Why Accidents Happen on Road Trips and How to Avoid Them

Better weather is just on the horizon, which means more people are going to be planning vacations and road trips. Although the holiday season is the peak long-distance traveling time of the year, an upcoming road trip outside of the holidays shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security. The journey to your final destination can be fraught with dangers that you don’t even expect. This is why before taking an outing, you should know more about why accidents happen on road trips and how to avoid them.

Taking a vehicle anywhere, even for a short trip to the store, can be hazardous. Studies have shown that 52% of all traffic accidents occur within 5 miles of a person’s home, 77% occur within 15 miles of a person’s home, and 88% of all injuries, whether they were from a motor vehicle accident or not, occurred within 10 miles of a person’s home. Those statistics are alarming when deciding to take a longer road trip of any kind.

During the holiday season, those numbers can skyrocket since so many more people are traveling simultaneously. During the Thanksgiving travel period, the number of long-distance trips (classified as 50 miles away or more) increases by 54%. Between the Christmas and New Year’s period, the number rises by 23% compared to the average number any other time of year.

When personal vehicle trips are added into the calculator, data from a National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) shows that Thanksgiving Day is a heavier long-distance travel day than the Wednesday before it, often making it the busiest travel day of the year. The amount of accidents that occur during these long-distance road trips is astounding. Having a better understanding of why accidents occur during road trips is the first step towards prevention.

Understanding What Causes Road Trip Accidents & How to Avoid Them

Drivers who take road trips often do so at their peril because the probability of getting into an accident increases significantly than during day-to-day traveling. The increased chance of accidents during a long drive can be attributed to many factors, including driver unfamiliarity with the roadway, confusing road signs, and distraction by something in the environment, which may cause them not to pay attention or have clarity in mind while navigating through traffic-heavy streets. Understanding what causes road trip accidents is the first step to preventing them.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has become the main cause of vehicle collisions during road trips because of the increased dependency on electronic devices to provide directions, talking on cell phones, watching movies on electronic devices, and the long stretches of the road, causing drivers to adjust the radio. It has been statistically proven that the higher the number of passengers, the more likely a driver is to be distracted.

Driving while eating can be another major distraction that causes accidents on road trips. Many travelers rush to get to their destination and often opt for takeout orders instead of sitting down to have a meal.

How to avoid distracted driving accidents: These accidents occur when you let something else take priority over paying attention to the road. To prevent these types of accidents, practice these tips:

  • Only use your cell phone for emergencies. If you have to use your phone for directions, turn on the audio cues, so you don’t have to look at the screen. Better yet, if you have passengers with you, let them navigate for you.
  • Don’t drive when you’re feeling fatigued. If necessary, pull over at a designated rest stop to get some rest before continuing your journey.
  • Don’t eat or drink fluids in spillable containers while you’re driving.
  • Perform all personal grooming while stopped. Do not attempt this while driving, even if you’re in heavy traffic and it seems okay to do so.
  • Never attempt to multitask while driving (this includes texting while driving). Stay focused on the road.
Drunk Driving

Another major cause of road trip accidents is drunk driving, which causes approximately one-third of all collisions in the United States annually and peaks around the holiday season. Long road trips are a great opportunity to take advantage of fun times with your family, friends, and co-workers. Still, if the gathering includes alcohol consumption, you have an automatically increased risk of traffic accidents.

Studies show that these accidents can be avoided if you don’t drink before driving to your next destination or sober up before getting on the road when you drink; your ability to make sound decisions quickly diminishes, which can frequently be fatal.

How to avoid drunk driving accidents: The best way to avoid them is to not drink at all before getting behind the wheel. However, if you insist on imbibing alcohol, then use some of these tips to avoid them:

  • Use a designated driver. Don’t overestimate your ability to drive after consuming alcohol. If a friend, co-worker, or family member thinks you shouldn’t drive, then don’t!
  • Call for a ride-sharing company, like Uber or Lyft, or better yet, take them to your destination instead of driving there if you plan on having s few drinks.
Speeding

Another common cause of road trip accidents is speed-related incidents. Speeding is always dangerous, lamented by the number of fatalities associated with speeding on roads with lower posted speed limits. A 2017 survey of nationwide crash data found that the highest amount of fatal car accidents occurred on roads with 55 MPH speed limits or lower (2,003). Coupled with adverse weather conditions, enhanced traffic, poor lighting, or even worse, intoxication, it becomes even more deadly.

