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Top 15 Causes of Car Accidents and What You Can Do to Prevent Them

An oft-cited National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that human error was the critical reason for 94% to 96% of crashes. Various studies have reached similar conclusions. Even when human error is the primary cause, many other factors can make an accident more likely to happen or more serious. 

Here are the top 15 causes of car accidents in Colorado and the rest of the United States, along with prevention tips. They are broken down into four main categories.

Driver’s Mental State, Attention, and Impairment

Driver inattention or impairment from drugs, alcohol, or fatigue is responsible for a large share of car accidents. 

1. Distracted Driving

There are thousands of distracted driving accidents each year in Colorado alone. Distracted driving can involve any type of distraction, such as texting or talking on a phone, using a GPS device, talking to friends in the car, eating, or letting your mind wander. 

Prevention tips: Turn on your phone’s “do not disturb” setting while driving. Place your cell phone well out of reach if you need to avoid temptation. Watch other drivers to identify when they are distracted. They may be more likely to engage in dangerous behavior or fail to react in time to changes in traffic or other drivers changing lanes.

2. Drugged or Drunk Driving

Drunk driving caused 13,384 deaths in 2021. Drunk drivers are involved in 31% of all fatal car accidents in the U.S. Men are more likely to drive under the influence. 22% of male drivers involved in fatal collisions had been drinking in 2020 compared to 16% of female drivers. 

Drug impairment can be just as deadly by impairing reaction time, visual processing, and critical thinking. 

Prevention tips: Remember that even one or two drinks impairs your ability to drive. 2,266 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents in 2021 in which the driver had a BAC below the legal limit. 

3. Drowsy Driving

Driving while fatigued can be just as deadly as driving under the influence. About 21% of fatal accidents involve drowsy driving. Someone who is tired is about three times more likely to get into a crash than someone well-rested. A recent survey found 37% of adults have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. 

Prevention tips: You are likely to underestimate your level of fatigue while driving. Do not simply push through when you feel tired; pull over to get out of the car or rest.

Specific Driver Behaviors

Specific negligent or reckless behaviors are responsible for most car accidents, even though other factors like rain and inexperience may contribute. Here are the most common behaviors that cause collisions. 

4. Reckless Driving

Aggressive or reckless driving is usually defined as driving that shows a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or the consequences of dangerous maneuvers. It’s a step above mere negligence – or carelessness.

Examples include:

  • Speeding
  • Racing
  • Running red lights or stop signs
  • Driving under the influence
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
  • Swerving across lanes
  • Tailgating
  • Illegal passing

Prevention tips: Try to maintain a safe distance from reckless or aggressive drivers. Do not engage or escalate if an aggressive driver cuts you off.

5. Speeding

Speeding is one of the most dangerous things you can do. 29% of all traffic fatalities involve speeding. In 2021, speeding killed 42,939 people. 

Prevention tips: Be vigilant of your surroundings, especially when proceeding through intersections, to avoid crashes caused by speeders. 

6. Running Stop Signs or Red Lights

Almost 56% of adults admit to running red lights, usually because they are simply in a hurry. Yet one in three people say they know someone who has been hurt or killed in a red light accident. About 90,000 people are injured, and 1,000 are killed in accidents involving running a red light.

Nationwide, about 700,000 accidents happen at stop signs, usually when a driver fails to stop. 

Prevention tips: Don’t race to beat a yellow light; saving seconds isn’t worth your life. When approaching an intersection, never proceed, even if the light is green, until you confirm cross traffic has stopped.

7. Improper Lane Changes

Dangerous or improper lane change is a leading cause of accidents. This covers a range of dangerous behaviors like failing to signal, changing lanes without making sure you have space, aggressively weaving in and out of lanes, or cutting across multiple lanes at once.

Prevention tips: Always use turn signals when changing lanes. Don’t move across multiple lanes at once or change lanes in or just before an intersection.

8. Unsafe Left Turns

Left-hand turns are one of the most dangerous traffic maneuvers. A left turn requires watching for oncoming traffic and hazards like pedestrians while judging the speed and distance of other vehicles. 

About 40% of all crashes happen in an intersection. A left turn was the critical pre-collision event in 22% of intersection crashes compared to 1.2% for right turns and 12.6% for crossing through.

Prevention tips: Never assume another driver’s intentions. You shouldn’t assume they will behave according to a turn signal or stop at a yellow light. Avoid trying to beat a yellow light when turning left.

Driver’s Age

Young drivers under 21 and older drivers 65 and up are involved in a disproportionate amount of car accidents, especially fatal collisions.

