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Where Do Most Car Accidents Happen in California?

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No one plans on being involved in a car accident, but everyone should be prepared for the possibility. With traffic collisions becoming more common, it is important to know how to avoid them and when you are the most at risk. Many studies over the years have shown that people tend to get into accidents relatively close to their home. High risk areas generally include places like intersections and parking lots.


Understanding Where and Why Car Accidents Happen

There is no particular place where you are guaranteed to get into a car accident, just as there is no guarantee that you won’t. However, there are some areas that have a higher instance of accidents occurring and may present a higher risk. It is important to know where these areas are and why accidents are more common there so that you can be prepared and proceed as safely as possible.

Near Home

The odds of being in a car accident increase with the amount of time spent on the road. Organizations such as car insurance companies and government agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) have spent years researching accident statistics. One study indicated that you are most likely to get into an accident within a 30 mile radius of your home with this particular study showing that 77.1% of car crashes occurred within just 10 miles of home and that 92.1% of car accidents occurred within 30 miles of home [1]. This makes sense when you consider that most of us do the majority of our driving inside of that radius. There is also a higher risk of being less attentive when driving in an area you are more familiar with.

Rural Areas

Studies done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have also revealed that rural areas have a disproportionately higher rate of accidents than urban areas. It was discovered that roughly 40% of fatal traffic accidents happen on rural roads while only 20% of the US population lives in rural areas [2]. There are many theories as to why this is. Rural areas often have higher speed limits, winding roads, poorly maintained roads, and inadequate lighting. Many people also tend to justify driving recklessly if they believe there is no one else around.


Intersections are understandably one of the more common places for accidents to occur. With the flow of traffic going in multiple directions, there are many different opportunities for a collision. Data provided by the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) indicates that roughly 25% of all traffic related fatalities and roughly 50% of traffic related injuries occur at intersections [3]. Some of the causes of accidents at intersections include:

  • A driver running a red light or stop sign
  • A driver turning without yielding to oncoming traffic
  • A pedestrian crossing the road against the light
  • A driver using the bicycle lane to turn without checking for cyclists
  • Cyclists turning or crossing without checking for oncoming traffic
  • A broken stop light confusing the flow of traffic
  • Drivers not using their turn signals
  • Drivers not knowing who has the right of way

Unsignalized Intersection Crashes

Unsignalized intersection crashes include:

  • Stop sign intersections: Stop signs often have a higher risk for accidents than signalized lights for a few reasons. It is easier for a stop sign to be obscured or difficult to see from a distance. There is also no uniform length of time that a driver must remain stopped which creates confusion for other drivers and pedestrians. Many people do not even come to a complete stop and instead will merely slow down and roll past it. There are also many drivers who are not familiar with right of way laws or when to yield to others.
  • Yield sign intersections: These intersections are identified with at least one approach being controlled by a yield sign. These intersections are relatively uncommon and often misunderstood which makes those that approach them more likely to get into an accident.
  • Uncontrolled intersections: An intersection that is uncontrolled often prompts confusion or fails to stop drivers who drive through intersections. These both contribute to a higher likelihood of car accidents.

Data provided by the US Dept of Transportation (USDoT) indicates that accidents that occur at unsignalized intersections result in 18% – 19% of overall traffic fatalities [4].

Year Traffic Fatalities Traffic Fatalities – Intersection Traffic Fatalities – Unsignalized Intersection % of Traffic Fatalities Involving Unsignalized Intersection
2017 37,473 10,482 7,136 19.0%
2018 36,835 10,148 6,801 18.5%
2019 36,355 10,273 6,977 19.2%
2020 38,824 10,720 7,143 18.4%
2021 42,939 11,799 7,752 18.1%


Signalized Intersection Crashes

Intersections controlled by signals are also prone to car accidents. The data provided by USDoT indicates that signalized intersections still accounted for roughly 9% of all traffic related fatalities [5].

