Every day, thousands of car accidents happen across the United States. These accidents can lead to serious injury or death. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety documented 36,560 motor vehicle fatalities in one recent year. The good news is that this number represents a slight drop from previous years. The bad news is that the number remains way too high.
As a driver, your safety may depend on understanding why these accidents happen. That knowledge can help keep you and those around you protected on the road. In this blog post, we discuss the common causes of car accidents, and how a lawyer can help you recover if an accident harms you or your loved one. Contact an experienced injury attorney to learn more about your legal rights.
Why Car Accidents Happen
While car accidents can seem like random tragedies, the truth is, many have clear and preventable causes. In almost all cases, accidents result from someone’s poor decisions or dangerous actions. The National Safety Council reports that over 90 percent of car crashes involve human error. Poor decision making, carelessness, and recklessness can all lead to an accident. Common causes of motor vehicle accidents include:
A disconnect exists throughout the country when it comes to drivers and high speeds. Many drivers do not think twice before driving five, 10, or even 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. Some drivers drive fast to avoid running late. Others do it for the thrill.
Whatever the reason, speeding puts drivers and others on the road at extreme risk. In 2018, speeding killed 9,378 people in the U.S., making it one of the leading causes of motor vehicle fatalities. Speeding can affect your ability to control your car safely.
Dangers of speeding include:
- Less control of the vehicle
- Longer stopping time
- Shorter reaction time
- Increased severity of injuries
If a speeding driver comes up behind you, do not tap your brakes or attempt to force the driver to slow down, as these actions may lead to a deadly collision. Instead, move over and allow the other driver to pass. Call 911 to report obviously-dangerous driving behaviors, such as another vehicle traveling so fast that it seems likely to cause an accident.
Driving Under the Influence/Drowsy Driving
Why group DUIs and drowsy driving together? Because, according to The Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving mimics many of the effects of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Both behaviors involve impaired motor skills, poor decision making, and difficulty concentrating. According to The Sleep Foundation, being awake for 18 straight hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol content of 0.05.
Unfortunately, despite public awareness campaigns and crackdowns by law enforcement, drowsy driving and driving under the influence happen at alarmingly high rates. According to the CDC, one 1 of every 25 drivers has reported falling asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that one person dies every 50 minutes because of a drunk driver.
When you take to the road, stay alert at all times for drunk or drowsy drivers, especially at night. Signs of an impaired driver include:
- Swerving and weaving;
- Sudden lane or direction changes;
- Speeding and other recklessness;
- Driving the wrong direction; and
- Erratic braking.
If you see a drunk or drowsy driver on the road, keep your distance and call 911. Your actions can help save the life of another driver.
Failure to Yield the Right of Way
We have all witnessed another driver cut us off or slip ahead of us at an intersection, both examples of a driver’s failure to yield the right of way. All states have traffic laws explaining who has the right of way in a traffic scenario. These laws allow drivers to anticipate how other drivers will react and help keep the roads safe.
Accidents happen when one driver ignores those rules of the road and fails to yield the right of way when other motorists least expect it. Many such accidents occur at:
- Stoplights: Unfortunately, drivers run red lights more often than we would like to believe. Drivers often fail to stop at red lights and cause accidents while trying to beat the yellow, while distracted, or while driving under the influence.
- Stop signs: Accidents at intersections controlled by stop signs happen for a variety of reasons. One of the most common is drivers failing to pay attention to who goes first. Two drivers may think they have the right of way and proceed at the same time. Other accident-causing scenarios at stop signs involve a reckless, distracted, or impaired driver, or a driver who simply does not see a sign for one reason or another.
- Unprotected intersections: At intersections that lack traffic control measures, drivers frequently get confused about who has the right of way, which can easily result in a collision.
- Highway onramps: Highway onramps require drivers to merge onto the freeway in a safe manner, which often means relying on drivers in the travel lanes yielding to let them in. Virtually all merge accidents happen because one driver or the other misjudges who has or should give the right-of-way.
We live in a society of go, go, go. Everywhere you look, drivers have their hands glued to a phone or try to squeeze in lunch behind the wheel. Responding to a text, eating a burger, or any other distracted driving behavior puts lives at risk on the road. Taking your eyes off the road for a split second robs you of precious time to respond to any hazards that pop up. Every day, people across the country die because they made the tragic decision to read a text or to turn to talk to someone in the back seat, instead of keeping their hands on wheels, eyes on roads, and minds on driving safely.
Distracted driving kills more than 3,000 people a year. Put the phone away, put any makeup on before you leave the house, and wait until you get to where you are going to eat your lunch.
