The Top 8 Causes of Car Accidents Involving Fatal Crashes

Driving can be something you do to get from point A to point B or something you do for leisure and to experience the open road. But in a few seconds, one wrong move on your part or another driver’s part, and there could be a car accident. As of 2021, fatalities due to car crashes are on the rise. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crash deaths increased 18.4% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same timeframe in 2020, amounting to 20,160 fatalities. This surge in crash fatalities is concerning, and as a driver, you should take a proactive role in minimizing your risk. We’ve outlined the top causes of car accidents involved in fatal crashes based on NHTSA data analyzed by the Insurance Information Institute.

1. Driving too fast 

If you’re wondering what is the most common cause of collisions, it’s driving too fast aka speeding. Any time you drive, there is a level of risk. But your speed can make a big difference in whether you get into an accident or not. 

If you’re driving within the speed limit and have to stop abruptly, you may have time to brake fast if you need to. If you’re speeding? You may not be as lucky. Driving too fast or speeding is one of the most common causes of car accidents. During the pandemic, speeding is also on the rise

According to NHTSA data, average speeds increased overall in 2020 during the pandemic. Additionally, “extreme speeds” defined as 20 miles per hour over the limit or more increased as well, contributing to an 11% boost in fatalities that were related to speeding. 

Speeding is one of the leading causes of car accidents and fatalities. As of 2019, 17.2% of fatal crashes were due to speeding among 8,746 drivers. So before rushing off somewhere or hitting the gas pedal too hard, slow down. It’s not worth your life or others. 

2. Driving under the influence of substances 

The second leading cause of car accidents in fatal crashes is driving under the influence of substances. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or medication, these substances can impair your cognition and ability to drive. As of 2019, this made up 10.1% of fatal crashes among 5,164 drivers. 

Unfortunately, substance abuse has increased in the pandemic, and it’s affecting driver behavior as well. Current 2020 data shows that about two-thirds of drivers who were injured or killed in a car crash had a substance such as alcohol, marijuana, or opioids in their system between Mid-March and Mid-July of 2020. What’s more concerning is that opioid use in drivers doubled after the pandemic, and marijuana use increased close to 50%

Getting a DUI or DWI can be expensive and can also cost you your life and endanger others. Avoid alcohol, drugs, and medication before getting behind the wheel. Consider  taking  a ride-sharing service such as Lyft or Uber or a cab if you’re not okay to drive. 

3. Failure to yield 

Another common car accident culprit is failure to yield or give the right of way. When driving, it’s a delicate dance with other drivers, and you must yield or give the right of way to other drivers in certain situations. 

That means pulling over when an emergency vehicle is coming and giving the right of way to pedestrians. It also means that you give the other person the right of way if they were there first when you’re at an intersection. Failing to yield or offer the right of way can lead to car crashes, causing 7.3% of fatal crashes in 2019 among 3,728 drivers. 

4. Not staying in the appropriate lane 

Have you ever seen a driver straddling the lines of two lanes, and you think to yourself ‘Stay in your lane!” Well, as you can imagine, that’s an accident waiting to happen. “Failure to keep in proper lane” was the fourth common cause of fatal crashes in 2019. 

This driving behavior led to 6.6% of fatal car crashes among 3,381 drivers. If you find yourself veering off to another lane, get back into your lane and when appropriate, turn on your signal and change lanes when the coast is clear. 

5. Careless driving 

Driving safely requires you to balance your focus, speed, and navigate transitions seamlessly. Drivers who are careless can be a danger and cause accidents. 

Some examples of this can include not paying attention, following too closely, hitting traffic lights or stop signs, and more. This was the fifth most common cause of car accidents in fatal crashes as of 2019, making up 6.5% of incidents among 3,302 drivers. 

6. Driving while distracted 

There are so many ways to be distracted these days. You hear a ping on your phone that you got a text message. You get an alert from one of your apps. Your friend calls you to catch up while you’re driving. Your cell phone can be a leading cause of distracted driving and cause accidents. 

Aside from that, you could be distracted because you’re trying to cram a breakfast sandwich in your mouth or trying to put on mascara at a stop light while driving. Distracted driving (defined as caused by phone, talking, eating, object, etc.) caused 5.9% of fatal crashes in 2019 among 3,008 drivers. 

7. Not adhering to traffic signs and signals 

Stop signs and traffic lights are in place for the safety of all drivers. They help guide drivers and help the flow of traffic. If you fail to comply with traffic signs and signals, it could be a danger to yourself and other drivers. 

Running through a stop sign or trying to make it as the light turns red or just straight up running a red light, can cause fatal car crashes. These types of accidents made up 4% of fatal crashes in 2019 among 2,054 drivers. 

8. Erratic or reckless driving 

Certain car behaviors like erratic or reckless driving can also cause car accidents. Think of drivers swerving, weaving in and out of lanes without regard to other drivers, tailgating, or changing lanes without looking. 

All of these behaviors are incredibly risky, and as of 2019 “Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless or negligent manner” led to 3.7% of fatal crashes among 1,880 drivers. 

Other causes of car accidents

We’ve outlined the top eight causes of car crashes based on NHTSA data analyzed by the Insurance Information Institute. So if you’ve been curious about which is the most common cause of traffic crashes, now you know. 

Below is the chart that includes the remaining causes including overcorrecting and oversteering, vision obscured due to rain, snow, lights, etc, being drowsy, driving the wrong way, swerving due to weather, making a wrong turn, and other factors not described. 

Source/credit: Insurance Information Institute (III) 

The bottom line 

If you’re wondering what is the most common cause of collisions, currently it is speeding. As you can see on the list, there are various other causes of car accidents that can lead to fatal car crashes. 

Not all accidents are fatal, some are simply fender benders, but no one wants to deal with the headache of a car accident and filing a claim. That’s why it’s key to drive safely and focus on the road and make sure you have the right car insurance coverage. If you’re a low-mileage driver, pay-per-mile auto insurance may be the best option for your budget and lifestyle. Why pay more when you can pay for just the miles you drive, along with a low base rate? Get your free quote to see if it’s the right option for you. 

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.