Last updated: August 2023

The Most Common Causes & Types of Car Accidents & How to Prevent Them

More than five million car accidents occur each year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. While it’s impossible to guarantee you won’t ever be involved in a traffic collision, you can lower your odds. Read up on what causes car accidents and the most common types of car accidents so you can respond accordingly to keep everyone in your vehicle safe.

What causes car accidents?

There are a lot of reasons car accidents happen, but these five behaviors are often involved. Do your best to avoid them at all costs.

Distracted Driving

You’re chowing down on a fast-food hamburger. You’re adjusting the radio. You’re chatting with your friends riding in the car. You’re talking or texting on your cell phone. All of these behaviors are distracted driving, and they’re all dangerous when you’re behind the wheel. Distracted driving is any activity that causes you to take your eyes off the road, your hands off the steering wheel, or your mind off the task at hand.

Distracted driving claimed 3,522 lives in 2021 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

How to help prevent distracted-driving crashes

The solution is simple. Pay attention to the road when you’re driving, not your food or your friends. Cell phone use is the No. 1 form of distracted driving. To curb device-related wrecks, never talk or text while driving. As a matter of fact, talking and texting while driving is illegal in most states.


Going over the speed limit accounts for a significant number of car accidents each year. In fact, in 2021 alone, speeding caused 12,330 deaths, according to NHTSA data.

How to help prevent speeding-related crashes

If you’re running late for an appointment or just feel like pushing the pedal to the metal, resist the urge to exceed the speed limit. Speeding can result in a costly traffic ticket or, worse yet, injury or death. Haircuts and meetings can wait. Your life is more important!

Impaired Driving

By now, you’ve spotted lots of ads or billboards warning of the dangers of drunk driving and other types of impaired driving (such as getting behind the wheel when you’re high on drugs).

There’s a reason why you’ve seen those ads and billboards all over the place. In 2021, drunk driving was responsible for 13,384 traffic deaths in the U.S., the NHTSA says.

How to help prevent impaired-driving crashes

Don’t get behind the wheel when you’re drunk or high, as that endangers you and everyone else on the road. If you know you’re going to be under the influence, ask a sober friend or relative to be your designated driver. If you’re already drunk or high and don’t have a designated driver, call a taxi or catch a ride with Uber or Lyft. The easiest way to avoid impaired driving is to steer clear of alcohol and drugs before you get behind the wheel.

Drowsy Driving

The CDC estimates drowsy driving was responsible for 91,000 car accidents in 2017. Keep in mind, these accidents don’t only involve drivers who fell asleep at the wheel, but also include those whose driving abilities were impaired by drowsiness.

How to help prevent drowsy-driving crashes

The easy answer to this is to get the proper amount of sleep—generally seven to nine hours a day for adults—before hitting the road. Consider taking a taxi, bus, train, or other mode of transportation if you’re drowsy. You also might put off your trip until you’ve gotten enough sleep.

If tiredness strikes when you’re already behind the wheel and you feel like you might fall asleep, pull over and don’t resume driving until you’re refreshed. If you’re driving with a buddy, ask them to talk to you to help you stay awake, or take turns driving between gas stops and bathroom breaks.

Bad Weather

Rain, snow, ice, and fog are just a few of the weather conditions that can lead to a car accident. The Federal Highway Administration estimates just under one-fourth of car crashes are related to weather.

How to help prevent weather-related crashes

The best tip for staying safe on the road when the weather is bad is to slow down. Speeding on slick streets or in the fog makes matters worse. Also, stay alert, practice good driving habits, and avoid distractions like talking or texting on your cell phone. If at all possible, stay off the roads when it’s rainy, snowy, icy, or foggy. Chances are, your trip isn’t important enough to risk your life.

Most Common Types of Car Accidents

No two car accidents are exactly the same in terms of location, speed, driving abilities of those involved, and number of vehicles involved. However, accidents frequently fall in one of the categories below. Here are some of the most common kinds of car accidents, why they happen, and ways you can stay safe.

Rear-End Collisions

This type of crash is fairly self-explanatory: a driver fails to brake in time and runs into the back of the vehicle they’re following. They happen frequently because many drivers are distracted, and roadway conditions aren’t always perfect. Looking away for even a brief second can result in a rear-end crash.

Safety Tip:
To stay safe and avoid rear-end collisions, maintain a safe following distance and don’t let your attention wander.

Head-On Collisions

This type of accident occurs when two vehicles that are traveling toward each other collide. Head-on crashes make up roughly 11% of fatal multi-vehicle crashes, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Safety Tip:
To help avoid head-on crashes, make sure you’re not driving distracted, impaired, or drowsy. Also, pay extra attention when there’s no dividing barrier between you and head-on traffic.

Single-Vehicle Accidents

Not every crash involves two or more vehicles. In a single-vehicle accident, a driver hits an object like a tree, sign, or animal, or the vehicle runs off or flips off the road due to the driver losing control. The accident could happen for many reasons, like the driver swerving to avoid another car or deer, drunk driving, drowsy driving, and more.

Safety Tip:
Avoid distractions, impaired driving, and drowsy driving, and never assume you’re safe because the roadway looks relatively empty. Always be ready to react quickly and in a composed manner.

T-Bone Accidents

These front-to-side-impact collisions occur when two cars crash at a roughly 90-degree angle, like when a vehicle turns left in front of a car that is traveling straight in the opposite direction. T-Bone crashes are particularly dangerous because the point of impact is often directly on a driver’s or passenger’s door.

Safety Tip:
Always proceed with caution through an intersection. If you’re turning, double-check to make sure there’s no oncoming traffic.

Sideswipe Accidents

When two vehicles, typically traveling in the same direction, collide side by side, the result is a sideswipe accident. Sideswipes can leave more minor damage if the vehicles are traveling slowly and don’t collide with force. However, sideswipes can cause one or both drivers to lose control of their vehicle, making them dangerous.

Safety Tip:
Regularly scan your mirrors, check your blind spots before changing car lanes, don’t drift into another lane while turning, and follow safe merging practices to avoid sideswipe accidents.

Parking Lot Accidents

There’s a good chance you’ve seen or been involved in a parking lot accident. With vehicles turning in and out of lanes, others pulling out of parking spaces, and shoppers walking by, it can be hard to react in time.

Safety Tip:
You should always pay attention behind the wheel, particularly in parking lots. Visibility is often limited, and people, cars, or shopping carts can suddenly appear in front of you or behind you while backing out. Also, be sure to review these parking lot right-of-way rules so you know when it’s your turn to go.

Hit & Run Accidents

When a driver causes a crash and flees the scene (often because they don’t have insurance), it is categorized as a hit-and-run accident.

Safety Tip:
To avoid hit-and-run accidents, your best bet is to drive defensively and follow all rules of the road. You never know who might flee the scene of an accident, so do your best to avoid one entirely.

You can do your part to help prevent car accidents, but accidents still happen. Share this article with your friends and family, and stay prepared with affordable car insurance that helps protect your car and the people you love most. Give us a call at 877-463-4732, visit us request a quote online, or visit a nearby Direct Auto location for a free quote today.

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