There are few greater freedoms than those provided by having your own car. Being able to drive allows you to go where you want when you want, giving you an independence no other machine can. Plus, millions of people all around the world rely on their cars to get them to and from work every day and to meet their various other personal, professional, and social obligations.
However, because driving is so normal for most of us, we often forget how dangerous it can be. Cars are heavy pieces of metal that go extremely fast. It doesn’t take a physics degree to know this combination can cause both destruction and death.
Chances are you know someone who has been involved in a car accident, whether it was a small fender bender or a major collision that resulted in a loss of life. But you may be wondering how likely it actually is for something to happen.
In the end, it’s not as though death is waiting for you every time you get behind the wheel, but car accidents are a major cause of death around the world. Understanding how and why they happen will go a long way towards helping us take the steps needed to eliminate the all-too-common tragedies that result from motor vehicle operation.
Car Accidents in 2019 At a Glance
What Happens to People Who Get In a Car Accident?
Although no one wants to see their car damaged or written off, this fear pales in comparison to what can happen to you and those around you in the event a crash does occur.
Here is a visual breakdown of what’s likely to happen to you in the event you get in a car accident, and below you can find an explanation of how we got our numbers.
Death: Worst-Case Yet Least-Likely Scenario
Obviously, the worst-case scenario when it comes to a car crash is that someone loses their life. But fortunately, fatal car crashes are not the norm. In fact, despite fatal car crashes being one of the leading causes of death around the world, the chances of you dying in a car crash are, in reality, rather slim.
Of the estimated six million car crashes that occur each year, “only” about 40,000 of those resulted in fatalities, which translates to just 0.6 percent.
Within fatal car crashes, the person most likely to be killed is the driver (52.1 percent of all car accident fatalities are drivers), with passengers coming in second (20 percent). Motorcyclists make up 13 percent of all deaths, and pedestrians, meaning people who weren’t even in the car, make up a whopping 12 percent.
Serious or Permanent Injury: The Most Likely Negative Outcome
While your chances of dying in a car crash are not that high, please don’t take this as a sign that car accidents are not as serious as they seem. This is because while you will most likely escape death’s grip, you’re quite likely to suffer a serious or even permanent injury as a result of being in a car accident.
Returning to our “six million a year” number, consider that two million people are seriously or permanently injured in car accidents each year. That comes out to a rate of about 33 percent. That’s a frighteningly high number and should point to the very real danger car accidents pose to our health and safety.
Mild Injury: A Less Likely But Possible Result
A total of three million people are injured each year in the six million car accidents that occur. But we know that of those three million, two million are considered “serious or permanent.” That means that you have a one in six, or 16 percent, chance of suffering just a “mild” injury.
This is not a particularly heartening number because it shows us that when something does happen, it’s most likely to be serious.
Nothing: The Most Likely Outcome
If you have a 33 percent chance of being seriously injured, a 16 percent chance of suffering a mild injury, and a 0.6 percent chance of dying, that means your chances of walking away from a car accident completely unscathed are right around 50 percent.
This means that of all the possible outcomes, this is the most likely. But when you combine the negative outcomes listed above, they also equal 50 percent. This is slightly scarier because it means your odds of walking away safely from a car accident versus suffering an injury or death are the same as choosing heads or tails when flipping a coin or red or black when choosing a card from a deck of fifty-two.
This isn’t meant to scare you but rather to point to the very real danger car accidents pose. Hopefully, this will inspire you to take steps to reduce the risk of you causing a car accident or being involved in one, something we will discuss in-depth later on.
What Happens to the Property Involved in Accidents?
The worst possible outcome of a car accident is obviously the death of a human being. But in addition to this burden, car accidents also cost people and society a considerable amount of money from the property damage caused by car accidents. Here are some stats to highlight how much of an impact this has:
Car Accident Statistics for Teen Drivers
It’s no secret that drivers in their teens pose more of a threat than older, more experienced motorists. That’s why almost every family member of a young driver makes the same joke when a kid finally gets their license: “Watch out!”
But in reality, the danger teens pose to themselves and other drivers is no laughing matter.
Teen drivers are notoriously susceptible to distracted driving, and because they have less experience on the road, they are less capable of responding to sudden emergencies.
The only ways to address this problem are to raise minimum ages for driving, require stricter training procedures, and enact more restrictions on teen drivers (graduated licensing) that are more effectively enforced.
However, in the United States, where driving as a teenager is seen as a not only an important rite of passage but also a necessity, it’s difficult to rally support for the restrictions needed to keep younger drivers, as well as those sharing the road with them, safe.
Here are some stats to point to the risk that comes when young people get behind the wheel:
Young Drivers Are Much More Likely to Get Hurt
To be specific, teen drivers, especially 16- and 17-year olds, are around nine times more likely to be in a car crash than an adult, and they are six times more likely to be in a fatal car crash than adults, according to Teen Driver Source. Scary stuff.