Year Traffic Fatalities Traffic Fatalities – Intersection Traffic Fatalities – Signalized Intersection % of Traffic Fatalities Involving Signalized Intersection
2017 37,473 10,482 3,346 8.9%
2018 36,835 10,148 3,347 9.1%
2019 36,355 10,273 3,296 9.1%
2020 39,007 10,720 3,577 9.2%
2021 42,939 11,799 4,047 9.4%


Parking Lots

Parking lots are where tens of thousands of car accidents occur each year. There are many risk factors inherent in parking lots that lead to a higher frequency of accidents. The primary reason for parking lot accidents involves distracted drivers. Participants in a recent public poll indicated that while driving in a parking lot, distracted drivers would [6]:

  • 63% of people have adjusted their GPS
  • 56% of people text
  • 52% of people used social media
  • 50% of people would check emails
  • 49% of people would use their camera

In addition, there is often less maneuverability and lower visibility in a condensed space full of vehicles and pedestrians with very little organization and direction. When a parking lot is busy and crowded, these factors are increased with an added danger of people being frustrated and more likely to act aggressively and carelessly.

Rush Hour

Main roads and throughways have an especially higher frequency of accidents during rush hour. 9 studies that explored rush hour car accident statistics determined that rush hour experienced a 28% increase of car accident fatalities [7]. There are many reasons for this, including but not limited to:

  • More vehicles on the road
  • Less space between vehicles
  • Random stops and movements
  • Random speed changes
  • Drivers are tired and frustrated
  • Reckless behavior is more likely
  • Sunrise or sunset can affect visibility
  • Drivers being distracted by other accidents

Roadside Shoulders and Construction Zones

The side of the road can be a hazardous place, especially on highways and freeways. Stranded drivers and city workers are at an elevated risk because drivers are not accustomed to watching for pedestrians in those areas. Construction workers take great efforts to warn oncoming motorists that they need to slow down and move to the next lanes because there is road work ahead. Unfortunately, not everyone obeys these warnings which results in preventable accidents.


Why Do Most Car Accidents Happen Close to Home

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about why accidents seem to happen closer to where the victim lives. The most obvious answer is that this is where people drive the most, which makes it more likely that they will get into an accident there. Another reason is that people drive more carefully when they are less familiar with an area. The more comfortable and familiar a driver is, the more relaxed and confident they are. This can lead to them becoming more easily distracted and less attentive to their surroundings. Another factor is that the less experienced someone is as a driver, the more likely they are to get into an accident. Teenagers are encouraged to begin driving as soon as possible, meaning that the least experienced drivers on the roads are more likely to stick close to home. There are legal restrictions for drivers who only have a permit and not a license which limits when and where they can drive. Many teen drivers also have curfews or other rules imposed by their parents that prevent them from traveling too far.


Where Do Most Fatal Car Accidents Occur?

Fatal traffic accidents can happen anywhere at any time whether you are in a vehicle or a pedestrian. It is always important to drive carefully, obey traffic laws, and be mindful of your surroundings. The most dangerous contributing factor for car accidents is carelessness. The majority of fatal collisions occur in rural areas. People are more likely to engage in reckless behavior if they believe there is little to no chance of consequences. On long open stretches in sparsely populated areas, people are more likely to speed excessively, drive drunk, and not pay attention to anything around them. This not only increases the odds of an accident occurring, but also the potential severity of the damage. Also, in rural areas, things are much more spread out which increases the response time for emergency services and decreasing survival odds for major injuries.


Where are Car Accidents Most Likely to Happen in California?

California is a large state comprised of large cities, small towns, farmland, desert, and everything in between. From condensed metropolitan areas to wide open roads, California has a wide variety of traffic conditions. Data collected in 2019 by the California Highway Patrol revealed that more than 190,649 people were injured or killed in traffic accidents [8]. The data showed the freeways of Los Angeles County being the most common location for such accidents.

Leading Causes of Traffic Accidents and Fatalities in California

There are many factors and situations that can lead to a traffic accident, but some occur more frequently than others. Generally speaking, the most common causes of traffic accidents involve the following:

Speeding – Speed limits are imposed for several reasons. A uniform flow of traffic allows people to more accurately estimate time and distance to safely maneuver. Imposing slower speeds in areas with heavy foot traffic or large numbers of children reduces the number of accidents and the severity of the ones that occur. Higher speeds greatly increase the potential damage of a collision. Also, vehicles are much more difficult to control when traveling at higher speeds. Not only is it more likely that the driver will lose control, but also that they will not be able to stop or avoid obstacles.

