Car Accidents: Statistics, Causes and Prevention
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), there are nearly 2.35 million people that get injured or disabled each year in the U.S. in motor vehicle accidents. Sadly, about 37,000 die annually, and of these deaths, over 1,600 are children under the age of 15. In 2013, the US crash death rate was higher than twice the average of other high-income countries. This article discusses key statistics about the prevalence of car accidents across the U.S., the main causes behind car accidents, the significant impact that car accidents have on individuals and the community and, finally, critical tips to aid in preventing car accidents to protect yourself and your loved ones.Car Accidents in the U.S. by the Numbers
According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number and the type of crash accidents differ significantly among the 50 states and District of Columbia. Analysis of the data from the US. Department of Transportation reveals 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people. The fatality rate per 100,000 people ranged from 3.4 in the District of Columbia to 24.7 in Wyoming. Fatality rates per capita and per miles traveled provide a way of estimating motor vehicle deaths compared to the population and the amount of driving, however; many factors can affect these rates, including vehicle types, alcohol impairment, and use of seat belts. Other critical factors include vehicle speeds, rates of licensure, state traffic laws, emergency care capabilities and the weather.
The type of motor vehicle affects accident and fatality rates, and varies by state. For example:
- North Dakota has the highest percentage of deaths involving occupants of suburban utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks (50 percent), and some of the lowest proportions of deaths for car occupants (up to 27 percent).
- Massachusetts, on the other hand, has one of the highest proportions of car occupant deaths (41 percent), a relatively high proportion of pedestrian deaths (24 percent), and a relatively low percentage of deaths involving SUV or pickup occupants (13 percent).
- New Hampshire and South Dakota had the highest percentage (23 percent each) of motorcyclist deaths.
- The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of pedestrian deaths (57 percent).
Nationwide, 55 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2015 occurred in single-vehicle crashes. The District of Columbia had the largest proportion of deaths in single-vehicle crashes (70 percent), with Montana (68 percent), and Maine (67 percent) closely behind, whereas the smallest proportion occurred in Minnesota (47 percent).
Impact of Alcohol Impairment
Alcohol consumption plays a major role in motor vehicle crashes. According to the CDC, one third of the crash deaths in the US involved drunk driving, and almost 1 in 3 of those also involved speeding. In 2015, at least some measurable level of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was reported for 70 percent of fatally injured passengers and vehicle drivers. Rhode Island reported BACs for a record 95 percent of fatally injured passengers and vehicle drivers, while on the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi reported BACs for only 47 percent. When looking at BAC’s over the legal limit for driving, Alaska had the highest percentage of fatally injured drivers with BACs of 0.08 percent or higher (48 percent), while Utah had the lowest percentage (17 percent).
Positive Effect of Seat Belts
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety measured the frequency of use of seat belt restraints. They found that based on daytime observational surveys made by the states, the rate of safety belt use among front seat passenger vehicle occupants in 2015 ranged from 70 percent in New Hampshire to 97 percent in Georgia. Two states, California and Maryland, and the District of Columbia had at least 60 percent restraint use among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants. In contrast, six states - Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming - had below 30 percent user rates. As expected, the states with higher use of seat belt restraints had correspondingly lower levels of fatally injured passengers compared with states with a lower percentage of users of seat belts.Primary Causes of Car Accidents and Injuries
The causes of motor vehicle accidents and injuries can be divided into two main categories: 1) mistakes committed by the driver; and 2) treacherous road conditions. Of the two categories, driver mistakes cause the significant majority of accidents and resulting injuries.
Driver error includes the following:
- Distraction: Researchers from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that distraction caused 70% of the more than 900 serious crashes that they analyzed. Out of these distraction-induced crashes, dialing a phone while driving was the most distracting factor for the driver - it increased the driver's risk of crashing by ten times. Likewise, writing and reading while driving increased the driver's probability of getting into an accident by about ten times. Trying to reach something in the car increased the probability by nine-fold. Texting increased the risk six times, while reading an e-mail increased the tendency three times.
- Alcohol and Drug Use: Per the CDC, in 2014, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic related deaths in the United States. Among the 1,070 traffic deaths among children aged from 0 to 14 years in 2014, 209 (19%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Even worse, among the 209 child passengers aged 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2014, over half (116) were riding in the vehicle with an alcohol-impaired driver. Studies show that drinking while driving increases the likelihood of being in a motor vehicle accident and the likelihood of serious injury or death occurring. The risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly above a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04 g/dl. Drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are involved in about 16% of motor vehicle crashes. Marijuana users were about 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use, however, other factors – such as age and gender, may account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users. Even legal drugs can play a role in dangerous car accidents – for example, prescription drugs like morphine, addictive substances or anti-histaminic drugs that are present in over the counter cold medications can cause sedation or affect cognitive functions of the driver and his mental status.
