Leading Causes of Fatal Vehicle Accidents

The daily drive to work or a quick trip to the store are common events that people take for granted, yet motor vehicle use is a leading cause of accidental fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 42,915 people lost their lives in vehicle accidents in the United States in 2021, the last full year of data available from the agency. There were 31,785 traffic deaths during the first three quarters of 2022.

Accidents, including vehicle crashes, are preventable provided you know the cause and how to avoid it. For example, if you see a frayed electrical cord on an appliance in your home, you replace it with a new one before plugging it into an outlet and causing a fire.

The same thing applies to fatal vehicle accidents. Knowing the causes of fatal vehicle accidents lets you change your behavior and avoid them. The following information highlights common causes of traffic accidents, and it gives you helpful tips, including changing how you drive, to allow you to avoid them and the accidents they cause.


Speeding, impaired driving, and the failure of a vehicle’s occupants to use seat belts were three primary causes of fatal crashes according to the NHTSA. Speeding gives you less time to react to changing road conditions and emergencies, such as another vehicle cutting into your lane or suddenly stopping in front of you. It also makes it difficult for drivers of vehicles making turns and pedestrians crossing the street to accurately determine the distance between them and your approaching vehicle.

Stopping distances increase when you are speeding. One of the reasons for this is that it takes longer for you to recognize the need to stop your car before you actually apply the brakes. For example, at 55 mph, a vehicle travels 121 feet before the average driver reacts to a situation and begins to apply the brakes. It takes another 144 feet before the vehicle comes to a stop for a total of 265 feet traveled from recognition of the need to stop and the vehicle coming to a halt.

If the same vehicle is traveling at 65 mph, it takes 143 feet before the driver applies the brakes and another 201 feet to come to a stop. An extra 10 mph in speed added another 279 feet to the distance the vehicle traveled until coming to a stop.

Here are a few simple changes in driver behavior that can reduce speeding:
- Give yourself enough time to get to your destination. If you find yourself running late for an appointment, it’s safer to call ahead and let them know you’ll be a few minutes late rather than using the accelerator to attempt to make up the time.
- Use the cruise control feature to maintain a safe speed, particularly when traveling on highways. Doing this avoids the chance of inadvertently exceeding the speed limit.
- Pay attention to how fast you’re going by occasionally checking the speedometer.

Keep in mind that traveling at the speed limit may not be the safest speed depending on weather and road conditions. For instance, poor visibility due to weather conditions could make the speed limit unsafe, so drive according to the conditions and slow down.

Impaired driving

Alcohol use may be the first thing that comes to mind in connection with driver impairment, but there are other factors in addition to alcohol that affect a person and make it unsafe for them to drive:

- Use of illicit as well as legally prescribed drugs
- Lack of sleep
- Cell phone use and other forms of driver distraction
- Medical conditions

Alcohol and drugs may affect a driver’s vision, judgment, and motor skills. Even the medications prescribed by a physician can cause you to become drowsy or affect coordination and motor skills. If you have been drinking, do not get behind the wheel. Ask someone to give you a ride or call a ride-share service.

Driving for long periods without a break or a lack of sleep may cause drowsiness and slow your ability to react in time to emergency situations. Get enough sleep and take breaks as needed to stay alert. If you feel tired, pull over to a safe location and rest before continuing your trip.

Distractions, such as texting or talking on the phone, talking to passengers, or GPS systems while driving take your mind and eyes off the road and the task of controlling your vehicle. If you must engage in an activity other than driving, wait until you have pulled off the road to a safe location.

Discuss medical conditions with your doctor to learn how they may affect your ability to drive. For example, if you notice changes in your vision, get it checked right away before it affects your ability to see clearly while driving.

Not using a seat belt

More than half of passengers killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing seat belts. Relying only on airbags is not enough to prevent serious injuries or death in a crash.

Seat belts keep a vehicle’s occupants from being ejected in an accident. They also prevent you from being injured by being propelled into the force of a deploying airbag, but seat belts only work when properly used.

Most vehicles come equipped with a lap belt and shoulder strap combination that work as a single unit. As you pull the lap belt across your hips, the shoulder strap goes across your torso and rests against the middle of your chest. Do not buckle the seat belt with the shoulder strap behind your back because it will not provide adequate protection in a collision.


This article focused on the common causes of fatal crashes, speeding, impairment, and failing to use seat belts, but there are other driver behaviors, such as tailgating and unsafe lane changes, that also cause accidents. The thing about behavior is that it can be modified, but you need to be aware of it and be willing to make changes in order to become a better and safer driver.

Author’s Bio:
Jared Stern is an experienced financial professional with six years of experience in the pre-settlement funding industry. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in economics in 2014, Jared began his career in Morgan Stanley's mergers and acquisitions investment banking division. After working with another pre-settlement funding company for two years, Jared founded Uplift Legal Funding in 2017 to give injured plaintiffs a better choice in lawsuit loans.

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Posted - 02/21/2023