There are two primary causes of traffic accidents, those that are caused by the driver and those that are environmental and outside the driver’s control. Overwhelmingly, accidents are caused by actions or mishaps that the driver produced, and could have been avoided. While environmental issues like weather or poor road maintenance may cause an accident, statistically these were far less likely to do so, and even then, could have been prevented by driver’s actions.
According to a 2003 study, conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University on behalf of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, driver distractions accounted for the main cause of accidents. The most disruptive distractions were looking at traffic, crashes and roadside incidents, which accounted for the greatest percentage (16 percent) of causes for accidents. While it was widely believed that cell phones were a greater cause, cell phones only came in sixth on the list. In fact, a January 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that laws to limit cell phone use while driving did not decrease accidents. They also stated that hands-free phones are no more safe than hand-held devices. This cause was more common in urban settings than rural settings, although rural car accidents accounted for the majority (62 percent) of accidents observed in the study.
According to statistics presented in 2002 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alcohol was a factor in at least 41 percent of all fatal crashes. According to U.S. Bureau Statistics, in 2007, in 35.7 percent of fatal accidents the blood alcohol content (BAC) was above 0.08 (the typical legal level in the United States), and 5.9 percent had BAC levels of between 0.01 and 0.07. Alcohol adversely affects vision, reaction time and attention of the driver, and decreases overall driving performance.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatigue and drowsiness accounts for 100,000 vehicle crashes per year, killing as many as 1,500 people and injuring 71,000 people. Accidents caused by fatigue is particularly prevalent for truck drivers and others taking long-haul driving trips. Accidents caused by sleepiness primarily occur after midnight. Fatigue causes slower reaction times and are more often to occur on a highway, where the driver is going at a higher speed. Because of this, fatigue-related accidents tend to be more fatal and they tend to occur when the driver is alone in the vehicle.
Speeding is another major cause of traffic accidents, particularly for younger or newer drivers. According the the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are more likely to speed, and male drivers, between the ages of 15 and 20, who were involved in a fatal crash in 2005, 37 percent were speeding at the time of the crash.
- VCU News Center: VCU study finds cell phones are not the leading cause of distracted driving
- State University of New York: Alcohol Consumption and Traffic Crashes
- Census: Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents-National Summary: 1990 to 2007
- Albany Herald: Accident provided inspiration for Fields
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration : Drowsy Driving
- Highway Loss Data Institute: Laws banning cellphone use while driving fail to reduce crashes
- CDC: Motor Vehicle Safety