Although many of today’s cars have safety features designed to reduce car accidents and injuries, 39,107 people in the U.S. died in 2019 as a result of a vehicle accident.
In Pennsylvania, there were 990 fatal crashes and 1,059 deaths as a result of those accidents in 2019. While the number of accidents and fatalities dropped across the U.S. from 2018 to 2019, and in Pennsylvania, the number of deaths fell by 11 percent from 2018 to 2019.
The loss of life is not the only adverse effect of automobile accidents. There were more than 4.5 million medically treated injuries as a result of traffic accidents in 2019, and the total cost of those accidents, including injury, death and property damage, was well over $432 billion.
The good news in all of this is that preventing a car accident is possible. Understanding what causes most car accidents and what you can do to avoid a collision will help to make the road safer for all.
Common Causes of Car Accidents
Car accidents can occur for a variety of reasons. The National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Report examined nearly 7,000 accidents to determine the common causes of accidents.
The report revealed three primary reasons for crashes:
Within each primary reason were many specific factors that could have contributed to a crash. For example, in cases where an error on the part of the driver had something to do with the accident, the causes included the driver falling asleep, driving too fast, being distracted, not looking before making a move and committing an illegal maneuver.
In instances where the vehicle was a contributing factor in the accident, the reasons included tire failure, brake failure, failure of the steering wheel or failure of another component. Accidents attributed to environmental or other conditions are often explicitly caused by slick roads, fog, poor visibility, a blocked view and sun glare.
How to Prevent Car Accidents
While some factors might be beyond the control of a driver, such as an obstruction in the middle of the road or a roadway that is covered with ice, it does not take much to change certain behaviors behind the wheel. Avoiding car accidents means becoming a smarter, better driver as well as knowing when it is best to stay off of the road.
Practice Safe Driving
Specific traffic laws exist not to annoy drivers, but to help reduce the risk of accidents and to keep people safe when they are behind the wheel. Understanding the traffic laws in Pennsylvania and making a good-faith effort to follow them when you drive will help you reduce the risk of a crash. Safe driving includes:
- Obeying the speed limit. Speed limits exist for a reason. The faster you drive, the more time you need to stop. On some roads, going above the speed limit can mean that you do not have enough time to stop or slow down at a traffic signal. Some roads have lots of curves or hills, and you risk losing control of your vehicle if you drive too fast.
- Keeping your hands on the steering wheel. Positioning your left hand at the nine or 10 o’clock position and your right hand at the three or two o’clock position gives you the best control of the wheel. You have considerably less control if you drive with just one hand on the wheel or if you place both hands at the very top or bottom of the wheel.
- Stopping at stop signs. In Pennsylvania, every driver has to stop at a stop sign, either at the limit line or before the crosswalk. Even if the coast looks clear, a car or pedestrian could suddenly appear in front of your vehicle.
- Keeping your eyes moving. Pay attention to the road ahead, but also continually check the rear mirror, your side mirror and the traffic in front of the car in front of you, so you understand what is going on. Moving your eyes every few seconds also keeps you from zoning out behind the wheel.
- Driving in the right lane. Although you might think of it as the slow lane, the right lane is the best lane to drive in. If an obstacle appears on the road or you need to swerve suddenly, being in the right lane means you are less likely to swerve into oncoming traffic since the shoulder is there.
- Being wary of other drivers. It is a good idea to assume that other drivers on the road are going to hit you or cause an accident. Be a defensive driver and be ready for any mistakes your fellow travelers might make.
- Leaving a safe following distance between your car and the car in front of you. Just as driving the speed limit gives you time to slow down and stop if needed, allowing a few seconds of distance between your car and the car in front will reduce the likelihood of your car hitting the other one if you have to stop suddenly.
- Not angering other drivers. People can get heated behind the wheel. If another driver is acting in a way that irritates you, your best option is to ignore it or try to get as far away from that driver as possible. Do not try to interact with them or try to press their buttons. Doing so puts everyone at risk for injury.
Do Not Drink and Drive
In Pennsylvania, there were 9,380 crashes due to alcohol in 2019. Although the number of accidents caused by drinking and driving did fall between 2018 and 2019, the numbers only dropped by about 400. Additionally, there were nearly 300 deaths as a result of alcohol-related crashes in 2019.
If you plan on going to an event where there will be alcohol, you have a few options when it comes to avoiding a drunk driving accident. One option is not to drink at all at the event. Another option is to drink, but take another form of transportation, such as a bus or taxi. A third option is to drink but have someone else serve as the designated driver.
If you are sober and driving, it is important to avoid people who might be driving drunk, both for your safety and to reduce the chance of getting into an accident with that driver. While many people are convinced that they drive like they always do even after a few drinks, there are usually some visible signs that a driver is intoxicated:
- The car does not stay in its lane and either weaves back and forth or drives over the lane markers.
- The car is driving well below the speed limit.
- The car is following your vehicle very closely.
- The car makes wider than usual turns, almost driving into the lane of oncoming traffic when turning.
- The car does not have its headlights on, even if it is driving at night.
- The car stops at a green light or randomly in the middle of the road.