Furthermore, car accidents are the number one cause of death and disability for teens, meaning we are putting our youth in more danger by allowing them to get behind the wheel than anything else. This just emphasizes the need to promote responsible driving practices with young people.
Teen Drivers Account for One-Fifth of All Auto Fatalities
To give you an idea, consider that nearly 8,000 people are killed each year in car crashes involving drivers who are aged 16-20. Knowing that around 40,000 people die each year in car accidents, we can say that teen drivers cause 20 percent of all car accident deaths.
Drinking and Speeding are the Big Causes of Teen Car Accidents
As if being inexperienced and prone to distracted driving weren’t enough, teenagers are also notorious for underestimating the risks associated with dangerous driving habits.
In fact, 32 percent of all car crashes caused by teens were the result of speeding and 21 percent were because the teen in question had been drinking, according to the CDC.
Drunk Driving Related Statistics
No discussion on car accidents would be complete without mentioning the role alcohol plays in auto-related accidents and fatalities. Here are a few stats to remind us how serious this issue is:
Around 30 Percent of Fatal Car Crashes Are Alcohol-Related
This is a pretty staggering number that shows how much impact alcohol has on your ability to drive a car. But in the end, you’re not only putting your life in danger but that of those you have in the car with you and who are sharing the road with you. It’s a selfish act that’s simply not worth the potential consequences.
More Than 10,000 People Die Each Year From Alcohol-Related Accidents
That’s about 30 people per day and one person roughly every 48 seconds. In general, though, drunk driving accidents are more likely to occur on the weekends than during the week.
Only About 1 Percent of Drunk Drivers Get Caught
Estimates indicate there are roughly 300,000 people under the influence of alcohol on the road on any given day. Yet only about 3,000 get arrested each day, meaning the danger is there lurking and the police simply can’t keep up.
Distracted Driving Related Statistics
Recent initiatives, including laws banning the practice, have tried to stop people from using their phones while they are driving. Yet despite these efforts, people continue to log into their smartphones while driving, and this just puts everyone on the road in danger.
However, it’s important to note that distracted driving doesn’t just refer to using your phone. You can be distracted by eating, listening to music, talking with your friends, or looking too closely at something as you pass by. You can even be distracted by the car itself, especially since newer models now come equipped with GPS, satellite radio, and even TVs, all of which can make it difficult to keep your eyes on the road.
Preventing distracted driving requires some laws, but it also requires greater discipline on the part of drivers.
Here are a few stats to shed light on this problem:
Around 3,000 People Die Each Year from Distracted Driving
That’s a little bit less than ten people per day.
Most people don’t realize the impact looking away from the road can have. But imagine you get a message on your phone and look down to read it. You only spend five seconds not watching the road, but if you’re traveling at 55 mph, you travel the full length of a football field in five seconds. Would you close your eyes and drive for that distance? Of course not, yet millions of people do it every day.
One in Three People Admit to Sending or Receiving Text Messages While Driving
And this just refers to the people who actually admit it. In reality, this number is probably much higher. Don’t believe it? Start looking at what people are doing when you pass them on the highway. Chances are you will see quite a few people with one hand on the wheel and one hand on their phone.
Small Children Are a Huge Distraction
“Don’t make me pull this car over!”
This threat many of us heard growing up should be carried out more often since 87 percent of people with young children report driving while distracted. Tending to kids’ needs and breaking up fights between siblings is hard work when you’re not driving, just imagine the challenge when you’re also trying to keep your eyes on the road.
That there are young kids in the vehicle at the same time parents are driving distracted is even more disheartening, so parents would do well to come up with a system for calming their kids down in the car. And when they can’t, they should pull this car over.
The Main Causes of Car Accidents
Now that you can see how prevalent car accidents are, you might be wondering what causes so many people to crash. In truth, there are many reasons behind an auto accident, but here are some of the most significant according to the Insurance Information Institute:
Other factors include weather, improper turning, driving down one-way roads, swerving in the wind or on slippery surfaces, and overcorrecting/oversteering. However, it should be noticed that in 25.7 percent of the accidents that occur each year, there is no known cause.
How to Stay Safe From Car Accidents
We call them “car accidents” for a reason: they happen by accident. And this just means there is no way we can ever really stop them from happening (except, maybe, if everyone had self-driving cars that could avoid one another flawlessly).
However, as you can see from the stats above, many of the accidents that occur are caused by things that we can control, which means there are plenty of things we can do to reduce the risk of getting into a car accident and minimize the damage they cause.
The best ways to stay safe include:
Wear a Seat Belt
Seat belts reduce the risk of death in a car accident by 45 percent and they limit the possibility of serious injury by 50 percent. Part of this is because you are 30 percent more likely to be ejected from a car when you’re not wearing a seat belt, an event that will almost certainly result in serious injury if not death.
In all US states except for New Hampshire, wearing a seat belt is the law. And to enforce this law, many states, although not all, have made this a primary offense, meaning a police officer can pull you over if they suspect you’re not wearing proper restraint.
