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Main Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are all too common in the US and across the world. For the most part, car accidents are caused by various types of human error. Most motor vehicle accidents are minor, but over 33,000 people died in a car accident in the US in 2019. In this article we’ll explore some of the most common causes of motor vehicle accidents, and how that might play into a car accident settlement or lawsuit.

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Motor vehicle accidents are the reason for the majority of car accident lawsuits in the US. This is not surprising as there were 6,756,000 reports of car accidents in 2019, according to the NHTSA. The World Health Organization reports that 1.24 million people die every year because of car crashes. WHO also reports that traffic accident injuries are the top cause of death for people between 15 and 29.

The car accident lawsuits that come from motor vehicle collisions are based upon negligence laws. Usually, people who operate motor vehicles are required to exercise ‘reasonable care.’ If they do not use reasonable care, this is considered to be negligence. Anyone who operates a vehicle in a negligent manner and causes a motor vehicle accident could be required to pay damages that were done to a person or property that was caused by that negligence.

Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents

Negligence Causes Motor Vehicle Accidents

With most auto accidents, determining who was at fault is a matter of finding out who was negligent. In many situations, you may think that a driver acted in a careless fashion, but you may not be aware of the rules that were violated. A personal injury attorney who just took on a new auto accident case will often start by looking at several sources to determine who was at fault for the auto accident, such as the police report, traffic laws for that area, and any witnesses.

Courts look at several factors to find out if a driver was negligent. Some of the factors that can be involved in determining negligence for a car accident are:

  • Not obeying a traffic sign or signal
  • Not signaling when making a turn
  • Driving above or below the speed limit that is posted
  • Not paying attention to weather or traffic factors
  • Driving while intoxicated

Main Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents

Many people are surprised to learn about the most common causes of motor vehicle accidents. The most common general cause is reckless driving. A driver can be found liable for an accident because of his intentional reckless conduct. A driver who drives in a reckless manner is one that drives unsafely and has a clear disregard for the likelihood that the driving can cause an accident. According to the NHTSA, aggressive driving is defined as various unlawful driving actions, including:

  • Speeding well above the speed limit that is posted, or driving too fast for current conditions. This is by far the top reason for traffic accidents. Many might think that speeding far over the speed limit is what this is all about. But in reality, going even five miles per hour over the speed limit can significantly increase one’s risk for an accident. Every mile per hour faster you go, it takes you longer to stop the vehicle. Speeding also refers to driving above what you should according to road and traffic conditions. Far too many drivers do not slow down, for example, in a rain or snowstorm. Know that even if you are driving at the speed limit, doing so during adverse weather conditions can lead to a reckless driving charge.
  • Changing lanes excessively or improperly, including not signaling your intent, and failing to check that your lane change can be made in a safe manner.
  • Passing improperly, such as failing to signal your intent and using the shoulder, emergency lane or median to pass

The next most common reason for vehicle collisions is drunk driving. Did you know that someone dies in a crash related to alcohol consumption every 51 minutes in the US? Just in the last year, it is estimated that more than one million people were hurt in a traffic crash related to alcohol.

It is important to know that in some states, not only can the intoxicated driver be held liable for damages in a vehicle collision. The bar or social host that served the alcohol could also be held liable; this is known as a Dram Shop law. The fact that the person or business who served the drunk driver could be held liable will not relieve the drunk driver of liability, though.

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More Reasons for Motor Vehicle Accidents

There also are some motor vehicle accidents that can be caused by other factors. For instance, a collision can happen because of a defect in a vehicle. In this situation, the car manufacturer or supplier may be liable for injuries that were caused by the defect in the car according to the laws of product liability.

Other factors also can lead to a vehicle collision and liability. For example, a poorly maintained road or a malfunctioning traffic light can cause an accident. Factors such as improper road design, construction, maintenance, lighting, signage or highway defects can also cause motor vehicle accidents.

Below are some of the most frequent causes of car accidents, as well as how to avoid them.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention from driving tasks. Common distractions are cell phones (calling, texting and Internet surfing), eating, drinking and talking to passengers. Distracted driving accidents are becoming a bigger threat each year, with more than 3500 people killed by distracted driving each year. All states now have texting and driving laws that impose penalties for texting or talking on a cell phone behind the wheel. You can prevent this type of accident by simply never using a cell phone when you are driving.