How to avoid speed-related accidents: Although you may be anxious to get where you’re going, slowing down and observing the posted speed limit is the best method of avoiding these types of accidents. Use these additional tips to help you avoid speed-related accidents:

  • Drive as fast as the weather and other road conditions allow. Even if the posted speed limit says you can go faster, the weather should be telling you if it’s safe to do so. Other non-weather-related factors include traffic, and hazardous road conditions, like construction.
  • Use cruise control. Newer cars are often equipped with this feature as a standard. If you have it, use it, especially on longer road trips that can easily cause “speed creeping,” where you inadvertently go faster and faster.
Drowsy Driving

When you’re on a road trip, safety is paramount, but it’s even more critical if your driving habits or vehicle equipment fail. One of the top reasons for vehicle collisions during a road trip is driver fatigue. This usually occurs when someone drives too many hours in one stretch, has unusual sleeping patterns, and doesn’t get enough rest before getting on the road.

How to avoid fatigue-related accidents: These types of accidents are easily avoidable since 48% of tired drivers are traveling between 9 pm and 6 am.

  • If you are feeling sleepy or having a hard time staying awake because of an exceptionally long drive, then pull over where it’s safe to do so and take a power nap. Sometimes just taking a break from staring at the road can be enough to reinvigorate yourself before hitting the next stretch.
  • When you know you’re going to embark on a long road trip, plan for stop breaks in predetermined intervals, so you don’t get fatigued.
Equipment Defects

Faulty equipment can also cause problems that might lead to an accident resulting from operating machinery, such as trucks, used extensively over short periods. Vehicles can also have defective parts or design defects that can cause accidents.

How to avoid equipment-related accidents: No car company is perfect. Ford Explorer had issues with rollovers in years past, and Toyota had issues with unintended accelerations that caused crashes. Here is the best advice you can take to avoid these kinds of accidents on road trips:

  • Before heading out on the road, it’s a good idea to take your car in for a checkup that can reveal if your vehicle’s year, make, or model have known defects. You can also check your vehicle information on the NHTSA website to see if there have been reported defects or recalls.
  • Make sure your vehicle has had all of its scheduled maintenance, like tune-ups and oil changes, before hitting the road.

Car accidents on road trips can happen for various reasons, like reckless or drunk driving, inexperienced drivers, manufacturer defects causing unavoidable accidents, and more. Here are more reasons why car accidents occur on road trips and how to avoid them:

How to avoid weather-related accidents

Bad Weather

It may seem obvious, but studies show that most car accidents happen while it’s raining. This is because the rain creates dangerous road conditions while simultaneously impeding drivers’ visibility.

How to avoid weather-related accidents: The Basic Speed Law comes into effect in this type of weather, which means you should slow down and be extra vigilant to what’s happening on the road. You should keep your windshield wiper on to maximize visibility along with the defroster if necessary.

Since the roads are slippery, drive extra cautiously by keeping a greater distance from the cars in front of you. Try not to make sudden stops, turns, or lane changes. If the rain becomes monsoonal or causes unexpected flooding, then pull over in a safe area wait it out.

Running Red Lights

When you’re driving up to an intersection, you can’t assume all of the other drivers will operate based on their projected traffic light signal. Drivers run red lights pretty often, and when they do, they can easily cause fatalities because of the likelihood of a side-impact collision at higher speeds.

How to avoid red light-related accidents: Taking a defensive posture when approaching an intersection is one of the best methods to prevent this type of accident while on a road trip. In addition, you can practice these steps as well:

  • If you’re approaching a yellow traffic light signal, it’s best to avoid the urge to speed through the intersection; slow down and prepare to catch the next green light.
  • Unless it’s unsafe for you to do so, you can use your hands to signal your intention to stop so other drivers know in advance what you’re planning to do.
Running Stop Signs

A serious car accident can occur when people run stop signs. Each year this type of collision causes thousands of accidents that otherwise could have been avoided.

How to avoid failure to yield at the stop-sign-related accidents: Many rollover accidents and side-impact car accidents occur because a driver ran a stop sign. To protect yourself, practice this:

  • You should always look both ways when proceeding through a stop sign, and don’t assume another driver will stop. Be willing to give up the right-of-way to ensure that you don’t become a victim of a side impact.
Wrong-Way Driving

When you’re taking a road trip, it can be easy to “tunnel out” and not realize what you’re doing, especially if you’ve been on the road for long periods. Anyone can lapse in judgment when driving, but some can be fatal.

How to avoid wrong-way driving-related accidents: If you’re not paying attention, you can easily make a right turn down a one-way street and be heading in the opposite direction. If you do this, you run the risk of getting into a head-on collision, which can be fatal even at moderate speeds. To avoid this from happening, practice these tips:

  • Always check for signs to ensure you are going in the right direction. Also, check to see what direction the cars are parked in before turning down an unknown street. If cars on both sides of the street are parked facing the same direction, it’s a one-way street.
  • If you do happen to accidentally make a wrong turn down a one-way street, don’t panic. Activate your hazard lights and immediately pull over to the far right or far left side of the road. As soon as it’s safe to execute a U-turn, do so.
Tailgating

Many drivers are impatient, which can lead to reckless behavior by either driving too fast or too close to another vehicle. Both are dangerous, but driving too close to the back of another vehicle (also known as “tailgating”) means that they can’t react fast enough to prevent an accident if the car in front of them breaks suddenly.

