Each year, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles reports approximately 300,000 traffic accidents statewide. Data from a recent year revealed a drastic increase of more than 420,000 traffic accidents. These crashes result in well over 100,000 injuries annually, as well as about 1,000 deaths. Car accidents are often traumatic events that can change a person’s life, and they are often preventable.
Causes for car accidents typically fall under three broad areas: driver error, environmental factors, and mechanical failures. Yet, even drivers can be at fault when environmental factors or mechanical failure leads to a car accident. This guide provides a broad overview of several common reasons that car accidents can occur in New York and throughout the nation. Most of these are a result of driver behaviors, whether inside or outside the vehicle.
Speeding is a dangerous driving habit that puts others at risk on the road for accidents and injury. Some people simply speed because they are impatient, like to drive fast, or are running late. Others are simply always in a rush because of the obligations and stress that come with living life. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than 25 percent of all traffic deaths across the nation are speeding-related, with fatalities totaling around 10,000 each year.
The NHTSA warns of the consequences of speeding, which include:
- Loss of vehicle control. The faster a driver goes, the harder it is to control a vehicle, especially at critical times such as driving through intersections or when road hazards exist.
- Safety equipment does not work as well. Auto manufacturers design vehicle safety devices like airbags and seatbelts with speed in mind. These devices work best when cars travel close to the speed limit. At excessive speeds, it is more likely that these devices will not do much to prevent injury and death.
- Longer stopping distance. Whether slowing or stopping for an intersection, a road hazard, or because of heavy traffic, drivers who are speeding need an increased stopping distance to safely avoid a collision. Drivers who cannot stop soon enough to avoid danger can cause accidents.
- More severe injuries. Speeding increases the force of impact when a crash occurs. More force leads to more severe injuries and a higher likelihood of those involved suffering a fatal injury.
- Costly damages. Car accidents have many costs for those involved, such as property damage and higher insurance premiums. Negligent drivers who speed also open themselves up to financial liability for others’ medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
New York, and other states, accept the common definition of distracted driving as any activity that takes your hands off the steering wheel, your eyes away from the road, or your mind off of driving. Discussing distracted driving often conjures up images of people using their cell phones. As cell phones gained popularity to the point that almost everyone above age 16 had one, they became a danger behind the wheel, prompting states to take action to curb this dangerous driving behavior.
New York has a strict cell phone use law that prohibits the use of cell phones or portable electronic devices while driving.
The New York DMV specifically mentions the following illegal activities:
- Talking on your cell phone
- Composing, sending, reading, browsing, saving or engaging with any e-mails, texts, or webpages
- Viewing, taking, or sending photos
- Playing games
While it is true that cell phones pose a danger, recent laws have helped curb this behavior. Distracted driving has existed long before cell phones, and many other things can interrupt safe driving.
Other driving distractions that some motorists face include:
- Eating or drinking
- Assisting occupants
- Concentrating on events outside the vehicle
- Personal grooming such as combing hair or putting on makeup
- Adjusting vehicle features like radios or seats
- Programming a GPS
Driving safely requires motorists to see dangers and have enough time to appropriately react. Distracted driving reduces the time and distance motorists have to react. This can lead to treacherous car accidents.
Ignoring Traffic Control Devices
The vast majority of drivers do not purposefully ignore stoplights, stop signs, and other traffic control devices. Yet, they get distracted or suffer from the bad habit of only looking ahead at the vehicle in front of them. Safely operating a motor vehicle requires scanning the information in front of the driver and taking note of signs, signals, crosswalks, and other devices.
Drivers who intentionally or accidentally ignore traffic control devices can potentially cause serious accidents, some even including pedestrians or cyclists. Ignoring speed limits can lead to traveling too fast around a corner and missing a stoplight or stop sign. This can put drivers in the middle of an intersection with approaching traffic. These examples are only a couple of ways that ignoring traffic devices can cause a car accident.
Failing to Check Blind Spots
Drivers with tunnel vision also fall into the bad habit of not checking their blind spots, which sometimes causes car accidents. All vehicles have blind spots and the larger the car, the larger the blind spot. Drivers can avoid accidents by simply checking their blind spot before turning or changing lanes, but distracted drivers and poorly trained drivers are not always diligent about doing this.
Cyclists, motorcyclists, and smaller vehicles can easily hide in a blind spot, especially in heavy traffic. As much as drivers need to check blind spots, others need to avoid riding in another vehicle’s blind spots to avoid collisions. This is especially true of semi-trucks that have massive blind spots compared to the average car or passenger vehicle.
New York is among the states who have the lowest alcohol-related fatality rates, yet drunk driving remains a cause of serious car accidents. On average, more than 5,600 people each year suffer injuries in New York drunk driving accidents and more than 220 die from fatal crashes. Nationwide, one person dies from a drunk driving accident every 50 minutes.