Carelessness – Cars and driving have become such a commonplace everyday part of life that some people forget how dangerous they can be and the responsibility that comes with being behind the wheel. Even minor acts of carelessness can have serious consequences, such as:

  • Not checking your surroundings
  • Not using your turn signal
  • Ignoring the right-of-way
  • Rolling through stop signs
  • Improper lane changes

Distractions – Driving while distracted means that you are not paying attention to your surroundings. Numerous public service campaigns have been used to warn people against sending text messages while driving, but this is not the only kind of distracted driving. Some people try to save time in the morning by eating breakfast or even completing grooming routines during their commute. Sometimes, passengers can create distractions that take the driver’s eyes and attention away from the road. Distracted drivers have slower reaction times and are more likely to lose control of their vehicle.

Intoxication – The data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 2019 revealed that approximately 26% of traffic accidents involved a drunk driver. In addition to alcohol, many recreational and prescription drugs can cause impairment to your judgement, vision, reflexes, and coordination. Alcohol and other depressants can also cause drowsiness and fatigue.


What Other Factors Impact Car Accident Occurrences?

In addition to the actual causes of car accidents, there are several factors that can impact the likelihood of a car accident occurring.

Day of Week

While weekday rush hour carries its own risks, the weekend is often when most car accidents occur. Workers and students are especially tired and impatient to get home on Friday evening. Friday and Saturday nights see the majority of parties and drinking. Sporting events, barbeques, and other types of large gatherings involving alcohol are often held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  These all increase the likelihood of intoxication, distraction, and speeding which are all leading causes of car accidents.

Time of Day

Traffic accidents seem to be most frequent in the late afternoon and early evening. This is when schools let out, day shift workers are going home while the night shift workers are heading out, and many people are trying to run errands or make dinner reservations. High volume traffic combined with tired and impatient drivers can exponentially increase the likelihood of an accident.

Time of Year

The summer months generally see the highest number of traffic accidents. Teen drivers are on the road more often, there is an increase in travel, and events like pool parties and family reunions that generally involve alcohol. Cities with high tourism see an increase in traffic volume and drivers who are unfamiliar with their surroundings and local traffic laws.


While the winter holidays are known for hazardous weather, parking lot road rage, and increased travel, the holiday with the highest rate of car accidents in the United States is July 4th. Though this makes sense when considering that winter holiday celebrations are more spread out while Independence Day is mostly condensed to a single day or week. Memorial Day is another high risk holiday for similar reasons with large gatherings during a short period of time which generally involves barbeques and alcohol.


What To Do if You Have Been in a Car Accident

Statistically speaking, most drivers will experience some kind of car accident at least once in their life. Regardless of the severity of the accident, it is important to know how to handle the situation if and when it happens. The first thing you should do is pull over and make sure you are in a safe location if possible. Call the appropriate emergency services if necessary and exchange information with the other party. Take photos of the scene and the damage and note down as many details as you can. If there is property damage but there are no injuries, call your insurance company. If you or one of your passengers has been injured, call a personal injury attorney.


Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Have Been in a Car Accident in California

Even if you do everything right, it is still possible to be injured in a car accident due to the actions of someone else. A personal injury lawyer can help you navigate this sudden and difficult time. They can open the insurance claims, put together evidence, and negotiate the best possible settlement. Our firm has years of experience fighting and winning personal injury claims for car accident victims. If you have been injured in a traffic accident due to the negligence of another driver, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.



[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375775/

[2] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813488.pdf

[3] https://highways.dot.gov/safety/intersection-safety/about

[4] [5] https://highways.dot.gov/safety/intersection-safety/about

[6] https://www.nsc.org/road/safety-topics/distracted-driving/parking-lot-safety

[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34717204/

[8] https://www.chp.ca.gov/InformationManagementDivisionSite/Documents/3-California%20Quick%20Crash%20Facts%202019.pdf


Crash Occurrence FAQs

Where is the most common location for crashes?

Spots with the highest frequency of traffic accidents are generally the spots with dense traffic and pedestrians, or spots where people feel safer driving recklessly. This often includes:

• Construction Zones
• Freeway Shoulders
• Intersections
• Parking Lots
• Rural Highways

Where is the accident rate highest?

According to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 4,428 traffic fatalities in California throughout 2022. This number includes 1,158 pedestrian fatalities and 177 bicyclist fatalities. Los Angeles County had the highest number of traffic fatalities total but Alpine County had the highest number per capita.

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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