In PA, if you see a car that you suspect is driven by a drunk driver, you can call 911 to report the vehicle. Doing so may just help prevent an accident.
Put the Tech Away
When you are behind the wheel, put your cell phone or another mobile device well out of reach. It is against the law to text and drive in PA and using a mobile device for any reason, such as changing your music or looking for a podcast, while you drive means you are taking your eyes off of the road.
Either have a passenger be in charge of the music and navigation or set up your music and directions before you begin driving.
Also, remember that technology is not the only thing that can distract you while driving. When you are behind the wheel, do not try to multitask. Driving is not the time to do your makeup, eat your lunch or try to find an object that might have rolled under the seat.
Be Mindful of the Weather
While many accidents are caused by the people behind the wheel, in some cases, Mother Nature plays a role in causing traffic crashes. Poor weather conditions can make the road a dangerous place. About 22 percent of all accidents happen because of the weather.
It might surprise you to learn that rain, not snow, tends to be responsible for the majority of weather-related accidents. Nearly half of all weather-related crashes occur when it rains, compared to just 17 percent during sleet or snow. That could be because people are less likely to go out in the snow than in the rain.
Although it is sometimes unavoidable, try not to drive when the weather is particularly bad. If you do have to go out on the road in poor weather, pay attention to conditions and try to avoid areas where visibility is particularly bad or where the roads are likely to be untreated.
Try Not to Drive When You Are Under the Weather
Often, people try to make light of the fact that they do not get enough sleep or that they carry on with their usual activities when they have a cold or the flu. But operating on a limited amount of sleep and carrying on as if there is nothing wrong when you are ill can put you and others at risk for injury or an accident.
Drowsy driving is a deadly problem in the U.S. If you have not slept for 24 hours, you are more likely to drive like a person who has a blood alcohol level of 1.0 — above the limit for drunk driving. Sleeping for under six hours a night on a regular basis also affects your ability to drive well and makes you more likely to fall asleep at the wheel.
In some ways, driving when you have a bad cold or the flu can be similar to driving while drowsy. You might be sleepy and unable to focus on the road, increasing your risk of an accident. The best thing to do when you just do not feel like yourself is to stay home or ask someone else to give you a ride to wherever you need to go.
Take Good Care of Your Vehicle
The better shape your car is in, the less likely it is to get into an accident. Car failures make up a portion of all accidents on the road. If you are not bringing your car in for routine inspections or checking its tires and brakes on a regular basis, the less likely you are to catch a problem before it causes a significant issue.
Another reason to take care of your vehicle is that it tells others on the road that you are a conscientious driver. It is not uncommon for drivers to make assumptions about other drivers based on the condition of the other driver’s vehicle. For example, if you see a car on the road that has a big dent on one side or that is missing a headlight, you are most likely going to give that car a wide berth.
Invest in a Car With Safety Features
Although self-driving vehicles are a still a thing of the future, many of today’s cars have a myriad of safety features, which can help reduce the risk for accidents and compensate for individual mistakes a driver might make.
If you are in the market for a new car, it can be worthwhile to consider a model that has some or all of these features:
- Backup cameras. Now standard on models produced after the 2018 model year, backup cameras can help you see where you are going when the car is in reverse and reduce the risk of accidents in parking lots or driveways.
- Lane departure warnings. If you start to drift too close to the lane markers, your car will sound an alarm to alert you. Some vehicles also have lane-keeping assist, which steers your vehicle back into the lane if it starts to drift.
- Blind spot warnings. Some cars now have cameras on the sides that can detect when a car or other object is in your blind spot.
- Collision warning system. A collision warning system analyzes the conditions around you and sounds an alarm if it thinks you might bump into the car in front of you. Some systems have emergency braking and can stop the car for you.
While some safety features do reduce the risk of accidents, it is important to remember that they are not a substitute for safe driving. It is up to you to continue to follow the rules of the road and to practice being a defensive, safe driver. The features and tools available are just an extra layer of help and protection.
How to Avoid Road Accidents Near Other Accidents
In some cases, one automobile accident begets another, because people are often tempted to slow down and stare as they drive past the scene of a crash. Known as rubbernecking, it is a type of distracted driving. In PA, it is one of the top five causes of car accidents.
When you are staring at another crash, you are not looking ahead of your vehicle or checking your mirrors. That means you can hit the car in front of you or become part of a collision in another way.
The best way to avoid causing another accident by rubbernecking is to resist the urge to rubberneck. Tell yourself you will look up the crash when you get home or ask a passenger to check out the scene and give you a report. Also, be extra cautious when driving past an accident, as other drivers are likely to be distracted by it.
Although there is a lot you can do to avoid a road accident, sometimes, crashes happen. If you have recently been in a traffic accident and need assistance, contact KBG Injury Law for a free consultation today.
The personal injury attorneys at KBG Injury Law are all experienced litigators. Almost all of them represented insurance companies prior to becoming advocates for injured people, which provides them with a unique perspective and insight into how these companies operate. They also offer extensive courtroom experience if going to trial is the best legal alternative for the client.