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Most Common Causes of Car Accidents in California

What Are the Main Causes of Car Accidents on the Road?

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With over 39 million people living in California, large cities such as Los Angeles have consistently been ranked as having the worst traffic in the country. In 2017, a report from the California Highway Patrol showed that there were 3,582 fatal crashes and 193,564 injury crashes that year. With so many people driving on the road every day, it’s not surprising that car accidents occur all the time. While minor incidents can leave victims with bruises or minor injuries, serious car crashes can leave victims with catastrophic injuries and death. By understanding the causes of car accidents in California, steps can be taken by individual drivers and the state to try and reduce the number of accidents that occur.


Most Common Causes of Road Accidents in California

A 2016 report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) showed that the number one cause of car accidents (94%) was due to negligent driving. A small portion of accidents (6%) were caused by other reasons such as vehicle issues and environmental problems.

When a driver was responsible for causing the accident:

  • 41% was due to distractions, poor attention, inadequate surveillance, or other recognition errors.
  • 33% was due to decision errors such as misreading the other driver’s intentions, speeding, or making the wrong moves.
  • 11% was due to performance errors such as over-compensating for bad driving skills.
  • 9% was due to non-performance errors including sleeping and other reasons.

While there are numerous ways someone can cause a car accident, some of the most common car accident causes include:



According to the NHTSA, speeding killed 11,258 victims in 2020. While we’re all familiar with the frustrations of driving in traffic or running late to an appointment, obeying the speed limit and traffic safety laws helps keep everyone safe on the road. Driving past the posted speed limit can increase the likelihood of a crash by reducing the driver’s effective reaction time and control over handling his or her vehicle. To put it another way, by the time the speeding driver realizes they need to stop, it’s probably too late to avoid a crash because they won’t have enough time and distance to prepare for the stop.

Speeding also reduces the effectiveness of occupant protection systems such as seat belts, airbags, or steering wheels. This results in higher chances that a car crash will result in more serious injuries.


Impaired Driving

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the most common causes of car accidents. Alcohol reduces your brain functions essential for driving including impairment of your judgment, thinking reasoning, and muscle coordination. Driving under the influence also reduces reaction time, impairs ability to gauge distances, and increases the likelihood of reckless driving, speeding, tailgating, swerving, and driving on the wrong side of the road. According to the NHTSA, about 32 people die every day in drunk driving-related car crashes. That means every 45 minutes one victim dies from getting hit by a drunk driver.

The use of any drug that impairs your driving ability is also against the law, even if they are prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Drivers are required to read the warning labels or check with their pharmacist to understand how the drug will affect their driving ability. Remember to always read the drug label to understand the effects of the drug. Especially if you are planning to get behind the wheel, make sure you do not take any drug that may cause drowsiness or dizziness.


Distracted Driving

Any behavior that takes your eyes and your attention from focusing on the road is considered distracted driving. Texting is the most common distraction. It takes a driver about 5 seconds to read or send a text. Driving at 55 mph, that’s equivalent to driving the length of a football field with both eyes closed.

Other common types of distracted driving include:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Eating or drinking
  • Playing with the radio or entertainment system
  • Using the navigation system
  • Checking social media or browsing a webpage
  • Putting on makeup
  • Talking to other passengers

The consequences of distracted driving are serious. Below are some alarming statistics:

  • In 2020, 3,142 people were killed in a distracted driving accident.
  • Each year, cell phone use while driving contributes to about 1.6 million car accidents.
  • In the United States, 1 out of every 4 car crashes is caused by texting and driving.
  • A driver who is texting while driving is 6 times more likely to cause a crash compared to a driver under influence of alcohol.
  • Texting and driving cause a 400% increase in time spent with your eyes away from the road.

Taking your full attention away from the road can lead to serious consequences. If you are driving, keep yourself and others safe by refraining from engaging in any activity that diverts your attention.


Bad Weather

Weather impacts driving in multiple ways including impairing visibility, vehicle performance (such as stability, maneuverability, and traction), crash risk, pavement friction, and traffic flow. Dangerous weather such as rain, snow, sleet, fog, and severe crosswinds impact driving ability. However, most weather-related car crashes happen when it rains and on wet pavement.


