 percent)
  • They have no other way to get home (4 percent)
  • They don’t think they’ll be caught (1.7 percent).

The biggest risk associated with drunk driving is death. The next most significant risk is injury. Injuries often sustained in drunk driving car accidents are:

  • Cuts and burns
  • Head injuries
  • Back injuries
  • Brain injuries
  • Loss of limbs
  • Organ and soft tissue damage

With so much at risk, if you drink and drive, you must avoid it. A plan is essential, such as having a designated driver to drive your home after a night out. If you know you’ll drink alcohol, don’t take your car out with you. Instead, get a lift from a loved one or use public transport. It’s a good idea to also have a backup plan in case your ride home falls through. Having a ride-share service app installed on your phone means you can easily arrange to be picked up and dropped back home.

Auto Defects

There are just 15 states where routine vehicle inspections are mandatory. This means there are millions of vehicles across the U.S. with potentially dangerous defects and capable of causing an accident. Auto defects that can lead to an accident include faulty brakes, stiff steering wheels, and failing accelerators.

Defects may also not become apparent until an accident occurs, making the accident a lot worse than it should have been. It was recently revealed that more than 33 million vehicles in the U.S. have an airbag deflator defect. This defect results in exploding shrapnel when the airbag goes off in a collision. The explosion has the potential to cause serious injuries and death.

Researchers have found that vehicle inspections reduce crash rates by 9 percent, so you should always have your vehicle inspected annually, even if you don’t legally have to. It’s also advisable to watch for recalls on your vehicle and arrange for immediate repairs if a recall is announced. Statistics show that 30 percent of recalled vehicles remain unrepaired 18 months after being called for repair.

Bad Weather

Twenty-one percent of road crashes every year are related to the weather, states the Department of Transport (DOT). It also says that driving in snow, slush, sleet, rain, and fog are the most dangerous weather conditions. Bad weather increases car accidents because it decreases visibility and makes it harder to handle your vehicle. If you are involved in a weather-related crash, you may think that you won’t be deemed at fault for the incident, but this is not the case. Regardless of the weather conditions, the at-fault driver will be liable for the crash.

With this in mind, extra caution should always be taken when heading out in your car in bad weather. The first thing you should do is check that your vehicle is road-safe. Your tires must be properly inflated to prevent hydroplaning, all the lights must be in working order, and your windshield wipers must be in good condition and working correctly. When you’re driving, reduce your speed. DOT recommends driving one-third slower on wet roads and 50 percent slower when it’s snowy. This means you must allow yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.

Driving Too Fast

The National Safety Council reports that speeding plays a role in almost 30 percent of road fatalities annually. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety adds that the faster you drive, the greater your risk of serious accidents. For example, driving just five miles per hour above the speed limit increases the risk of death by 8 percent if you crash. Drivers say they speed for different reasons, including:

  • The roads not being congested (66 percent)
  • The driver thinks of themselves as a ‘good driver’ (46 percent)
  • Limited law enforcement on the roads (34 percent)

It’s tempting to speed, especially if you’re running late for work or an appointment. But the reality is that it’s dangerous and not worth the risk. Avoid making this mistake on the road by always paying close attention to the speed limit. You may also find it useful to use an app (set it up before you start driving) that alerts you if you start driving too fast. Don’t let other road users push you into breaking the speed limit, either. Tailgaters should be ignored rather than encouraged. So, maneuver safely out of the way and let them pass.


Tailgating — or driving too closely to the vehicle in front — significantly contributes to thousands of accidents each year. The exact numbers aren’t known as most drivers won’t admit to tailgating. But one-third of all reported collisions in the U.S. each year are rear-end collisions, and tailgating is likely to be involved in many of them. Drivers don’t seem to understand the risks of tailgating, as 51 percent say they intentionally tailgate. Not only does tailgating increase the likelihood of crashing but it’s also been noted as one of the most stressful driving experiences by Australian researchers.

If you’ve got a habit of tailgating, now is the time to stop. Remind yourself of safe driving rules, including keeping a minimum of three seconds of space between you and the vehicle in front. You’re more likely to tailgate when you’re in a rush, so allow yourself plenty of time to complete your journey.

Finally, stay calm when driving. The American Psychological Association (APA) warns that high-anger drivers are more likely to tailgate and speed. Should you find yourself in a situation where you’re being tailgated, slow down and find a safe way to get out of the way, such as switching lanes. When you slow down, the tailgater will be forced to slow down, reducing the chance of a collision.

Ignoring Road Signs

It’s estimated that 40 million road signs are in place on U.S. roads. These road signs are there to give instructions and to keep drivers safe. Despite this, drivers often ignore road signs. The stop sign is one that is regularly ignored, yet one-third of all crashes at intersections are due to the stop sign not being adhered to. You should never turn a blind eye to road signs. As there are more than 500 types of road signs, you must familiarize yourself with them and follow them at all times.

American drivers aren’t afraid to run red lights, either. Almost 56 percent admit to running red lights, leading to about 165,000 accidents yearly. To stop this problem from worsening, local governments must install more cameras at lights as studies have found they reduce fatal collisions by 21 percent.

Car accidents happen all too frequently. The good news is that most of them are preventable as they’re caused by driver error. So, make sure you’re doing all you can to keep yourself and other road users safe the next time you get behind the wheel of your car.