This is in contrast to the laws of the past which required the police to pull you over for something else, such as speeding or reckless driving, before issuing you a citation for not wearing a seat belt.
Putting on your seat belt takes little effort and practically no time, yet this simple thing can turn a serious, life-threatening or ending event into something much less dramatic. Be smart. Buckle up.
Put Your Phone Down
Hopefully, some of the statistics above have helped show you how dangerous it can be to use your phone while driving. Yet many of us still do it. We fall into the trap of thinking that we’re only looking down “for a second,” but that’s exactly what everyone who has ever died in a distracted driving car crash was thinking in the final moments of their life.
Furthermore, in today’s world, there’s virtually no excuse for distracted driving. It’s super easy to get hands-free technology in your car, and many new vehicles come equipped with advanced Bluetooth options that make it easy for you to use your phone for practical reasons while driving, such as calling someone to tell them you’ll be late or getting directions, without taking your eyes off the road.
But even this still takes your mind away from driving, so if you think this will be too much, just turn your phone on silent until you’re off the road. If you must reach out to someone, simply pull over and park to operate your phone. This five-minute delay could save your life.
Drive Safely and Defensively
Don’t let peer pressure and other silly influences con you into bad driving habits. Speeding, rolling through stop signs, skipping lights, and swerving in and out of traffic might get you to your destination a little bit faster some of the time. But all it takes is one mistake for you to end up in the hospital, or worse, the morgue.
Slow down, take your time, and always be on the defensive. In many ways, the most dangerous part of driving is the other drivers on the road. Always assume they will try to sneak around you on the highway, skip through the light or jump it a few seconds before it turns, or turn without putting on a signal.
Sure, this sounds paranoid, but it’s how you learn to see the road for the hazardous place that it is, and while you can never fully prevent an accident, driving in this way is a pretty good way to start.
Invest in a Safer Car
Cars these days now have more safety features than ever before. From onboard computers that call emergency services when you’re in an accident to side airbags and computer-assisted brakes, there are so many different safety features available.
Of course, none of these can completely prevent an accident from occurring, but they can significantly reduce the risk of death or serious injury in the event you have an accident. They can also make it much easier for you to drive safely.
For example, many newer cars now have an alert system that tells you when a car is in your blind spot. This saves you from having to look behind you and take your eyes off the road in front of you while also making it easier for you to merge lanes more safely.
Unfortunately, though, a lot of these safety features are going to drive up the cost of your car. But in many cases, it’s probably worth it. Yet even if you can’t afford to get all the latest toys and gadgets, make sure your car is equipped with everything it needs to be as safe as possible, such as seat belts, airbags, and ABS. If your car doesn’t have all of these, then it’s probably time to upgrade because not doing so is putting your life in serious danger.
Take Driver Training
If you’re new to driving, seriously consider taking a driver training course. This is especially true for kids and other young adults, but it also applies to older people who have never had their license and now need to drive.
It’s a pain, for sure, and driver’s education is not cheap in most places. However, if you commit to learning the theory of safe driving and then to practice with a qualified professional, you will find yourself much more prepared for the dangers that lurk on the road.
As an added bonus, many insurance companies will offer you a discounted premium if you’ve taken a driver training course because they know how much this can influence someone’s driving habits. So, even if you already have your license, this could be an incentive enough to head back to school for a bit and hone your skills.
Respect Warnings and Alerts
Most people underestimate the impact the weather can have on road conditions, and this often comes with an overestimation of their ability to control a car, which in some scenarios can be a two-ton death machine.
When there’s heavy rain, wind, snow, or ice, local authorities will likely issue warnings. These can range from reduced speed limits to full bans. Respect these warnings. It’s easy to feel you’re in control until you’re not, and these warnings are not put up lightly.
Going half the speed limit during a rainstorm might mean it will take you longer to get where you’re going, but that’s a small price to pay for arriving alive.
Be Properly Insured
Insurance does nothing to prevent accidents from happening, but it can certainly help make things bearable in the even they do. Of course, no insurance can replace a human life, so if you’re involved in something like that, there’s not much you can do.
But when the harm caused by an accident is limited to injuries and property damage, insurance can be your best friend. Not only will you be saved from having to cover the medical expenses of those you’ve hurt (in the event you’ve been found at fault) but you will be able to replace or repair the things you’ve damaged as a result.
However, don’t let the fact that you have insurance lure you into thinking your immune from danger. This feeling of excessive comfort is dangerous and can actually increase your chances of having an accident.
At this point, car accidents are an unfortunate part of life. No matter how hard we work to prevent them, there are simply too many people driving around for us to completely eliminate them. However, the statistics presented here show that some causes of accidents are indeed preventable, and we can take steps to eliminate them. Seat belt laws, restrictions for young drivers, harsh punishments for distracted and drunk driving, and more awareness about safe driving techniques can all make the roads less dangerous for all current and future drivers.