Driving at Night

Driving in the dark is naturally more challenging than driving during the day. Without sunlight, it’s harder for drivers to see other drivers, pedestrians, and debris or hazards on the road. Especially when combined with dangerous driving behavior such as speeding, driving under the influence, or driving while fatigued, reduced visibility and driving at night can be extremely dangerous.

Whether you are driving on a familiar route or going somewhere completely new, make sure to take proper safety precautions such as using your high beams if you’re on a dark road without streetlights. 


Running Red Lights, Stop Signs, or Yellow Lights

Running a red light or stop sign is extremely dangerous. At high speeds, these types of car accidents result in a side-impact collision and can leave victims with catastrophic injuries. Trying to run a yellow light can be as dangerous due to the acceleration of most drivers trying to beat the yellow light. This can cause side impact accidents above the normal speed limit.


Reckless & Aggressive Driving

Common examples of aggressive and reckless driving behavior include speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, and excessive lane changes. These dangerous driving behaviors are not only against the law but can also result in serious traffic accidents. Drivers can be held responsible for any damages for violating traffic laws. 



The practice of driving too closely behind another car is called tailgating.  This aggressive driving behavior can lead to an accident. For example, if the car in front of you suddenly stops but you’re following closely behind, you might have to slam on your brakes to avoid a crash. However, due to the limited time and proximity to the car in front, your chances of getting into a crash while tailgating are extremely high. 


Unsafe Lane Changes

Drivers should properly check their mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes. Failure to do so puts individuals at risk of colliding with another driver.


Improper Turns

Drivers who fail to obey traffic safety laws risk injuring themselves and others. Common examples of making improper turns include turning without signaling, failing to yield to the right of way to traffic or pedestrians, turning at a red light when there is a sign that says “no turn on red”, or turning at a red light or stop sign without coming to a complete stop. Improper turns typically violate right of way rules which are established to prevent accidents from happening.


Driving Drowsy

People driving late hours, driving after not getting sufficient rest, or people driving for extended periods all take the risk of getting drowsy while they drive. Fighting to stay awake and trying not to fall asleep at the wheel is extremely dangerous. Driver fatigue can impact a person’s driving skills in ways similar to drugs or alcohol. 


Teen Driving

Teens lack driving experience, so they have a higher risk of getting into a car accident. Young drivers often overestimate their driving abilities which can lead to dangerous situations. They are more likely to engage in dangerous driving behavior such as texting while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, tailgating, street racing, and speeding. Tragically, car accidents are one of the top causes of teen deaths in the country.


Vehicle Defects

Vehicle manufacturers and distributors are required to make sure their vehicles meet strict federal safety standards before they are sold. Nevertheless, every year vehicle defects account for countless car accidents that result in injuries and even death. Common types of vehicle defects include airbag failure, faulty tires, braking systems, steering components, seat belts, fuel pump systems, and headlights or taillights.


Contact a Car Accident Lawyer if You Have Been a Victim in a Car Accident

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you need an experienced and knowledgeable car accident lawyer to help you build a strong case against the responsible party. Mesriani Law Group’s car accident attorneys have proven successful track records and have consistently obtained the maximum compensation for victims in personal injury cases. Most car accident claims must be filed by a specific deadline so it’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

Learn about how you can protect your rights and obtain fair compensation for your injuries. Call our personal injury law firm at 866-500-7070 today for your free consultation.


Car Accident Cause FAQs

What is the most common reason for car crashes in California?

The most common reason for car crashes in California is negligent driving. Examples include driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, and distracted driving.

What are the most common causes of car accidents in America?

The three top causes of accidents in America are distracted driving, speeding, and drunk driving. Distracted driving includes texting while driving, talking on your cell phone while driving, playing with your car stereo, talking to passengers while driving, and eating or drinking while driving. Going faster than the posted speed limit is against the law and can cause serious injury in the event of a crash. Driving while under the influence of alcohol reduces your brain functions including impairment of your judgment, thinking reasoning, and muscle coordination.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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