- Vehicle Speed: Driving speed plays a role in many accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration found that the extent of motor vehicle crash lethality is significantly tied to the velocity change at the time of impact. The WHO also found that the speed of the vehicle is directly related to the occurrence of the crash and the consequences of it. For example, the U.S. DOT says that an adult pedestrian’s risk of dying is less than 20% if struck by a car at 50 km/h and almost 60% if hit at 80 km/h. Interestingly, it also reported that crashes occur not only with high-speed vehicles, but also with dangerously low speed vehicles. In fact, sometimes being over cautious is equally dangerous.
- Failure to Wear Seat Belts: According to a study by Edgar Snyder and Associates, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death to the front passengers of the vehicle by 45%. Similarly, the WHO found that if seat belts are correctly installed and used, child restraints reduce deaths among infants by approximately 70% and reduces deaths among small children by between 54% and 80%.
- Reckless Driving: Reckless driving includes crossing red lights, driving in the wrong direction or wrong lane, street racing, tailgating and other illegal driving techniques, all of which make one more likely to end up in a motor vehicle accident.
- Characteristics of the Driver: Certain characteristics were associated with higher incidents of car accidents. High risk factors like poor eyesight, sleep deprivation, and age (i.e. being a teenager or an older man), or a combination of these factors, led to more frequent motor vehicle accidents. The WHO found that age, sex and socioeconomic standing are related to the occurrence of car crashes. For example, young males are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females. About three quarters (73%) of all road traffic deaths occur among men. Among young drivers, young males under the age of 25 years are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a car crash as young females.
Treacherous Road Conditions
Aside from driver mistakes, treacherous road conditions can cause of car accidents. The Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology in 1995 showed that about 34% of the car accidents were precipitated by contributing factors related to the road or the surrounding environment. Things like road design, weather conditions and bad signage can be precipitating factors. Statistically, car accidents occur more often in rainy weather, as moisture creates a slimy layer on the pavement, making the vehicle more likely to spin out of control or skid while braking. Ice and snow also play a significant role in the occurrence of accidents. Weather conditions make it harder for cars to keep their traction on the road and for drivers to gauge speed and control of the vehicle. Although many of these road and weather conditions are contributing factors to the cause of the motor vehicle accident, driver error can still be a factor in these crashes.The Impact of Motor Vehicle Accidents
As the above statistics illustrate, motor vehicles accidents are not only a common occurrence, but also the frequency of death or disability is very high., These accidents affect people's lives both psychologically and physically, and also cost the government millions of dollars.
Physically, car accidents can of course cause a tremendous amount of damage. Motor vehicle accident trauma commonly cause bruises and abrasions that can ultimately damage organs and cause severe disability, catstrophic injury or death. Common injuries include fractures, dislocations, and, tragically, loss of limbs. Another major category of injury is called “whiplash” – which include injuries to the neck, spine, muscles and ligaments. Traumatic brain injury can also occur because of the head trauma associated with car accidents.
According to Dr. James Beauchamp, a board certified spinal trauma specialist specializing in automobile accident reconstruction, accident victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, fear, hypersensitivity to being startled, inability to concentrate, insomnia and other related issues. Recovery from these psychological injuries may take extended time, as there can be a stigma associated with mental and psychological health disorders, and people tend to deny that they may be suffering psychologically from a motor vehicle accident.
Dr. Alan M. Steinberg, director of research at the UCLA Trauma Psychiatry Program, says that studies show that people can have increases in their levels of stress hormones for months after even minor traumatic events. "These kinds of reactions are normal and to be expected in the [short-term] aftermath of whatever has happened. I don't think people should run to a psychiatrist or psychologist a week or two after. But if they start to become persistent, that's a sign that they may become [long-term] and can become very debilitating," Steinberg says.
Resulting Costs of Car Accidents
According to the CDC, car crashes collectively cost more than 99 billion dollars per year. In 2013, Texas, Georgia, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio reported the highest costs related to car accidents, reaching about $1,200 million - $4,890 million each. Among other states, the lowest cost reached $34 million - $177 million, all of which are huge numbers. Looking at the cost of these accidents, Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC (National Safety Council), says: "As a safety professional, it's not just disappointing but heartbreaking to see the numbers trending in the wrong direction."The Best Ways to Prevent Car Accidents
Preventing car accidents includes both community commitment and individual behavior modification. The WHO advocates that governments act in a holistic manner, with involvement from multiple sectors (transportation, police, health, education) to address the safety of roads, vehicles, and road users themselves.
