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The Main Causes of Car Accidents

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  • 06-09-2021
The Main Causes of Car Accidents

 This article asks: What are the main causes of car accidents? We look at the factors which effect driving accidents from alcohol to speeding to distracted driving.

What are the main causes of car accidents?

Cars crash every day throughout the UK. It happens in many environments for a multitude of reasons. The most common causes of car accidents and personal injury are drunk driving, speeding, distracted driving, fatigue, teen drivers, and aggressive driving. 

These causes are responsible for most car crashes on the road today, and it is important to be informed of them so you can put yourself in a safer situation and reduce the risk for those around you. 

Alcohol or drug-impaired driving

Drinkdriving.org, a road safety website,  claims that between 1979 and 2014, an average of 666 people each year lost their lives in drunk driving-related accidents in Great Britain. 

Additionally, an average of 3551 people was facing serious injuries yearly. Just one drink of alcohol can cause slight impairment. Any more and there is a multitude of side effects.

What are the main causes of car accidents?

One of the main side effects is loss of concentration. People who are drunk driving focus on the road and think about staying safe. Short-term memory loss is also present, which may have implications for measuring and effectively using indicators.

Reaction times are heavily impacted, so in situations that would otherwise be a "close call", a situation with a drunk driver would likely end in a crash. For example, if a pedestrian quickly emerges, slower reaction speed drivers wouldn't be able to stop or dodge the pedestrian in time.

Driving under the influence makes it very challenging to perform multiple tasks at once. This is likely to cause a crash when a driver is too focused on one vehicle that they completely ignore another. 

Decision making also suffers from alcohol consumption, and people who are drunk driving will often drive too risky when they can't afford to.

With the dizziness caused by drinking, it can be very difficult for drivers to track moving objects properly. This makes avoiding other vehicles, especially smaller ones such as motorbikes, much harder

They also inhibit the inability to control speed. It's much harder for drunk drivers to make judgements about their speed as well as those around them. This can cause them to under or overcompensate and confuse other drivers.

General steering and motor skills are affected, which makes everything previously mentioned that much harder to deal with

Impaired perception is a major contribution to these types of crashes as drivers cannot properly analyse the road, the stop signs, and the signals, which can cause them to make incorrect decisions. 

It is against the law to drive with 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood,


Speeding accounts for thousands of crashes per year in the UK and is one of the most common causes of car accidents. 

The dangers of speeding are remarkably higher when there are poor weather conditions and road conditions. Speeding is most common amongst young male drivers between the ages of 15 and 20.

Speeding makes it significantly harder to process what is happening around the driver and also makes it harder for other drivers to predict their movement.  Speeding also makes it harder for the driver to control the car. 

Additionally, the distance required to stop collisions is increased significantly. Sometimes driving above the speed limit is considered a form of aggressive driving, although many people speed for other reasons such as in emergencies. 

Speeders are usually repeated offenders, and a large percentage of speeding-related crashes reveal that the drivers had previous convictions, as well as previously been involved in a crash.   

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is one of the major causes of road accidents. It covers distractions that are both inside and out of the vehicle. Statistics show that up to 72% of drivers in the UK have admitted to multi-tasking at the wheel. There are three main types of distraction, these being:

  • Manual distractions, which involve anything that occupies the driver's hands and keeps them off the steering wheel. 
  • Cognitive distractions, these are anything that draws the driver's focus from driving. 
  • Visual distractions, which include anything that gets the driver's eyes off the road.

It is very common for drivers to get distracted on the road. There is often so much going on around us that from time to time, 100% focus is difficult.

Texting whilst behind the wheel is particularly common, and it forms as a manual, cognitive and visual distrac#148FFF;tion. The NHTSA claims it takes about five seconds to read or reply to a text message. At 55mph, the texting driver will have travelled the length of a football field whilst distracted.

Texting and driving isn't the only cause of distracted driving. Other mobile phone use such as browsing and posting to social media like Snapchat and Facebook is common. Drivers will get their phones out in quieter areas and when they stop to look at them. They might think they are safe because they are on a small road and are not going too fast, but there is always the risk of sudden bumps and scrapes with cars (even parked ones) around them.

Distracted Driving: main causes of car accidents?

