Car accidents are an everyday occurrence in the United States. In fact, there are more than 15,000 car accidents in the U.S. every day on average, and, tragically, there are more than 100 accidents every day that result in fatalities.
As these statistics show, car accidents are a major problem. As other statistics show (which we get into below), the vast majority of car accidents are also avoidable. This means that the problem can be fixed, but it is up to government agencies, drivers, and even passengers to do their part to help keep our roadways as safe as possible.
This comprehensive guide to car accidents in the United States covers everything you need to know about car accident statistics, the leading causes of car accidents and car accident prevention. It also covers steps drivers, and passengers can take to help protect themselves (and others), as well as what to do in the event that you or a loved one is involved in a serious collision.
U.S. National Car Accident Statistics
As we’ve already discussed, car accidents are far more common in the U.S. than they should be. Here are some additional statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Insurance Information Institute (III), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
- Millions of People Are Injured in Car Accidents Every Year – According to the NHTSA’s most recent data, an estimated 2.28 million people suffered injuries in car accidents in 2020. This represented a 17-percent decrease from the total of 2.74 estimated injuries in 2019—which can most likely be attributed to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- While Injury Rates Are Declining, Fatality Rates Are On the Rise – When taken as a rate based on accidents per millions of miles traveled, injury-involved car accidents decreased by a lesser amount—just six percent—in 2020. But, while the rate of injury-involved car accidents decreased slightly in 2020, the rate of fatal car accidents increased by an alarming 21 percent.
- The Summer Months Are the Most Dangerous Months to Drive – Data from the NHTSA indicate that the summer months are the most dangerous months to drive in the United States. June, July and August all see high rates of injury-involved and fatal car accidents, most likely attributable to the increase in highway traffic during the summer vacation season.
- Drivers Between the Ages of 16 and 20 Are the Most Likely to Be Involved in Fatal Car Accidents – The III reports that drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 have the highest rate of involvement in fatal car accidents (38.52 per 100,000 licensed drivers). This is the highest rate by a significant margin. While more drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 are killed in car accidents, this is due to the fact that there are far more drivers in this age group.
- Fatal Car Accidents Are More Common Than They Were a Decade Ago – Consistent with the NHTSA’s data, the IIHS reports that the rate of fatal car accidents has increased significantly—by nearly 20 percent—over the past decade. While the rate of fatal car accidents was 10.4 per 100,000 drivers in 2011, it was 11.8 per 100,000 drivers in 2020.
Leading Driver-Related Causes of Serious and Fatal Car Accidents
Despite the frequency of car accidents in the United States, most serious and fatal car accidents are avoidable. Driver negligence is the most common factor in these accidents, and, simply put, there is no excuse for any driver to be negligent behind the wheel. For example, the following are all among the leading driver-related causes of serious and fatal car accidents—and they all can (and should) be avoided:
- Failing to look before merging, changing lanes or turning
- Failing to observe traffic signals and signs
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
- Driving under the influence of marijuana
- Driving under the influence of prescription drugs
- Passing dangerously
- Road rage and other forms of aggressive driving
If these driving behaviors are so dangerous (not to mention against the law), why do so many drivers still engage in them? Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer—and this is why these behaviors remain so common. Some drivers don’t think about the risks, others simply ignore them and others still simply make mistakes because they aren’t being as careful as they should be.
Leading Non-Driver-Related Causes of Serious and Fatal Car Accidents
Along with driver negligence, there are several common non-driver-related causes of car accidents as well. Like the driver-related causes discussed above, these causes are also generally avoidable. Yet, as the data makes clear, government agencies, vehicle manufacturers, and other entities often simply don’t do enough to protect drivers and their passengers.
Some of the most common non-driver-related causes of serious and fatal car accidents include:
- Brake failures
- Engine and transmission failures
- Negligent road design and construction
- Road defects (i.e. potholes and sinkholes)
- Tire failures
While these are among the main non-driver-related causes of car accidents, there are many others as well. From accelerator pedal and airbag malfunctions to road debris and poor road construction site management, there are numerous factors that can lead to car accidents that are completely beyond drivers’ control.
Vehicles Most Commonly Involved in Fatal Car Accidents
The IIHS has published a list of the types of vehicles that are most commonly involved in fatal car accidents. To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that these are the most dangerous vehicles on the road. Correlation could be at play, and drivers who tend toward certain types of vehicles could also have a tendency to act more or less carelessly behind the wheel. With this in mind, according to the IIHS, the 10 vehicles with the highest rates of involvement in fatal car accidents are:
- Buick Verano (68 deaths per million registered vehicle years)
- Nissan Maxima (68 deaths)
- Chevrolet Malibu (61 deaths)
- Nissan Altima (59 deaths)
- Volkswagen Jetta (53 deaths)
- Chrysler 200 (52 deaths)
- Hyundai Sonata (48 deaths)
- Toyota Camry Hybrid (41 deaths)
- Mazda 6 (41 deaths)
- Ford Fusion (39 deaths)
These data pertain to vehicles with model years prior to 2018. The IIHS has not yet published figures for newer vehicles. The IIHS also reports that the death rates listed above “are adjusted for driver age and gender. . . . [and] based on a different statistical model that also takes into account calendar year, vehicle age and vehicle density at the garaging location.”
