Careful driving and good road conditions go a long way toward preventing auto accidents, but nobody’s perfect. In 2015, there were nearly 6.3 million police-reported crashes, an increase of 3.8 percent since 2014. Road crash injuries and fatalities are also on the rise. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of car accident-related deaths jumped 7.2 percent – the highest jump in over 50 years. There are lots of downsides to getting in a wreck, from injuring yourself and your passengers to paying higher auto insurance rates over time. You may be surprised to learn that accidents aren’t always caused by reckless maneuvering. Here are eight of the top reasons why you might get in a wreck on the road.
#1 Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is now the number one cause of car accidents in the U.S., and it includes anything that takes your focus off the road. Examples include eating and drinking, changing the radio, talking on a cell phone, using a GPS and talking to other passengers. Most recently, texting has become a significant problem, especially among young drivers. Nearly 3,200 people were killed in 2014 due to distracted driving. Most states currently ban texting while driving, and many states have other laws about distracted driving in general. At 55 mph, taking your eyes off the road for 5 seconds – which is about how long it takes to text someone – is like driving across the length of a football field while blindfolded.
Going 10 miles over the speed limit may not seem like a big deal, but it can affect how you drive, especially if you’re in a residential area or crowded city. Speed handicaps your judgment and ability to react to sudden problems, like debris flying off the truck in front of you or an animal crossing the road. When there’s no one around, you might be tempted to drive faster than you should. But accidents can happen in a few seconds. Add other snags, like rain or icy roads, and speeding is a recipe for disaster. Take it easy on the road to avoid serious problems.
#3 Driving under the Influence
When you think about driving under the influence, you might assume alcohol, and in most cases, alcohol does cause more accidents than other types of drugs. But alcohol isn’t the only influencing drug you can put in your body. Everything from recreational drugs to prescription medication impacts your ability to function. There’s a reason that most medications come with a warning about operating heavy machinery. Until you know how your body reacts to certain drugs, OTC or prescription, you should take a break from driving. And keep in mind that buzzed driving is drunk driving, so get a ride with a friend or a taxi if you’ve had too much to drink.
#4 Reckless Driving
People interpret the word “reckless” differently, but no matter how you define it, driving without respect for other drivers is a good way to crash your car. From changing lanes too fast to swerving in and out of traffic, reckless driving causes serious problems on the road. Road rage is one cause of reckless driving. If you’re feeling particularly angry or upset before you get behind the wheel, take a few minutes to do some deep breathing exercises. If that fails, call in reinforcement to help calm you down. The combination of high adrenaline and lack of concern for others – or outright aggression toward others – can lead to costly car crashes.
#5 Ignoring Rules of the Road
Ignoring the rules of the road might sound like another way to say reckless driving, but there are subtle differences in motive and intent. New teen drivers may forget certain rules, like how to approach a 4-way stop or who has right-of-way. Drivers of any age might think it’s okay to roll through stop signs or red traffic lights, and sometimes it’s easy to forget to slow down when driving through a school zone. Ignoring rules of the road can lead to accidents and injuries, especially in populated areas like neighborhoods.
You can’t always avoid driving in the rain, but you can take precautions when weather interferes with your travel plans. Torrential rain, hail, ice and snow are among top hazards for drivers of any skill level and on any kind of road, but ice in particular can be deadly since you may not see it. If the forecast calls for precipitation, give yourself plenty of time to get to where you need to go, and drive slower than you normally would. If you hit a pool of still water on the road, find an alternate route. Taking proactive measures against the weather can help you avoid likely problems.
#7 Unsafe Conditions
Apart from weather, the conditions of the roads themselves can cause auto accidents. Potholes, construction zones, dangerous curves and sporadic sinkholes aren’t always avoidable, but you can work around these hazards to prevent accidents. If you’re not speeding and you’re reading road signs, then you should have no trouble accounting for sudden hazardous road conditions, especially construction zones. Those bright orange signs are important, so pay attention to avoid an accident.
#8 Design Flaws and Car Problems
Your car is designed to withstand heavy weather and navigate across different types of terrain, but it’s not a perfect machine. Design problems, faulty parts and even engineering flukes can lead to problems on the road. When you buy a car, keep track of the mail that you get because it might contain notices of safety recalls, which can be fixed at your local dealer. In addition to manufacturing flaws, other car problems can lead to accidents, like blown tires or broken windshields. If your car’s dashboard lights come on, get the problem checked out right away. Many problems are cheaper to fix if caught early. You don’t want to get in a wreck – or cause one – because you ignored your “check engine” light.