What Are The Causes Of Car Accidents?

What Are The Causes Of Car Accidents?

Main Causes of Car Incidents According to statistics provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, 351 reportable crashes take place in the state every day, equating to about 15 crashes an hour. There are around 221 people injured in these crashes each day, meaning 9 people are injured in a traffic crash every hour and—based on the state’s population in 2017—that equals one out of every 159 people in the Commonwealth were injured in a crash that year. Not only that, in 2018 alone, approximately 40,000 individuals lost their lives in auto accidents. What causes these accidents? Here is a look at some of the more common causes of car accidents in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Distracted Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,166 lives in 2017 alone. Distracted driving accidents generally account for 9 to 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States.

Distracted driving primarily affects drivers aged 20 to 29.

Other statistics point out that 1 in 4 crashes often involve cell phone use, and that around 33 percent of drivers report having taken time to read or write a text while driving. Although it is not illegal to talk on the phone while driving, Pennsylvania law prohibits as a primary offense any driver from using “an Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to send, read or write a text-based communication while his or her vehicle is in motion.”

Distracted driving involves any activity that diverts the driver’s attention from the task of driving. This includes anything that involves taking your eyes off of the road or your hands off of the wheel is a distraction.

Some common distractions include:

  • Texting and other cell phone use
  • Eating or drinking
  • Talking to other passengers in the car
  • Fiddling with stereo, entertainment, or navigation controls
  • External distractions such as previous accidents

The administration notes that texting is a particularly dangerous activity while driving as sending or reading a text causes a person to take their eyes off the road for up to five seconds. Five seconds, while traveling at 55 miles per hour, is equivalent to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. In Pennsylvania, it is against the law to text while driving.


More than 31,000 crashes in Pennsylvania in 2017 involved a driver who was speeding. 441 of those crashes resulted in fatalities. Nationwide, more than a quarter of the fatal crashes involved speeding, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2017, 9,717 people, or 26 percent of drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding. In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that increasing state speed limits over the past 25 years have caused nearly 37,000 fatalities.

The administration considers a crash to be speeding-related if any driver in the crash was charged with a speeding-related offense or if the officer indicated that racing, driving too fast for conditions, or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash.

Not all speeding accidents happen on the highway. Driving too fast can be dangerous anywhere. Speeding accidents also happen when the driver is going too fast for road conditions, such as heavy traffic or slippery roads.

Data reveals that young male drivers are more likely to be speeding at the time of a fatal crash, with roughly a third of male drivers in the 15 to 20 year old age group speeding at the time of a fatal crash. The most common time of the year for speeding-related crashes is during the warm-weather months of May through September.

Alcohol Or Drug Impairment

Alcohol impairment was the cause of 9,143 accidents in 2017 in Pennsylvania. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, alcohol-related traffic crashes account for one death every 50 minutes, equaling a daily death toll of 29 and an annual societal cost of more than $44 billion. Alcohol impairment is a contributing factor in 28 percent of traffic fatalities in the U.S., and about 17 percent of traffic accident fatalities in children ages 14 years old and younger.

Alcohol, drugs, and medication affect brain functions such as judgment, concentration, coordination, vision, and reaction time, all of which are essential to good driving skills. DUI accidents are extremely dangerous. The impaired driver may be unable to mitigate the effects of the crash. Often, the drunk driver is uninjured while others involved in the accident suffer serious or fatal injuries.

Impairment due to drugs other than alcohol—including both illegal and legal drugs—is involved in about 16 percent of all traffic crashes. Marijuana is believed to be in the systems of about 13 percent of all drivers on the road during weekend nights. Marijuana users are 25 percent more likely to be involved in a traffic crash than those who do not use marijuana.

Running Red Lights

According to information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 890 people across the U.S. were killed in 2017 due to a driver running a red light and an estimated 132,000 more were injured. Over half of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists, and passengers in vehicles that were hit by red light runners.

Studies reveal that young male drivers with prior traffic crashes or alcohol-impaired driving infractions are more likely to run red lights. Those who are alcohol impaired, speeding, or without a driver’s license are also more likely to be red light runners.