Most Common Car Accident Injuries
Car accidents can result in all types of injuries. While this includes obvious injuries like severe cuts and broken bones, it includes various “hidden injuries” as well. This makes it important to see a doctor after any car accident, as symptoms of these “hidden injuries” may not manifest for days, weeks or even months after a collision.
In fact, some of the most common car accident injuries are these “hidden injuries.” For example, back injuries are extremely common. While many car accident victims will complain of lower back pain, many also won’t understand just how serious their injuries truly are. Back pain after a car accident can be a sign of serious trauma, and, if not treated promptly, back injuries can potentially lead to permanent nerve damage, bowel and bladder dysfunction, loss of mobility, and other serious complications.
Along with back injuries, other common car accident injuries include:
- Bone fractures and dislocations
- Elbow, wrist and shoulder injuries
- Facial injuries (including eye, nose and jaw injuries)
- Knee and ankle injuries
- Internal injuries (including internal bleeding and organ damage)
- Lacerations and bruises
- Nerve damage
- Soft tissue damage (including ligament, muscle and tendon injuries)
Here, too, these are just examples. Car accidents can cause severe trauma throughout the body, and car accident victims are at risk of suffering nearly all types of traumatic injuries. Again, this makes it important to see a doctor as soon after a car accident as possible.
What Drivers Can (and Should) Do To Avoid Causing Car Accidents
As we discussed above, the vast majority of car accidents result from driver negligence, and driver negligence is—by definition—avoidable. With this in mind, here are some simple steps that drivers can (and should) take to avoid putting other road users’ safety in jeopardy:
1. Focus On the Task At Hand
Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents, and it has become even more of a problem in the era of cell phones, social media and in-car technology. By simply focusing on the task at hand, drivers could prevent tens of thousands of car accidents every year. Along with cell phones and in-car technology, other distractions such as eating and drinking, navigating, talking to passengers, and rubbernecking remain common causes of car accidents as well.
2. Leave Plenty of Buffer
Thousands of accidents could also be avoided each year if drivers simply left more space in front of them. There is no reason to tailgate, and the data show that tailgating significantly increases a driver’s risk of causing a collision. The two-second rule is a good rule to follow in most cases, but drivers should ultimately focus on maintaining enough distance from the car in front of them so that they can stop safely in the event of an emergency.
3. Never Drive When You Could Be Impaired
Anyone who is planning on drinking should arrange to have a designated driver (or a taxi or rideshare), and they should give their keys to someone else. But, while drunk driving is a major issue, it isn’t the only impairment-related concern. If there is a chance that a driver could be impaired by marijuana (whether legal or illegal), prescription medications, or any other drugs, the driver should not take the risk of getting behind the wheel.
4. Observe the Rules of the Road
One of the easiest ways drivers can reduce their risk of causing a car accident is simply by observing the rules of the road. Speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, and merging without the right of way are all common (and preventable) causes of serious and fatal collisions. Similar to avoiding distracted and impaired driving, if all drivers observed the rules of the road, this would prevent numerous car accidents every single year.
5. Remain Calm Behind the Wheel
Drivers also need to focus on remaining calm. Road rage is very real, and it causes many drivers to make extremely poor decisions behind the wheel. Getting angry won’t get you anywhere any faster, and causing a serious or fatal accident will mean that you aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
What Is the First Thing You Should Do After a Car Accident?
Let’s say you are involved in a car accident. Statistically speaking, there is a good chance that this will happen at least once during your lifetime. If you get in a collision, what should you do?
After any car accident, the most important thing to do is remain at the scene and call 911. Not only are these important for protecting your safety and your legal rights, but they are also both required in most (if not all) states. When you make contact with the dispatcher, let him or her know what emergency services are needed, and follow the dispatcher’s instructions until emergency personnel have arrived. If you need medical care, get treatment from the EMTs on-site; ride in the ambulance to the hospital if necessary; or, at the very least, get yourself to a doctor’s office as soon as possible.
In addition to calling 911 and getting the care you need, you should also promptly contact a lawyer to discuss your legal rights. Car accident victims and their families will be entitled to significant financial compensation in many cases. This includes compensation only for their vehicle damage and medical bills but for their loss of income, pain and suffering, and other losses as well. If you need to speak with a car accident lawyer in Florida, you can contact us 24/7 for a free, no-obligation consultation.