Another common distraction on the road is eating and drinking. If people are in a rush to get somewhere, they may find it easier to just eat their meal in their vehicle. Putting hands off the wheel to do this can put drivers and those around them in significant danger. Applying makeup is surprisingly common, and it is likely done for the same reason as eating and drinking, which is when drivers are in a rush to be somewhere. Not only is this dangerous as you are taking hands off the wheel, but in the case of eye makeup, a small error may impair your vision enough to cause traffic accidents.

In-car GPS systems can also be a large distraction for drivers. They often need configuring properly, and drivers refuse to park before recalibrating or setting their GPS. This requires both hands and eyes off the road, as well as much of the drivers' attention. Give your GPS too much attention, and suddenly you'll be contacting your insurance and filling out a claim.

There are many distractions outside the car too. There might be an appealing billboard or an event going on around the driver that can pull their attention off the road. 


Tired drivers often don't see the risk they are putting themselves and others in, as they do nothing wrong from a legal stance. There is no speeding, alcohol or drugs involved, yet they are still creating a huge risk on the road. 10-20% of all crashes are believed to be caused by driver fatigue. 

This is a hard statistic to measure as tiredness isn't as easy to test as alcohol and drugs. Drivers are significantly more likely to fall asleep in the early morning than late at night. In the UK, one in eight drivers has admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at least once. 

Fatigue: main causes of car accidents?

There are many signs of drowsiness at the wheel. Frequent yawning and facing difficulties keeping your eyes open are clear signs that a driver could be too tired to drive. Tired drivers have difficulties maintaining speed and will often miss turns or road signs.

They will also drift out of their lane, which is especially dangerous for other drivers. If you are driving for long hours, it is good advice to stop off somewhere for a break and make sure you are fully prepared to carry on driving. There is no shame in stopping at a motel to sleep for the night instead of trying to make that final stretch to your destination all at once.

Teen Drivers

Thousands of young drivers are seriously injured or even killed on UK roads each year. Young drivers are much more likely to get into accidents than older adults. Drivers face their highest risk of an accident within their first year after passing their test. 

The amount of passengers in the car increases the chance of an accident, likely due to distractions. As expected, driver inexperience is the leading cause of teen crashes (especially during darker hours). This issue only becomes worse as teens are the least likely demographic to wear their seat belts.

Younger drivers have a harder time approaching dangerous road situations as well as recognizing potential hazards. Young drivers often overestimate their driving skills, and when faced with safer and riskier options, they will often take the riskier ones. 

They typically leave less space between them and other vehicles and have a higher overall chance of speeding. Alcohol and drugs have a larger impact on young people, so drink driving is especially dangerous for this age group.  

Aggressive Driving

Most drivers in their lifetime have experienced anger on the road. It's easy for people to get frustrated and not act according to the rules of the road. 

Drivers will often look to blame others when something goes bad on the road. Road rage is often used interchangeably with aggressive driving and reckless driving. Whilst it is true both share common characteristics, aggressive driving is specific to traffic infractions.

In contrast, road rage refers to drivers using their vehicles as a weapon to harm or punish other drivers. Purposely tailgating is the most common form of aggressive driving. 

Sometimes, angered drivers will run red lights too. Careless drivers will change lanes too quickly and will commonly fail to signal as they do so. 

Yelling and shouting at other drivers is also very common, along with using the car's horn to show anger or outrage. 

Aggressive Driving: main causes of car accidents?

Aggressive drivers will also try to block other drivers from changing lanes and will cut off other vehicles intentionally. In rarer cases, drivers will get out of their cars to confront another driver. Fortunately, the least common form of aggressive driving is intentional bumping or ramming of vehicles. 

Where do most car accidents occur in the UK?

67% of all road accidents in the UK happen on urban roads. In London alone, 25,662 accidents were reported in 2018, giving it the highest accident per 1 million people ratio out of any region in the UK. The larger South East came in second at 19,164 accidents, followed by the North West, which had 12,701.

Despite these huge numbers, the East Midlands had the most fatal accidents per million at 37. Surprisingly, the roads with high limits (61mph) only represented 7% of crashes (although the crashes were more deadly). 

In terms of specific locations, T-junctions had the most accidents. 29% of all accidents happened at T-junctions which is significantly higher than crossroads which had just 9%, and roundabouts (8%). 

The nation's regional police force revealed the most dangerous road in the UK as the A35 in Dorset. Due to COVID-19, there have been fewer drivers on the road in the UK. This had lead to drivers speeding more often due to the roads being quieter.

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