One is considered to have run a red light if he or she enters the intersection when the light is fully red. If one enters the intersection when the light is yellow and then it turns red before the car has completely departed the intersection, it is not considered red light running, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Research has shown that lengthening the time that the light is yellow—when drivers are supposed to come to a safe stop if they are able or proceed through the intersection if they are not—can significantly reduce the risk of fatal intersection crashes. Additionally, states that have deployed red light cameras at major intersections have been able to reduce red light violations by up to 40 percent.

Defective Vehicle Parts

Defective vehicle parts are another major cause of car accidents. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation reported that the two top causes of accidents due to defective vehicle parts involved tires and wheels (37.7 percent) and brakes (30 percent). Other defective vehicle parts that might lead to an accident include the steering system, power train, suspension, an unsecured or shifted trailer load, vehicle lighting, and the body, doors, or hood. Defects due to vehicle parts are most often caused by poor vehicle maintenance but may also be caused by a manufacturing or design defect as well.

Night Driving

While only a quarter of the average U.S. citizen’s driving takes place at night, about 50 percent of traffic deaths occur during nighttime hours. The risk of a fatal car accident is three times higher at night than it is during the daytime hours, according to research from the National Safety Council. Some of the factors that add to this increased risk include:

  • Shorter days
  • Fatigue
  • Compromised night vision
  • Impairment from drugs or alcohol
  • Daylight Saving Time

Darkness degrades drivers’ depth perception, color recognition, and peripheral vision, and the glare of oncoming headlights can temporarily blind a driver. At night, vision is limited to about 250 feet with normal headlights or 500 feet with high-beam headlights, both of which are significantly less than the distance in which a person can see during daytime driving. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see at night as a 30-year-old driver due to changes in vision related to age, making night driving a particular risk of older drivers. Teenage drivers are also at particular risk of being in an accident at night due to the combination of a lack of driving experience and the impact that darkness has on the driver’s ability to see clearly.

Drowsy driving kills — it claimed 795 lives in 2017. Many people work long hours, have long commutes and complicated lives. Consequently, there are a lot of tired drivers on the road. Drowsy driving accidents often involve a single driver on the highway or rural road, who runs off the road, apparently without braking.


A global campaign from the organization Do Something notes that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people. The crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is higher than it is at any other time of their life, with one in five teenage drivers experiencing a car accident within their first year of driving. Half of all teens in the U.S. will be involved in a car accident before graduating from high school. In Pennsylvania, drivers between the ages of 16 to 21 accounted for 37.5 percent of the single vehicle crashes and were involved in more than 60 percent of the multiple vehicle crashes in the state in 2017.

Teenage drivers carry a higher risk of being involved in an accident mostly due to their lack of driving experience. Studies have suggested that the three most common errors found to cause accidents among teenage drivers include:

  • Lack of scanning the roadway
  • Driving too fast for conditions
  • Distraction by something inside or outside of the vehicle

Research suggests that a teen driver with another teen in the vehicle as a passenger is 44 percent more likely to be involved in an accident.


It takes a vehicle traveling at 60 miles per hour a minimum of 240 feet to come to a safe stop. Up to 60 feet of that distance is required for the driver to recognize that they need to stop. Wet roadways require up to four times more distance for a safe stop, and over-sized vehicles must also take more distance to compensate for the weight of the vehicle. Because of this, following too closely—also known as tailgating—is the cause of many accidents.

Rear-end collisions, which are the type of accident associated with tailgating, account for 23 percent of all crashes. This type of accident results in around 2,000 deaths and 950,000 injuries each year. Surveys indicate that around three-fourths of drivers report being tailgated within the last six months.

