The Most Common Reasons for Car Accidents
Justin Sheldon—August 16, 2018
According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Virginia Highway Safety Office, there were 127,375 motor vehicle crashes in 2017. While this statistic does indicate a small decrease from the previous year, it plays into the overall trend of increasing accident rates each year. With over 8 million registered vehicles on the road, it’s no surprise that accidents are relatively common. What may be surprising, however, is the role of negligence in car accidents.
While it is not possible to definitively quantify the total number of car accidents that occur as a direct or indirect result of negligence, it is safe to say that careless, reckless, and illegal driving behaviors lead to the vast majority of crashes. Driver error plays a large role in the high number of car accidents—but what causes drivers to make mistakes?
According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, of the nearly 130,000 car accidents that occurred in 2017, nearly 19% (23,948) were speed-related. This statistic mirrors national data, which shows that speeding plays a role in more than half of all motor vehicle accidents.
Sadly, speeding is one of the most common—and most deadly—driving behaviors. Due to the sudden deceleration and immense impact that occurs when a speeding car collides with another vehicle or object, everyone involved in speeding-related accidents is at a high risk of injury or death. Statistics support this, with 12,937 injuries and 318 deaths occurring in speed-related crashes in Virginia in 2017. Furthermore, 2017 saw an increase in speeding-related deaths of 3.9% on urban/city roads.
All speeding—that is to say, driving over the legal posted speed limit—is illegal. Excessive speeding, including driving over 80 mph on highways/roads or 20 mph over the legal speed limit, is considered reckless driving and can result in criminal penalties. If a motorist is speeding and causes an accident, he or she may face civil action in the form of a personal injury lawsuit.
Cellphones have become permanent fixtures in our lives. Unfortunately, this means many people continue to use cellphones while they are driving, despite laws prohibiting cellphone use and texting while driving. According to the DMV, all drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using a cellphone or personal communication device while they are driving. Texting while driving is prohibited for all drivers of any age. However, all too often, motorists ignore these laws. This can lead to serious consequences, as even glancing away from the road for a few seconds can cause an accident.
Cellphone use and texting are not the only forms of distracted driving. Anything that diverts a driver’s attention away from the road can be considered distracted driving. This includes things like looking up directions, looking away to change the music/radio station, reaching back to attend to children in the back seat, eating while driving, or simply not paying attention.
According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, the top three types of distracted driving that led to accidents in 2017 included, in order: removing eyes from the road, “rubbernecking” (looking at a crash or roadside incident), and cellphone use/texting while driving. Distracted driving in 2017 led to 14,656 injuries and 208 fatalities—a shocking 18.2% increase from the previous year.
Despite strict DUI laws and harsh criminal penalties meant to deter people from driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, many people still make the decision to get behind the wheel after they have been drinking. Sadly, this leads to thousands of crashes—and injuries—every year.
Recent statistics from the Virginia Highway Safety Office reveal that, in 2017, there were more than 7,000 alcohol-related crashes on Virginia highways and roads. Of these accidents, 4,430 resulted in injury and 248 proved fatal.
Alcohol consumption impairs a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle in many ways. Reaction time is reduced, decision-making skills are diminished, and distraction is increased. Improper lane changes, unsafe turns, illegal maneuvers, speeding, failing to yield, and drifting across center dividers are just some of the ways that impaired drivers cause accidents—often with catastrophic consequences. Because drinking and driving is illegal, drunk driving accidents are almost always considered negligent.
Reckless or Aggressive Driving
In addition to excessive speeding, reckless driving can take a number of forms. Street racing and aggressive driving are often considered reckless or negligent in nature. Following too closely (“tailgating”), swerving around other vehicles, unsafe passing, cutting off other drivers, and exhibiting road rage are all forms of aggressive driving. These kinds of behaviors can and do lead to numerous accidents on Virginia roadways every year.
Failing to Yield
Whether due to distracted driving, aggressive behavior, or simply inattention, many drivers fail to yield the right-of-way when they are supposed to. This commonly results in bicycle and pedestrian accidents, as motorists collide with cyclists and people on foot who are crossing in crosswalks, walking along the sidewalk, or attempting to share the road. When drivers fail to stop at red lights and stop signs, they can cause catastrophic T-bone accidents, head-on collisions, and side-swipe accidents.
Driving while drowsy or fatigued is incredibly dangerous, yet many Virginians continue to do it. Some studies have even shown that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, as drowsy drivers tend to be slow to react and quick to lose focus. Very fatigued driving can even lead to a driver falling asleep behind the wheel.
Fatigued driving can be a relatively common factor in semi-trailer truck accidents. In an effort to maximize profits, many companies pressure truck drivers to adhere to unrealistic quotas and unsafe driving schedules. This can lead to truck drivers driving while drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel, which, in turn, can cause devastating accidents.
Defective Cars & Car Parts
Defective automobile design and faulty parts are, surprisingly, a fairly common cause of car accidents. Hundreds of thousands and even millions of vehicles are recalled every year due to problems with seat belts, airbags, brakes, tires, and other critical parts. Defective car design—such as an SUV that easily rolls over when making turns—can also cause serious accidents.
When a defective vehicle or car part causes an accident that leaves innocent individuals injured, the victims are entitled to take legal action in the form of a product liability lawsuit. Depending on the specific circumstances involved, the car/product designer, manufacturer, distributor, or anyone else involved in production may be liable.
After graduating, cum laude from the University of Richmond School of Law in 2011, Justin Sheldon began his legal career with a large national firm doing high-stakes business litigation. He soon moved on to a boutique firm specializing in auto products liability litigation throughout the United States.