The NHTSA warns that alcohol reduces brain function and impairs thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination, which are all necessary for driving safely and avoiding car accidents. The more alcohol someone consumes, the more impairment he or she suffers—especially as it relates to the central nervous system.
The most common effects of driving from the consumption of alcohol include:
- Decreased coordination and ability to track objects that are moving
- Struggling with steering
- Lowered reaction time to emergencies
- Loss of concentration
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulty controlling speed
- Difficulty processing information
- Decreased ability to stay in the right lane and apply brakes appropriately
The effects that alcohol has on driving makes drunk driving not only illegal but dangerous. Whether headed out for dinner, celebrating a special occasion, or stopping for a few drinks on the way home from work, drivers who choose to get behind the wheel put others at risk. Designated drivers can help, and for those in New York City, public transportation, taxis, and rideshare services are plentiful to help those who have been drinking get home safely without causing a car accident.
Drowsy drivers have been such an issue in New York that the state created a task force to attack the problem—the New York State Partnership Against Drowsy Driving (NYPDD). The NYPDD recently partnered with the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook to evaluate the high amount of drowsy driving accidents that occur in Suffolk County. The partnership focuses on public education about drowsy driving, especially to college educators and students.
Anyone who does not get the proper rest faces fatigue that can lead to drowsy driving. Yet, some groups are more vulnerable than others.
- Truck drivers and other commercial drivers who operate tour buses and city buses
- Workers who put in long hours, especially those who work the late shift
- People with untreated sleep disorders
- New parents and caregivers to babies and young children
- New drivers, especially teenagers
Drivers who suffer from fatigue have slower reaction times and impaired vision. Additionally, drowsiness makes it difficult to process the information needed to drive safely and to avoid a car accident. Those who know they are driving drowsy rely on strategies like rolling down the window, blasting the radio, or drinking coffee or other drinks with caffeine.
These actions might help for a very short while, but they are not sustainable. Ultimately, drowsiness catches up with the driver, which can result in disaster. Experts recommend getting needed rest before getting behind the wheel, taking breaks every two hours or 100 miles, and traveling with a passenger who can share driving responsibilities if possible.
Driving Slowly in the Fast Lane
We mentioned the dangers of speeding above, but driving too slowly also causes car accidents, especially on multi-lane roads and highways. It is not only good driving etiquette to move to the right lane, but it is the law in New York and many other states. Slow drivers who stay in the left lane disrupt the traffic flow, which can lead to a serious car accident. The left line is meant for passing and the occasional left-lane exit. New York drivers who do not comply could face traffic citations and fines. But, these consequences pale in comparison to a serious car accident.
Following other vehicles too closely can lead to rear-end collisions, especially in high-traffic areas like New York City. Some drivers are rushed and impatient, while others are simply poor drivers who do not understand the dangers of following another car too closely. Tailgating makes it difficult for drivers to react quickly if the car in front of them suddenly slows, stops, turns, or makes some other erratic maneuver. Drivers who cause rear-end accidents from following closely could be financially liable for the collision.
Driving instructors recommend leaving a two-second gap between your car and the vehicle in front of you; defensive driving instructors recommend increasing the gap to four seconds, especially during inclement weather and heavy traffic. When rear-end collisions occur at moderate to high speeds, tailgating can also lead to dangerous and deadly multi-vehicle collisions.
Trying to Beat the Yellow Light
A yellow stoplight can present the driver with the question of whether to hit the brakes or to hit the gas and try to beat the yellow light before it turns red. Choosing to go through the light does not always end in disaster, but it can. A driver never knows exactly how much time they have to get through the light. If they miscalculate and traffic begins moving while they are in the intersection, they risk causing serious accidents that can result in injury or death.
Failing to Use Turn Signals
Data about turn signal use as a cause of car accidents is limited. Yet, a recent study revealed that almost half of 12,000 observed vehicles did not use their signal while changing lanes. Approximately 25 percent did not use their signal while turning. The study estimated that as many as two million car crashes per year across the United States occur from drivers’ failure to use turn signals, which is twice the number of distracted driving accidents according to the United States DOT.
Turn signals convey information to others who share the road, letting them know the driver’s intentions. This provides the opportunity to react promptly and helps avoid accidents.
Contact an Attorney if You Suffered Injuries in a Car Accident
If you have sustained injuries, or a loved one has lost their life in a car accident, you could have legal options to seek compensation for damages related to injury or death. Car accidents are costly and you should not have to suffer when someone else’s actions caused you or your family harm. Your first steps after an accident are to file an insurance claim under your mandatory New York personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. But a skilled car accident attorney could help you through the claims process and negotiate a settlement on your behalf. When settlement is not an option, your attorney could prepare your case for litigation, so you get the compensation you deserve.