What Are the Common Causes of Highway Fatalities?

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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Unsafe driving practices and poor road design and conditions are among the leading causes of accidents and highway fatalities. Drunk and impaired driving are both major causes of accidents and fatalities. Distracted driving is an increasingly serious problem and causes a substantial number of fatal crashes. Flaws in highway design can make safe driving more difficult, and poor weather conditions can make even the safest vehicles and highways dangerous. The failure of motorists to make use of the safety features in their vehicles is also an important issue, as accidents in which this occurs are more apt to be fatal.

Drunk or otherwise impaired motorists cause many highway fatalities every year. Excessive alcohol consumption leaves drivers largely unable to even operate motor vehicles, but even a modest amount of alcohol will reduce a driver's ability to react to changing traffic conditions. Many other chemicals, some legal and some illegal, impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle and are a cause of highway fatalities. Simple exhaustion has a similar effect on a driver’s ability to concentrate and make decisions.


Distractions are another common cause of highway fatalities. Activities ranging from eating to operating a vehicle’s sound system may take the driver’s attention away from the road and increase the odds of a fatal accident taking place. Use of a cellular phone, especially for sending text messages, has a serious impact on a driver’s ability to avoid accidents. Angry drivers are also a problem, because they tend to make unsafe driving decisions.

Many traffic accidents are caused by dangerous road design. In some situations, roads simply cannot be built in a way that guarantees driver safety. Blind intersections, tight corners, and narrow or missing shoulders are hazards that make driving more dangerous. Civil engineers attempt to minimize such risks, but in many cases, roads must be built through geographic features that make perfect safety impossible.

Accidents and highway fatalities are often linked to inclement weather conditions. Rain, snow, and ice all make driving more challenging, both by reducing visibility and by making vehicles less responsive. Cautious defensive driving can minimize these hazards but cannot eliminate them entirely.

A typical modern car is equipped with many safety devices, and using these devices properly can prevent highway fatalities. Seat belts should always be worn by adults, and air bag systems should be checked and maintained to a manufacturer’s specifications. Children should be seated in appropriate safety seats. Motorists who disregard these safety features and systems are no more likely to be involved in accidents, but they are much more likely to die as the result of an accident.


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