Traffic accidents happen hundreds of thousands of times per year across the country. They are so widespread and common that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s public health agency, treats motor vehicle safety as one of its primary concerns. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States and a major source of patients in U.S. hospital emergency rooms.

Preventing injury-causing and fatal motor vehicle accidents starts with understanding how they happen. In this blog post, we explore the most common causes of collisions involving motor vehicles to educate the public about on-road risks and how to avoid becoming an accident statistic.

Victims of collisions have a legal right to compensation for their injuries and losses and deserve caring, compassionate legal representation in seeking that compensation from the parties at-fault in a crash.

Collisions by the Numbers

Collisions and other motor vehicle crashes take a heavy toll on American drivers, families, and communities. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration(NHTSA), which tracks accident statistics nationwide, police report more than 6.5 million crashes annually, which, on average, result in more than 2.7 million injuries and more than 36,000 deaths.

The CDC reports that the financial cost of those crashes exceeds $75 billion annually, which does not even account for the physical and emotional suffering that traffic collisions cause victims and the families of those tragically killed.

What causes these collisions? The question may seem too broad and general to answer. Fortunately, data scientists at the CDC, the NHTSA, state-level motor departments of transportation, and other government entities spend a significant amount of time stitching together traffic accident information into a clear picture that informs public policy decisions to keep drivers and passengers safe. Their studies show that the following factors play leading roles in collisions on U.S. roads.

Driver Inattention

Drivers lose focus on the task of driving in a wide variety of circumstances. The result of that inattention, however, is a trio of depressingly common outcomes: collisions, injuries, and fatalities.

A significant proportion of driver inattention leading to accidents results from one or both of the following factors.


Scientists who study traffic accidents define a distraction as anything that draws the driver’s eyes away from the road (a visual distraction), hands away from the wheel (a motor distraction), or mind away from the complicated task of driving (a cognitive distraction). Many distractions that lead to collisions, injuries, and fatalities qualify as two or three of these forms of distraction all at once.

For example:

  • Sending texts and engaging in other screen-use that involves typing, reading, or scrolling on a smartphone constitutes a triple-threat of distraction: It draws the eyes to the screen, requires at least one hand to perform, and effectively drowns out a part of the brain essential to keeping a car in a lane and rolling at a safe speed.

  • Rubbernecking or any other instance of a driver’s head and/or body turning to look at something outside or inside the car also constitutes a triple distraction. The eyes leave the road ahead. The head and body turning tends to cause the driver’s hands to pull the wheel in the opposite direction, as if on a lever. And, of course, the mind wanders to the sight the driver is looking at, instead of keeping the vehicle moving straight and at a safe speed.

  • In-car noise, music, or other auditory distractions, which impair a driver’s ability to focus thoughts on driving and may also drown out the sounds of hazards outside the car that a driver needs to hear to stay safe.

  • Manual tasks like eating a meal on the go, checking one’s hair or makeup in a vanity mirror, or reaching for something on the floor of a vehicle all have motor, visual, and cognitive effects that can easily lead to a car departing its lane or a driver failing to perceive upcoming traffic lights, stop signs, or hazards.

  • Glare from sunlight or vehicle high-beams can distract a driver from safe vehicle operation by temporarily blinding them, causing them to take a hand off the wheel to shield their eyes, or simply occupying their thoughts enough to create a tunnel vision that distracts from other visual or auditory inputs they need to keep track of to drive safely.

  • Daydreaming or otherwise becoming so consumed with one’s thoughts that we lose track of what is happening around us.

Driver distraction, in other words, can happen because a driver consciously does something unsafe. However, it can also result from unconscious acts that, while perfectly human, can lead the driver into an extremely unsafe situation and, ultimately, a collision. Combating distraction involves both planning ahead for and anticipating potentially dangerous driving scenarios, and reminding oneself that the driver’s sole responsibility is driving.

Humans make a tragic mistake, in particular, in thinking they can multitask behind the wheel. Research shows that while many of us think of ourselves as master multitaskers, the overwhelming majority of us have no ability whatsoever to drive safely while also engaging in non-driving-related visual, motor, and cognitive tasks.

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