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Learn about the leading causes of automobile accidents and the steps that are taken to prevent them.

Auto accidents are common --- and often preventable. [© Jupiter Images, 2009]
© Jupiter Images, 2009
Auto accidents are common --- and often preventable.

Over 6.1 million accidents were reported on US streets and highways in 2007, injuring more than 2.5 million people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The most common accident types reported are rear-end accidents, sideswipes, angle or turning collisions, animal collisions and run-off-road accidents, referred to as ROR accidents.

Most Common Accident Types

Rear-end accidents are consistently the most common accident type on US roads and Highways. More than 2.5 million rear-end accidents are reported each year. The most recognized cause for rear-end accidents are road congestion and driver distraction.

Turning accidents are commonly caused by drivers that do not use a turn signal. These accidents made up more than 15 percent of injurious or fatal accidents in 2007.

RORs account for approximately one third of all accidents in the US that result in death or injury. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), there are many driver-related causes of ROR accidents, such as fatigue, speed, alcohol and distraction. Additionally, weather, road conditions and avoiding something in the road are often cited as contributing factors in ROR accidents.

Sideswipe accidents are often caused by aggressive driving, lane weaving and improper merging. The Illinois Department of transportation (ILDOT) conducted a traffic study which found sideswipe accidents accounting for eight percent of the accidents that occurred during the study.

Vehicle-Animal accidents are a growing problem, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). The number of fatalities in vehicle-animal accidents more than doubled from 1993 to 2007. This trend is believed to be largely a result of "urban sprawl," the expansion of suburbs into previously rural areas..

While accidents involving deer occur throughout the year, reports of these accidents are more than three times higher in November than any month from January to September, reportedly due to deer mating season.

Accident Causes

According to SmartMotorist.com, over 95 percent of all traffic accidents can be attributed to the behavior of the driver. Problematic behaviors include: fatigue, driver distraction, aggressive behavior toward other motorists, the consumption of alcohol and excessive use of speed.

  • Fatigue: More than 10,000 accidents in the US are caused by fatigue each year. Drowsy or sleeping drivers cause more than 1,500 deaths and an estimated 40,000 injuries.
  • Driver distraction: Drivers may be distracted by a number of factors including eating, talking with passengers and watching other traffic or accidents. It is four times more likely that drivers talking on cell phones will be involved in a traffic accident than drivers not using the phone.
  • Aggressive driving: Aggressive drivers force their way through roadways by using maneuvers which are dangerous to other motorists and in violation of traffic laws. Aggressive driving is a common cause of sideswiping accidents on highways.
  • Drunk driving: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that every day a drunk driver causes 36 deaths and about 700 injuries. While less than one percent of motor vehicle accidents in 2007 were fatal, drunk driving accidents accounted for more than one third (31.7 percent) of those fatal accidents.
  • Speed: The faster a driver travels over the speed limit, the greater the chance that driver will be involved in an accident. Speeding reduces the driver's control over the vehicle, limits the ability to evaluate surroundings and greatly reduces the driver's reaction time.

Accident Prevention

Rumble strips are grooved pavement along the sides (or shoulder) of most highways. Rumble strips cause vehicles to shake and produce a loud, jarring sound, and are intended to help prevent accidents by attracting the attention of the driver. The FHWA reports that rumble strips greatly reduce head-on accidents as well as run-off-road accidents. Studies on their effectiveness credit rumble strips with reducing accidents by 15 to 70 percent, varying by state.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing drunk driving accidents through education and lobbying for anti-drunk driving laws that promote accident prevention. Formed in 1980, MADD claims to have saved more than 330,000 lives through their efforts.

State and federal transportation agencies have implemented several laws that address speeding by implementing speed limits and enforcing the laws through fines and driving restrictions.

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