What Is the Leading Cause of Car Accidents? Your Questions Answered


In 2019, motor vehicle traffic collisions claimed the lives of an estimated 36,120 people in the U.S. That’s a 1.2% decrease from the count back in 2018, which was 36,560 traffic fatalities. 

Regardless, all those deaths are unacceptable, especially since many of them were preventable. The leading cause of car accidents is, in fact, 100% preventable. 

The question is, what exactly is the main reason behind these vehicle collisions? What are the factors that contribute to all these traffic accidents and deaths?

We’ll get to the bottom of all these questions below, so be sure to keep reading!

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a big problem in Texas, California, New York — pretty much the entire U.S. It has become such a massive issue that it’s now the leading cause of car accidents in the country.

From texting to eating to putting on makeup — these are all forms of distracted driving.

The Size of the Problem

For more than half a decade now, more than 9% of fatal crashes in the US resulted from distracted driving. In 2018 alone, driving distractions injured an estimated 400,000 people. Worse, such dangerous road behavior killed an estimated 2,800 individuals.

The use of mobile phones alone contributes to 64% of all yearly road accidents in the US. Meaning, about 1.6 million people get into crashes that involve cell phone use every year. Not all of these crashes result in deaths, but they can still be traumatic experiences. 

Types of Driving Distractions

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts your attention from the road. Driving distractions can take the form of visual, manual, or cognitive interference.

Visual distractions are those that force you to look at something else other than the road ahead of you. Manual distractions involve the removal of your hands from the steering wheel. Cognitive distractions are thoughts that don’t have to do with driving.

As such, eating or putting on makeup while driving are visual and manual distractions. Driving while stressed — whether due to home or work problems — can be a form of cognitive disturbance. The same goes for drowsy driving, as sleepiness impairs your cognitive functions.

Of all types of driving distractions, however, the use of mobile phones takes the cake. Texting while driving alone can be the most life-threatening cell phone-related distraction. That’s because it often combines all three types of distractions.

When you read or send a text message, your eyes leave the road for at least five seconds. Your hands aren’t on the wheel either, and your mind is elsewhere, as you’re likely thinking of a response to the text. 

Drunk Driving

In 49 states, except for Utah, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08% is a crime. The Beehive State is much stricter, as it already criminalizes driving with a BAC of 0.05%.

Despite the laws on drunk driving, it remains one of the top causes of car accidents in the nation. True, distracted driving is the leading cause of accidents on the road. However, there are more fatal crashes that involve at least one driver with a BAC of at least 0.08%.

For instance, in 2018, there were at least 10,511 fatal road crashes that involved such a driver. These deadly crashes accounted for 29% of all traffic fatalities that year.


In the last two decades, about one-third of all motor vehicle deaths involved speeding. Then, in 2017, the rate of road fatalities that involved speeding dropped to 26%. In 2018, however, speeding contributed to 9,378 fatal road accidents in the country.

Depending on where you live and drive, speeding can be a minor infraction or a serious offense. In most states, the maximum speed limit right outside of freeways is between 30 mph and 35 mph. Within school zones, the maximum speed limit ranges from 15 mph to 25 mph.

Aggressive and Reckless Driving

Aggressive driving and reckless driving are similar in that they endanger others. Aggressive driving, however, often involves the willful act of harassing or scaring others. Reckless driving, on the other hand, can occur anytime a driver operates a vehicle in an unsafe manner.

In that sense, driving under the influence or while distracted can both be a form of reckless driving.

However, aggressive and reckless driving can also constitute speeding or ignoring traffic signs. Moreover, they can happen when a driver fails to signal or conducts erratic lane changes. Driving where prohibited or stopping on a highway can also be aggressive or reckless.

That said, 3,706 fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2018 had something to do with failure to stay in the proper lane. The careless operation of a vehicle also contributed to 2,797 fatalities that year. There were also 1,955 deaths linked to the erratic or negligent operation of automobiles.

Weather-Related Road Accidents

From 2007 to 2016, weather conditions played a part in 21% of all road crashes in the US. That translates to over 1.23 million car crashes in total that had something to do with adverse weather. Of those crashes, 418,005 people sustained injuries, while 5,376 people died.

Proper Driving Behaviors Can Keep the Leading Cause of Car Accidents at Bay

Now you know: distracted driving is the leading cause of car accidents. Drunk driving, on the other hand, often results in the highest number of road fatalities. As you can see, however, both are preventable causes of motor vehicle crashes.

That said, think twice before taking your eyes off the road or getting behind the wheel when you’ve had a few beers. Both are proper driving behaviors that can keep you from becoming part of the statistics.

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Author: Brandon Park