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Common Causes of Serious California Car Accidents

There are many dangerous road hazards and unsafe driving practices that can result in someone being involved in a serious car accident in Los Angeles, San Diego or anywhere throughout California. While there are many different factors that may contribute to a serious car accident that causes severe injury or even fatalities, some factors are more common than others. Motorists that are aware of the risk factors that cause severe car accidents are in a better position to protect themselves. Unfortunately, even the safest most cautious drivers cannot completely protect themselves from the indifference and carelessness of other drivers.

Because our experienced California car accident lawyers have handled hundreds of motor vehicle accident cases throughout Southern California, we have extensive experience handling car accident cases involving a wide range of causes. One factor that characterizes most car accidents caused by other drivers is that they are usually the result of a failure to act in a reasonably safe way. This essentially means that despite car accidents causing tens of thousands of deaths, millions of injuries and billions of dollars in property damage annually most car accidents are preventable.

Our experienced California personal injury attorneys have provided an overview of some of the most common or dangerous car accident causes including:

DUI/DWI (Driving While Intoxicated): Alcohol impaired accidents remain the leading cause of motor vehicle related fatalities. Almost 11,000 people per year die in collisions involving drunk drivers throughout the U.S. according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which amounts to a car crash involving a drunk driver every fifty minutes. The scope of the drunken driving epidemic is epitomized by the fact that statistically a third of all drivers in the U.S. will be involved in a drunken driving accident at some point during their lifetime.

The irresponsible nature of those who cause these tragic accidents is reflected by the fact that the typical drunken driver operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol approximately eighty times before a DUI/DWI arrest. When drivers operate a car, motorcycle or SUV while under the influence of alcohol, their driving skills are impaired by poor judgment, coordination, reaction time, recognition of spatial relationships, estimation of speed, visual perception and clarity. While this is the leading cause of traffic related fatalities, it is also one of the most preventable.

Distracted Driving (Text Messaging): While distracted driving has historically been a factor in many motor vehicle collisions throughout California, the prevalence of such accidents has grown dramatically with the spread of smart phones and other handheld communication devices. Text messaging while driving has been shown to be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. A study conducted at the University of Utah found that those who text while driving are six times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than drivers who are not engaged in such behavior. The study also revealed that drivers that are text messaging have more impairment of their driving ability than drivers over the legal limit of .08 percent for DUI/DWI.

While California has passed legislation prohibiting texting while driving, the law is extremely difficult to enforce and surveys have shown that a majority of drivers continue to disregard the driving restriction. A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has confirmed the lack of effectiveness of text messaging bans by revealing that accident rates actually increased slightly after the ban on text messaging was implemented in California. Another troubling study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found a truck driver’s risk of accident is 23 times higher while text messaging.

Distracted Driving (Cell Phone Use): Smart phones use in California is limited to hands free use when talking on a mobile phone. Unfortunately, studies have suggested that hands free laws do not reduce distracted driving accidents related to cell phone use. A study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute found no significant difference in accident rates before and after California’s hands free law. The results mirrored prior results finding no significant impact of hands free restrictions in Arizona and Nevada. The problem is that any use of a cell phone involves a visual, manual and mental distraction. This is not altered by hands free devices. Further, smart phones have so many uses, such as surfing the internet and watching movies that it is virtually impossible to enforce anti-cellphone laws without prohibiting all use of mobile phones while driving.

Other Driving Distractions: While portable electronic devices have magnified the issue of distracted driving, there are many types of driving distractions including the following:

  • Brushing/combing one’s hair
  • Putting on makeup
  • Eating and drinking
  • Adjusting the radio or CD player
  • Reaching to retrieve something in the vehicle
  • Reading the newspaper

Distracted drivers may run red lights or fail to observe interruptions in the flow of traffic in time to stop safely. Their vehicles may also drift off the shoulder of the roadway resulting in major collisions or rollover as drivers steer hard to recover control and get the vehicle back on the roadway. This may require steering hard in the other direction and result in a rollover accident especially in an SUV or 15 passenger van.

Speeding: When drivers exceed the speed limit, they have less reaction time to respond to emergencies and road hazards. Drivers that are speeding require greater stopping distance and have less time for braking and evasive steering maneuvers. Motor vehicles are also harder to control at high rates of speed so sudden evasive maneuvers are more likely to result in drivers losing control of their car and rolling over or running off the road. Because of this increased risk of losing control of the vehicle and the increased force of impact resulting from the higher speed, high speed car accidents are also more likely to result in more serious injuries and fatalities.