How to avoid tailgating-related accidents: You can easily prevent these types of accidents from happening by giving more space to the vehicle in front of you. The rule of thumb is always to allow one car length of distance between the vehicle in front of you per ten miles per hour you travel.

You can gauge this distance by selecting a landmark alongside the road, like a building or a tree, and then counting how long it takes the car in front of you to pass it versus how long it takes you afterward. Every second you count is approximately 10 mph.

Ice and Snow

Driving any length of distance during the winter months can be fraught with danger. Slick roads due to snow can mix with water and become even more slippery, like driving on a Slurpee. Even worse, thin layers of ice can form over tarmac and create a phenomenon known as black ice, undetectable while driving. These dangers are usually escalated since most people don’t know the proper protocols for winter driving or properly prepare their vehicles for it.

How to avoid ice and snow-related accidents: The best method of avoiding accidents in these conditions is to not drive in them at all. However, if that is not an option, keep more distance between you and the car in front of you than usual, decrease your speed significantly, brake softly at stops, and if you hit an icy patch of the road, don’t slam on the brakes. Of course, if you have to drive in snowy conditions, you should have chains on your tires to help provide additional traction.

Road Rage

There are seemingly endless reasons why you can get mad at other drivers. Maybe someone cut you off in traffic, took your parking spot just as you were about to pull in, or perhaps someone didn’t use their turn signal before changing lanes abruptly. Letting these things get to you and allowing that anger to override your better judgment is what we call “road rage.”

The activities that create road rage can lead to accidents themselves, like tailgating, but the subsequent ways that road rage is expressed can create even more dangerous conditions. For example, speeding past another driver in anger only to pull in front of them and brake hastily can cause a rear-end car accident, which may even be the intent of the offending driver.

How to avoid road rage-related accidents: Recognizing angry drivers and circumventing them is always your best option to avoid these types of accidents. However, knowing that most road rage is due to careless or negligently driving, your best defense is a good offense. Obey all traffic laws and be willing to yield the right-of-way to other drivers who seem like they might already be on edge.

Should you encounter a road rager, then do not respond in an equally aggressive manner. This includes showing rude hand gestures and constantly honking at the other driver, which does not help the situation and can potentially make things worse. You should carefully distance yourself from the situation and allow the aggressive driver to pass you. If the angry driver causes a collision on purpose, follows you home, or tries to exit their vehicle to fight you, then you should call 911 immediately.

Night Driving

Driving during the day can be dangerous enough on its own, but the risk increases exponentially at night. Nationwide 49% of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities occur at night. This, combined with the fact that approximately 25% of travel occurs during hours of darkness, the fatality rate is approximately three times higher at night than during the day.

How to avoid nighttime driving-related accidents: If you can avoid driving at night while taking a road trip, then it’s advisable to do so. However, if you have to cover a long distance in a short period, this may not be possible. Your best strategy for avoiding accidents after dusk is to stay vigilant, be aware of your surroundings, obey traffic laws, always make sure your headlights are in good condition and wear your seatbelt.

Unsafe Lane Changes

Vehicle collisions can easily occur when drivers don’t make safe lane changes.

How to avoid unsafe lane change-related accidents: To prevent these kinds of accidents, be sure to check your blind spots, use your turn signals, check your blind spots before making any lane change or turn, and always proceed with caution.

Tire Blowouts

Tire blowouts at any speed can be hazardous, but especially at higher rates of speed. They can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and veer into unsuspecting traffic, thereby causing injury to yourself and possibly to others.

How to avoid tire blowout-related accidents: The best way to avoid these types of accidents is to ensure that your tires have the proper inflation for your vehicle and the hubcaps and bolts are properly secured before hitting the road. If you experience a sudden tire blowout, try to maintain control of your vehicle, reduce speed gradually, and pull over safely to the nearest side of the road.

Low Visibility Due to Fog

It’s no surprise that poor visibility can lead to an accident, but fog can make driving extremely difficult because it reduces visibility. The usual methods of improving your visibility won’t work, as your headlights can often make things worse as the light reflects off the fog and blinds you even further.

How to avoid fog-related accidents: If you find yourself in a patch of fog, reduce your speed and turn off your high beams. If the fog is too thick, safely get over to the side of the road and try to wait it out. If you must keep driving, get over to the slow lane on the far right side of the road and drive with your hazard lights on, which will alert the traffic behind you that you are present and in dire straights.

Sharp Curves

Sharp curves are almost universally called “dead man’s curves,” for a good reason. Many motorists have lost control of their vehicles along these dangerous roadways and died driving over the edge.