- Effective Alcohol Consumption Legislation: The Guide to Community Preventive Services and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend different strategies for reducing alcohol consumption:
- First, maintain consistent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) regulations and maintain the minimum legal drinking age of 21. Nationwide, it is illegal to drive with a BAC at or above 0.08%. For people under 21, “zero tolerance” laws make it illegal to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. These laws save thousands of lives and keep the safety of the highways since their implementation. The WHO recommends additional laws that establish lower BACs (≤0.02 g/dl) for young and novice drivers can lead to reductions in the number of crashes involving young people by up to 24%.
- Increase sobriety checkpoints. Many communities continue to ramp up efforts at catching and deterring drunk drivers through sobriety checkpoints to see if the drivers are cognitively impaired or under the effect of alcohol.
- Increase use of ignition interlocks. There is a new technique called "ignition interlocks," which prevents the vehicles from starting when it measures the alcohol in the drivers' breath and finds it above the limited set value. The more prevalent these become and are required in new vehicles, the more accidents can be prevented.
- Use of mass media campaigns. Many communities undertake mass media campaigns and school-based instructional programs to combat motor vehicle accidents. Using these methods integrated together with laws have already helped reduce car accident rates.
- Road Safety Measures. Regarding general road safety, The United Nations General Assembly Resolution has adopted a decade of action for road safety that was launched in May 2011 in 110 countries, including the U.S., aimed at saving millions of lives by ameliorating safety of roads, vehicles, drivers' behaviors and activation of emergency services. The WHO is collaborating with the United Nations on this project and will continue to advocate for road safety at the highest level by continuous evaluation, data collection, and sharing information with the public.
- Speed Limit Laws. States should maintain laws regarding the speed of vehicles such that the speed must not exceed 30 km/h where vulnerable road users are common, like residential and school areas. Lower speeds reduce the risk of a crash.
- Enforce Seat Belt Laws. States should enforce both primary and secondary seat belt laws. Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place. Secondary seat belt laws state that law enforcement officers may issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another citable traffic infraction. Enforcing both laws regularly will aid in reducing injuries due to motor vehicle accidents.
- Avoid Risky Behavior. As outlined above, distraction, alcohol or drug use, reckless driving and excessive speed are all significant factors in causing car accidents. Drivers can reduce the risk of accident by avoiding such behavior.
- Car Maintenance. The National Safety Council sheds light on the importance of continuous engine maintenance that keep cars safe and sound. Drivers should keep their cars in a good state and commit to their maintenance schedule to keep the vehicle safe and prolong the life of the car. Be sure to keep car tires well inflated. Under inflated tires increase the risk of getting into an accident. Also, check the brakes frequently before driving, have mirrors and windshields cleaned and replace your windshield wipers regularly.
- Use of Car Mirrors. Drivers should be sure to use their car mirrors, reducing any blind spots by adjusting both the side mirrors and rear view mirror in the way that forms a panoramic view of the traffic behind, but also allowing for the driver to look directly tp the side of the vehicle to cover any areas missed by the mirrors. Also, be sure to take the other surrounding drivers' blind spots into consideration, especially truckers.
- Emphasize Proper Driving Techniques. Drivers should stay in their lane, keep both hands on the wheel and use their car signals properly. Generally, avoid the left lane except to pass, as the right one contains more options to avoid dangerous situations.
- Scan the Road. Safety experts advise drivers to scan the area ahead, not only the vehicle in front of them, but also, the traffic in front of it too; this helps the driver to foresee any problem from a distance and to have the sufficient time to take action to avoid collisions.
- Driving lessons. Learning how to drive in classes at driving schools remains very helpful. A study done in 2011 in many countries, including the U.S., concluded that there is evidence of small short-term crash reductions among licensed drivers who took driving lessons.
- Minimize Driving at Night. Night time driving should be avoided unless necessary. Decreased field of vision, fatigue and increased possibility of drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs all make driving at night the more likely time to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.
- Embrace New Technology. New technology continues to offer improvements for motor vehicle safety. Whenever possible, choose vehicles that have added safety measures, including dual air bags, electronic stability control, accident avoidance systems, lane departure warnings and ignition interlocks.
- 1) http://asirt.org/initiatives/informing-road-users/road-safety-facts/road-crash-statistics
- 2) https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/motor-vehicle-safety/index.html
- 3) http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview
- 4) https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/statecosts/
- 5) http://www.pnas.org/content/113/10/2636
- 6) https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
- 7) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs358/en/