Drunk Driving Car Accidents

Drunk driving related car accidents still kill thousands of Americans every year. Even if you are under the legal limit of .08%, you still can get in a drunk driving crash, and be criminally charged. Never get behind the wheel after drinking and this will never happen to you.

Much progress has been made in reducing the number of drunk driving crashes, but thousands of Americans still die every year from DUI. In all states, you are considered intoxicated if you have a .08% BAC. Driving while intoxicated leads to so many injuries and deaths in traffic accidents because alcohol affects vision, reflexes, reaction time and judgement.

Reckless Driving

Various types of aggressive driving behavior fall into the category of reckless driving: Changing lanes without looking; speeding far above the speed limit; and tailgating all can lead to fatal accidents. Everyone should just stay calm and take their time while driving.

Bad Weather

There are some traffic accidents in bad weather that cannot be avoided, but many can. When it starts to rain or snow, it is necessary to slow down and drive with more caution. There are some serious weather events, such as a heavy downpour, where a driver should pull over and wait for the weather to pass. Failing to do so can cause a serious traffic accident. Most of us cannot avoid driving in the rain or snow, but many drivers drive too fast in bad weather and have accidents. You can avoid this by slowing down in poor weather and allow more distance from the next vehicle.

Driving at Night

Not being able to see as well at night leads to car accidents. Be sure you are extra alert at night and use your high beams when you cannot see well, as long as other drivers are not approaching.


You should not get too close to the car in front of you. You may not be able to stop in time if the vehicle stops suddenly. Stay a safe distance behind the car in front of you.

Wrong Way Driving

Driving the wrong way on a highway or one-way street can lead to a serious accident. Be careful and look out for street and highway signs that indicate one-way traffic.

Young Drivers

Teenagers lack the experience of older drivers and tend to drive more aggressively. If you are a young driver, you can avoid accidents by driving slower and using extra caution. Remember: You lack the experience of older drivers and may drive in ways that are more likely to cause accidents.

Lack of Experience

Car accidents happen to all types of drivers, but many happen with younger drivers who do not have as much driving experience. People who are between 17 and 24 tend to have a higher number of auto accidents.

As far as specific types of car accidents, these are the most common:

  • Single car crash: One vehicle is involved. Most of these accidents are people who drive off the side of the road due to inattention or falling asleep. Some also may occur due to a collision with an animal, such as a deer.
  • Side impact crash: This is known as a T-bone collision, too. These accidents happen often in parking lots and intersections where one driver fails to stop or yield. These accidents can be very serious and account for about ¼ of car accident deaths.
  • Rear end crash: This is where a car behind hits the car in front of it. Rear end collisions are often caused by driver distraction from cell phones, radio or talking to passengers. Drivers who follow too closely often get in rear end crashes. Car accident whiplash is a common injury in rear end collisions.
  • Head on crash: These are rare auto collisions but are among the deadliest. These accidents often are due to drivers falling asleep or being intoxicated and driving into oncoming traffic.
  • Rollover: Rollover crashes can happen for a variety of reasons; they usually involve a combination of various factors such as speeding, weather, intoxication and/or reckless driving. SUVs with a higher center of gravity are especially prone to rolling over.


Some drivers avoid potholes and get into an accident. No one wants to drive over a pothole and damage their vehicle, but it is not worth getting in an accident over it.

Construction Zones

A construction zone is a common place for accidents. Most often, people drive too fast in these areas and get into accidents. Always follow the speed limit signs in construction zones and drive even slower if necessary.

Tire Blowouts

If you get a blowout while driving, you can lose control of your vehicle. While some blowouts cannot be avoided, do not drive on your tires beyond their useful life to avoid this type of accident.

Final Thoughts: 

While there are often a multitude of factors that can cause a motor vehicle accident, it’s helpful to know what causes the most common accidents and who may or may not be at fault for the car accident, as this will be a major factor in winning your car accident lawsuit or getting a fair settlement offer.

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