Tailgating (Aggressive Driving Practices): When drivers are impatient and in a hurry to get to their destination, they sometimes tailgate other drivers while weaving in and out of traffic and passing unsafely. Aggressive driving is usually characterized by multiple violations of traffic laws that display a conscious disregard for the safety of others. Drivers that tailgate are an accident waiting to happen because they are not in a position to stop their vehicle in the event the flow of traffic stops.

Elderly and Teen Drivers: While many people realize that teen drivers account for a disproportionate number of California car accidents, many do not realize that accident rates for elderly drivers are comparable to those of teen drivers. Teen drivers lack driving experience and tend to overestimate their driving ability. While graduated driver’s license programs and “zero tolerance” drunken driving laws aimed at new teen drivers have improved teen accident rates, accident rates amongst teen drivers remain higher than any other age group. Because there are no tests used to evaluate deterioration in driving ability as people age (beyond eye tests), many elderly drivers remain on the road even after their physical abilities or mental functioning have declined substantially. The problem is significant enough that the motor vehicle accident rates among elderly drivers are comparable to new teen drivers.

Defective Motor Vehicles (Defective Components): While many times vehicles are subject to recall because of defective components that may contribute to a California traffic accident, sometimes vehicle manufacturers are slow to implement such recalls because of the cost. Motor vehicle recalls may be linked to fuel systems, steering, brake systems, vehicle suspension and many other defects. Sudden acceleration accidents are a recent example of serious vehicle defects that prompted widespread recalls. The issue of sudden acceleration accidents involving Toyota vehicles rose to national prominence in the wake of a fatal San Diego accident in 2009 that claimed the lives of an off-duty state trooper and three family members. The vehicle reportedly accelerated to 120 mph with witnesses reporting that the tires were on fire presumably because the driver was slamming on the brakes as the vehicle accelerated out of control. The vehicle eventually went off an embankment and rolled multiple times before bursting into flames.

The issue of delaying recalls for defective vehicle components is hardly a new problem. The most famous example involved Ford’s decision during the 1970s to delay the recall of Pinto’s despite an awareness that the vehicles were prone to explosion during rear-end collision even at relatively low speeds because of the location of the gas tank. Ford elected not to recall the vehicles after conducting a financial analysis that revealed it would be cheaper to pay a limited number of personal injury and wrongful death claims, than to cover the cost of recalling the vehicles and repairing the hazard. Punitive damages are designed to prevent this type of corporate decision by discouraging motor vehicle manufacturers from simply passing on the cost of lawsuits resulting from defective vehicles to consumers as a cost of doing business.

Unsafe Roadways: Many serious motor vehicle accident victims never consider the notion that defects in roadway design, construction or maintenance may be the cause of a car accident that result in serious injury or wrongful death. Poor design and inadequate roadway maintenance are factors in a wide number of accidents including those in construction zones. These types of accidents may involve many hazards including:

  • Unsafe and poorly marked hairpin turns
  • Roadway drop-offs that are poorly marked or lack adequate barriers
  • Road design that results in poor drainage causing water pooling and hydroplaning
  • Improper or deficient signage
  • Pavement with insufficient skid resistance
  • Failure to repair potholes
  • Missing, malfunctioning or poorly timed traffic signals
  • Dips or slopes in the road
  • Shoulders that cannot be differentiated well from the roadway
  • Inadequate or absent guard rails

There are many other types of roadway design, construction or maintenance defect that may contribute to serious motor vehicle accidents on California’s streets, highways and freeways. Litigation of these lawsuits can be complicated because the defendant is a governmental entity with substantial resources.

While this list of common causes of California car accidents is hardly exhaustive, this list should make clear that there are many contributing factors that may be relevant in a serious injury accident in California. Our experienced team of California car accident lawyers conducts a thorough investigation of our clients’ motor vehicle collisions to carefully identify all contributing causes and potential liable parties. We routinely utilize accident reconstruction experts so that we can develop the most compelling litigation strategies and theories of liability and use computer simulation and other technology in the courtroom for the most persuasive presentation to a judge or jury. If you or someone you love has been injured in a car wreck in Los Angeles, San Diego or anywhere throughout California, our experienced car crash litigation attorneys are committed to providing the highest quality legal services. We invite your call so that we can provide an initial consultation and evaluate your California car accident claim.

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