Unsafe Lane Changes

Unsafe lane changes occur when a driver changes lanes in a way that puts them at risk of causing an accident with another vehicle. Some examples of unsafe lane changes are:

  • Failing to signal before changing lanes or starting to signal after the lane change has already been initiated
  • Changing into a lane and forcing another driver in that lane to brake for you to have enough room to maintain a safe following distance
  • Lane changes that involve traveling through multiple lanes of traffic at once
  • Changing lanes in an intersection or immediately before one
  • Driving in the middle of two lanes for an extended time
  • Changing lanes where the lanes are separated by two solid yellow lines instead of a dotted line, indicating that there is not ample visibility of traffic that may be oncoming to make the change

Inclement Weather

Extreme weather conditions can make it hard to drive, particularly if conditions hamper visibility or make the roadway wet or slick. Fog is considered one of the worst conditions to drive in, due to how it obscures potential roadway hazards. However, other conditions make driving difficult, as well. Some forms of inclement weather that may lead to an accident include:

  • Sun glare, particularly when driving at sunrise or sunset, as well as reflected light from the windows and chrome of other cars
  • Rain, which may impair visibility and may also cause roads to be particularly slippery due to water mixing with oil and dust on the roadway. One particular danger when driving in heavy rain is hydroplaning, which occurs when there is a combination of standing water on the road, and increased car speed, and worn-out or under-inflated tires.
  • Snow and ice, which are most dangerous as they begin to melt due to the tendency for slush to act as a lubricant and reduce traction. Falling snow can also greatly reduce visibility and ice may cause cars to slide, particularly when turning or stopping quickly.
  • Wind, which reduces your steering control or may cause you to inadvertently increase speed. Sudden wind gusts may result in a total loss of vehicle control. Wind is especially dangerous for recreational vehicles, campers, and vehicles that are pulling trailers.
  • Extreme heat, which may cause your car to overheat, leading to stalling and other issues that present hazards to others on the road.

Road Rage

The American Safety Council reports that the term road rage was initially coined by a news station in Los Angeles after a series of shootings that occurred on the city’s freeways. While people often use the term to describe aggressive driving, and certainly there are aggressive driving tactics involved in road rage, this condition is actually a criminal intent to endanger other persons or property or to use the motor vehicle as a weapon in which to assault others. Here are some things to consider about road rage:

  • Sixty-six percent of traffic fatalities are caused by some form of aggressive driving, such as speeding, tailgating, or running red lights. 37 percent of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm.
  • Males under the age of 19 are the most common culprits of road rage.
  • Half of all drivers who encounter road rage respond with road rage behavior themselves, including horn honking, rude gestures, or tailgating.
  • In seven years’ time, road rage was responsible for more than 200 murders in the United States, and resulted in over 12,000 injuries.
  • Two percent of drivers admit to trying to an aggressor off of the road during a road rage incident.

Reducing Car Accidents Involves Safety

Everyone wants to avoid traffic accidents, but when they happen, safety devices can reduce injuries and save lives.

  • Airbags: According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, front airbags have been required in all new passenger vehicles since the 1999 model year. Combined with seatbelts, airbags are highly effective safety protection, reducing the likelihood of fatal injuries for front-seat passengers by 45 percent.
  • Seatbelts: Seatbelts dramatically reduce the risk of serious injury and death. For vehicle occupants age five and older, seatbelts saved about 14,955 lives in 2017.
  • Child safety seats: NHTSA says that in 2017 the lives of an estimated 325 children under the age of five were saved by restraints. Under Pennsylvania law, children under the age of four must be restrained in an approved child safety seat anywhere in the vehicle; children under two must be secured in a rear-facing car seat until the child outgrows size limits of the seat and children from age four up to age eight must be restrained in an appropriate booster seat.
  • Motorcycle helmets: According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helmets greatly reduce motorcyclist fatalities and head injuries. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,872 motorcyclists in 2017. Pennsylvania law requires anyone operating or riding a motorcycle must wear a helmet unless they are over the age of 21 and have either two years of riding experience or has completed an approved motorcycle safety course.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC): All vehicles manufactured after 2012 must have electronic stability control, which aids in preventing rollovers and other types of crashes. This technology helps drivers maintain stability and control of their vehicle during tricky steering maneuvers, even when the vehicle is at risk of losing traction. It automatically controls the brakes and engine power.

Call A Car Accident Lawyer For More Information

Regardless of what the cause is, if you were injured in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, you deserve to have someone help you understand your legal options. An experienced car accident lawyer can do that.