How to avoid sharp curve-related accidents: Be vigilant in looking for signs signaling sharp turns ahead, reduce your speed, and drive cautiously.

How to avoid animal-related accidents

Animal Crossings

When taking a road trip, you should be aware of areas where wildlife may likely roam onto the streets. After all, animals don’t know the road rules and will dart across the road without yielding to traffic.

How to avoid animal-related accidents: You should be on the lookout for animal crossing signs that indicate the increased chance of animals running out into the street. Often, the type of animal is identified, like deer or moose. You may also want to practice these tips when driving through such areas:

  • Keep the vehicle lights on when driving at dusk, at dawn, and during inclement weather such as rain or snow. Animals will see your lights and usually take greater care to avoid you.
  • Drive the speed limit and scan the sides of the road for wildlife that may try to cross at any moment.
Potholes

If you take a road trip to unfamiliar areas, you may not be keen on where recent or longstanding potholes may be located. These can be very dangerous, and you run the risk of losing control of your car or blowing out a tire if you drive over them.

How to avoid pothole-related accidents: You should be scanning the road in front of you at all times, which will help you identify such hazards so you can avoid them. If you see a pothole in your path, try to avoid a car accident by making a safe lane change or by angling your car in a way so that your tires do not drive into it and it passes under your car safely.

Road Trip Best Practices

Any time the weather gets warm, people begin planning long road trips. After being stuck in the house during winter, you get filled with anticipation to take trips during the spring and summer. Alternatively, some people enjoy road-tripping during the cooler months to escape the depths of winter and enjoy warmer climates.

Whatever the case for taking a road trip, your goal is to have a safe journey and avoid getting into a vehicle collision along the way. Here are some top traveling tips when embarking on a long road trip.

Service Your Vehicle

You should always keep good vehicle maintenance practices but service your vehicle at least a week before disembarking on a longer trip. Take your vehicle to your mechanic and have them check the following:

  • Belts
  • Brakes and brake fluid
  • Cooling and heating system (as well as the fluids in these systems)
  • Fluid levels (including oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze, and wiper fluid) Headlights and taillights (replace any bulbs if necessary)
  • Hoses
  • Tires and tire pressure (check the spare tire as well)

Plan Your Route in Advance

Whether you use traditional road maps or smart device navigation, plan which route you’ll take ahead of time, so you’re familiar with your turn-offs, time frames, distances, and possible road detours due to construction. You can even research the traffic levels on your route to better avoid heavier traffic times, which will help you greatly reduce your risk of accidents and injury.

Get a Good Night’s Rest the Night Before

You don’t want to be a drowsy driver embarking on a long road trip. To help reduce the chances of an accident, make sure to get enough sleep the night before your trip.

Secure Your Luggage

Before leaving your road trip, store your luggage in your trunk or backseat safely so that the doors or trunk won’t pop open while you drive. Don’t overpack, as doors cannot be fully closed and susceptible to popping open during travel. Alternatively, if you use a storage rack, secure your luggage in the rack on top of your car by using ropes and straps to secure the suitcases and bags in place.

Switch Drivers or Take a Break

Staring at the open road for hours at a time can give you tunnel vision and make you sleepy. To prevent falling asleep while driving, you should switch between drivers every few hours. If you’re driving alone, stop at a gas station or rest stop every few hours to get out of the car for a short walk, use the bathroom, and take a short break from driving.

Avoid Driving at Night

Since driving at night is inherently more dangerous, try to avoid it on a long road trip. Research hotels along your route in advance so you don’t have to make a major detour to stop for the night.

Drive the Speed Limit

Although you may be filled with excitement to reach your final destination, you shouldn’t speed to get there faster. Always drive the speed limit as you drive, which will allow you to stay more aware of your surroundings and better anticipate the moves of other drivers.

Take a Roadside Emergency Kit

It’s good practice to have a roadside emergency kit in your vehicle, even if you aren’t going on a long road trip. The items in this kit will help you manage the situation should you be the unfortunate victim of a vehicle collision. All roadside emergency kits are not created equal, so you should find one that includes the following items:

  • Beef jerky
  • Blankets
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Non-perishable snacks, like dried fruit or granola bars
  • Jumper cables
  • Roadside flares
  • Water

As you prepare for your road trip, keep the tips mentioned above in mind to ensure you have a safe journey. Try to avoid the hazards that can cause an accident, but also come prepared in the event of becoming an accident victim. Lastly, if one of the reasons listed above or something else causes you to get into an accident or sustain an injury, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Arash Law led by Arash Khorsandi, Esq. can assist you by calling (888) 488-1391 today.

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DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this blog is not formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this page be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always obtain a free and confidential case evaluation from a reputable attorney near you if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.

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