Following Too Close
Most drivers have heard of the three-second rule. Many driving schools and law enforcement officers recommend leaving at least three seconds of travel time between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you. The reasoning goes, if the car in front of you suddenly stops, you will need at least three seconds to stop.
The reality is, three seconds of travel space represents the absolute minimum distance you should leave between your vehicle and someone else’s. Understand that the faster you travel, the more time it takes for your car to come to a complete stop. Vehicle condition, weather conditions, and road conditions can all affect this time.
Vehicles that follow too close are more likely to cause rear-end accidents. In 2017, approximately 18 percent of all multi-car fatal accidents were rear-end accidents. Non-fatal accidents can cause serious injuries including disc damage, traumatic brain injuries, or soft tissue damage.
Any driver knows visibility constitutes a critical component of safe driving. If you cannot see, you will have a hard time avoiding an accident. Unfortunately, many hazards and conditions limit visibility. Weather, roadside objects, and the time of day all affect driving safety.
Common hazards that impair visibility include:
- Sun glare;
- Late-night hours; and
- Parked vehicles.
When possible, avoid driving in poor weather conditions. If conditions suddenly change and make travel dangerous, consider pulling your vehicle to the side of the road until conditions improve.
Poor maintenance or bad parts can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. It is always important to make sure you stay up-to-date on your vehicle’s regular maintenance. Regularly check for any recalls for your make and model. Thousands of recalls happen every year that many consumers do not even know about.
Mechanical problems that can lead to an accident include:
- Worn tire(s);
- Burnt out headlights, tail lights, and turn signals;
- Bad breaks; and
- Old windshield wipers.
Five Things You Want to Do After an Accident
Unfortunately, learning about the causes of accidents cannot prevent them entirely. We cannot control how others act behind the wheel.
That is why it is important to know what to do if you find yourself the victim of an accident.
Here are some basic tips:
- Stay at the scene. Regardless of how severe the accident is, stop and—at the very least—talk to the other driver. Even if you do not think any injuries or damage happened, always exchange contact information. This includes names and phone numbers, as well as insurance information. This ensures that if you notice damage or begin to feel pain days after the accident, you will have the information you need to seek compensation.
- Watch what you say. While talking to the other driver, never admit liability. The other driver will undoubtedly remember your statements and report them to their insurance. This includes apologies. It may feel like instinct and good manners to apologize, but try to resist the urge. This is a moment in which what you say can be used against you.
- Gather evidence. Evidence is important after a car accident. It is not unusual for two parties to have completely different versions of the events leading up to and after the accident. Pictures of the scene can help prove your side of the story and help you recover compensation from the other party. Before you leave the scene, try to document as much evidence as you can. This includes pictures of both vehicles, as well as any property damage (e.g. skid marks, damaged signs). If there are witnesses, be sure to get their contact information.
- Go to the doctor. Our bodies have a way of hiding injuries right after they actually happen. You may feel fine immediately following an accident, only to begin to experience pain days later. A doctor can give you a thorough evaluation and provide any needed care. If you believe you hit your head during the accident, go to the doctor right away.
- Talk to an attorney. The law gives accident victims the right to pursue fair and just compensation after an accident that results in injuries. However, your idea of fair and just is likely far from what someone’s insurance company wants to pay. A personal injury attorney can help you collect evidence and build a strong argument to support your case.
Your Right to Compensation
Victims of car accidents caused by someone else’s bad decisions or dangerous actions generally have the right to take legal action seeking compensation for their injuries and losses.
Every car accident has its own unique aspects, but victims can typically seek to recover compensation for:
- Medical bills/Future medical expenses;
- Lost wages/Future wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of life enjoyment; and
- Loss of companionship.
Speak with an experienced attorney to determine what compensation you may have the right to seek for your car accident injuries.
Get the Help You Deserve
It is natural to feel overwhelmed after a traumatic experience like a car accident. Having a team of experienced, knowledgeable, caring legal professionals by your side can help you navigate the aftermath.
The law may permit you to take legal action for compensation after a car accident, but you must act quickly to protect your legal rights. A time period known as the statute of limitations sets a deadline for you to take action seeking the compensation you deserve. Waiting too long to get legal counsel can risk leaving you empty-handed.
Your rights matter. When someone else’s bad decisions or dangerous actions cause you serious injuries, you should not have to bear the financial burden of your care and treatment. That obligation should fall to the person or entity that hurt you or their insurance company.
Speak with an experienced car accident lawyer right away for a free case evaluation to learn about your rights after a car accident.