9. Inexperienced Teen Drivers

Teen drivers have the highest accident rate by age group, especially when it comes to fatal crashes. In 2021, young drivers were just 5% of all licensed drivers yet accounted for 8.4% of drivers involved in deadly collisions. Drivers 16 to 20 had the highest involvement rate in fatal crashes of all age groups at 43.33 per 100,000. Male teen drivers had a fatal crash involvement rate of 56.59 per 100,000, about twice as high as female teen drivers.  

10. Older Drivers

As we age, motor control, vision, reaction time, and situational awareness all decline. In 2021, drivers 65 and older accounted for 21% of licensed motorists in the U.S. They were involved in 19% of fatal accidents. 

According to the NHTSA, motorists between 65 and 69 had the lowest rate of involvement in fatal crashes. However, after the age of 69, the rate of fatal collisions increases by 11% every five years. 

For every 1,000 people involved in a traffic accident, senior motorists are involved in 96.6 crashes. Most senior driving crashes are caused by failure to yield the right of way, inadequate lookout, and misjudging distance or speed.

Prevention tips: Elderly motorists should avoid nighttime driving and driving when taking certain medications. The Colorado Department of Transportation sponsors CarFit events across the state to help older adults drive safely. Fitness to Drive offers older driver safety evaluations. 

Environmental and Other Conditions

According to an Indiana University study, environmental factors are the primary cause of 12% to 34% of accidents. Mechanical failure and other issues with a vehicle are responsible for 4% to 13% of accidents.

11. Rain

Rain, not ice, is the leading cause of weather-related car accidents. Every year, about 47% of accidents happen when it’s raining, and 75% occur on wet pavement. These rain-related crashes cause 5,700 fatalities every year. 

Prevention tips: Always have your headlights on when it’s raining. Drive slower than normal and be prepared for hydroplaning. If you begin to hydroplane, stay calm and apply the brakes gently. Steer in the direction your vehicle is moving to keep the tires aligned.

12. Snow and Ice

Nationwide, rain is the top reason for weather-related accidents, but that’s because many regions do not get snow. In Colorado, snow and icy roads are a major hazard during the winter months.

CDOT implements the Passenger Vehicle Traction and Chain Law during severe weather, requiring winter tires, chains, or an approved alternative on state highways.

Prevention tips: Invest in good winter tires for better traction and control on snow and ice. Reduce your speed when the weather is bad, and remember to make slow, wide turns, accelerate slowly, and brake slowly and smoothly.

13. Road Hazards

Road defects or dangerous road design can contribute to or cause an accident. These defects are responsible for about 2% of accidents, according to a National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey

Common examples include: 

  • Poorly maintained roads
  • Road debris from construction
  • Poorly designed crosswalks, intersections, ramps, or streets
  • Missing or damaged guardrails
  • Potholes
  • Flooding or ponding caused by poor drainage and defective design

A city, county, or state government may be responsible for accidents caused by road defects.

14. Night Driving

About 49% of fatal crashes happen between sunset and sunrise, even though we do just 9% of our driving during these hours. Fatal crashes peak between the hours of 8 pm and 12 am

Night driving is about nine times more dangerous than daytime driving. Reduced visibility, compromised depth perception and color recognition, fatigue, headlight glare, and a higher rate of drunk drivers all contribute to the dangers. 

Prevention tips: Dim your dashboard lights when it’s dark, and make sure the windshield is clean. If oncoming headlights blind you, look at the white line at the right edge of the street. Always pull over to take a break if you feel tired.

15. Mechanical Failure or Defect

Mechanical failure contributes to about one million accidents every year. These preventable car accidents are caused by inadequate maintenance. 

The most common issues include: 

  • Tire issues
  • Brake problems
  • Steering and suspension issues
  • Engine and transmission problems
  • Tail light or headlight problems

Sometimes, mechanical failure isn’t preventable. Defective components like defective brakes or tires can also be to blame.

Contact Our Denver Car Accident Attorneys If You’ve Been Hurt in a Crash

Some car accident causes are more common than others, but all have the potential to result in serious, life-changing injuries. If you have been hurt in a crash caused by someone else’s negligent or intentional behavior, you deserve to be made as whole as possible. 

Call Zaner Harden Law to schedule a free consultation with a Denver car accident lawyer to discuss your case and how we can help you.

Contact our Denver Car Accident Law Firm Today For Help

For more information please contact Zaner Harden Law, LLP to schedule a free initial consultation with a Denver car accident lawyer.

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