If you are an American and have lived in America all your life, then what we are about to say might come as a shock to you. The U.S has some of the most dangerous roads in the world. This isn’t because of tight lanes in hazardous places like you might find in India, nor is it because of terrible weather making roads slippy, like you might find in Canada. Instead, the main reason for America’s bad roads is because of the drivers and the driving culture.
We will explain why the American culture around driving has made the roads so dangerous and what other factors give the U.S such high crash statistics.
There are four main cultural reasons for the dangerous roads we find ourselves driving down. These ideas are so ingrained into our society that it will take a long time to change our behaviors and make our streets safer.
Congestion might not seem like a cultural problem, but once you look into the issue, you’ll notice a common problem. In America, gas prices are super low. This is because the United States has an increased flow of liquefied natural gas due to its close geographical location to Canada.
The majority (52%) of U.S gas comes from Canada. As this country isn’t far away, the prices can be unusually low. This is where the cultural impact comes into play. Because gas prices are so cheap, Americans will often drive to any location no matter how far away it is.
Driving has become a cheap and easy method of transportation. As most people drive to their destinations (even if it’s only 10 minutes away), this means that the roads have become congested.
With more cars on the road, the statistical likelihood of two or more cars colliding rapidly increases. This phenomenon then becomes even more dangerous when the next three cultural factors are considered.
Distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,142 people in the year 2019. Of course, none of the people who caused these accidents started their day thinking they were going to neglect their driving responsibilities, but the American Impatience, Instant Gratification, and simply put “I Want It Now” culture means that many people are glued to their phones even when driving.
That being said, phones are not the only way in which distracted driving can harm others. Some of these accidents were caused by fiddling with the stereo, setting up their navigation system, eating, or even just talking.
The problem is that our desire for instant gratification means that we are willing to take our eyes off the road to have our needs met. You might think that 5 seconds doesn’t matter, but if you’re driving 55 mph, then in those 5 seconds, you could drive the whole length of a football field, knocking down every player in your path.
Already we can see that our culture has brought lots of people to the roads, and many of these drivers aren’t concentrating on their driving skills. This alone will cause the remaining drivers to get angry.
Road Rage is such a common problem that although the Congressional Subcommittee on Surface Transportation tried to look into the situation in 1997, they determined that the culture was too infected with anger to be reasoned with.
Anger over other people’s driving isn’t the only reason why people experience Road Rage. The second reason comes back to the idea of American Impatience. Americans love to do everything as quickly as possible. We even eat fast, as 84.8 million American adults eat fast food every day.
This need to be fast is also translated to our roads, as we aggressively hurry to our destinations. The Road Rage causes ferocious speed, which, when added together, creates extremely risky driving.
Although this culture of instant gratification and impatience is extremely widespread in America, the younger generations are looking for an alternative.
Young people recognize that driving is a massive cause of global pollution. It is also costly due to insurance, repairs, fuel, and parking. This has resulted in a 23% drop in young drivers between 2001 and 2009.
Instead, these young and environmentally aware Americans choose to cycle, take the bus, or simply walk to their destination. Although these methods are better choices for their own health and the world’s, American roads were not designed for this mixed matching of travel.
If you look at Europe, many of their roads have footpaths, cycle lanes, and bus lanes added to create a safe alternative transport. America, however, prioritizes driving over everything else. This means that anyone who chooses to travel on alternative transportation risks entering into a road that will not accommodate them. This adds another layer of danger to everyone involved.
Each state has its own method of collecting data, which is why we should take some of their findings with a pinch of salt. That being said, there is a trend among different demographics, as shown below.
Between 2018 and 2019, we saw a massive decrease in fatal crashes from 35 states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; however, the remaining 15 states all showed an increase.
The interesting bit about these increases and decreases surrounds the District of Columbia. This state decreased the number of deaths due to crashes between 2018 and 2019; however, they still had one of the largest number of fatalities total. In fact, 53% of the passengers who died from a fatal collision had their impact in the District of Columbia.
This is why we should take some of the statistics with caution, as the District of Columbia’s decreased fatalities are still much higher than most of the other states.
Looking at some of the other states, Oregon showed that between 2010 and 2019, they had the largest amount of fatalities due to alcohol-related crashes.
Most importantly, some of these crashes show that states that give safety laws around vehicles actively protect their citizens. For example, in states where helmets are not required by law, 57% of motorcycle deaths were from people not wearing helmets. In comparison, only 9% of fatalities came from non-helmet wearers in states where headwear is required.
If you want to compare traffic-related deaths from North America to other countries in the world, we have some stats below.
The United States of America has the second-highest death rate for traffic accidents in the First World. 10.92% of 100,000 Americans die from a road traffic accident every year. In comparison, Russia has the highest death rate in the First World, as 15.93% of 100,000 Russians will die from a road traffic accident every year.
The third most deadly First World country for traffic-related deaths is Turkey, where 8.17% of 100,000 Turkish people will die from a road traffic accident every year.
The reason why we have not included Second or Third world countries in this list is because First World countries are meant to be developed enough to have a wide reach on their economics, development, and their humanitarian efforts. This means that Second and Third World countries will not have the means to protect themselves as well as First World countries can. Comparing Zimbabwe, which has a 61.90% death rate, would not be fair or accurate to both countries’ ability to solve the problem.
To break down the numbers even further than we have already, we should look at which demographics are more likely to either cause accidents or be in accidents that relate to crashes.
If we look at all age groups and all sexes, we can see that young male drivers are the most likely to have been speeding at the time of the fatal crash. A massive 31% of male drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 years old were speeding when they were involved in a car crash, which resulted in death. The second highest group of people who sped at the time of a fatal crash were women aged 21 to 24. Their percentage dropped massively to 18%.
The majority of people who die from a crash on the road did not follow safety guidelines. This doesn’t mean they sped, or they were distracted (which, of course, will have contributed to the crash in the first place), but instead, it means they were not wearing seat belts or helmets.
If the safety features were in use, then fewer people would have died from the crash.
65% of passengers in Missouri that were killed in a vehicle accident were not wearing safety restraints. This is the highest figure in the whole country, but it is a true reflection of how important safety features are.
We have already talked about the cultural reasons why American roads are unsafe. These facts could only be determined after years of research and analysis. This time we will look at direct cause and effect into the main reasons why crashes happen.
A lot of these causes can be easily grouped into impatience, road rage, distractions, and congestion, but this time we are moving away from the social implications and instead focusing on the raw statistics.
Drivers are considered “alcohol-impaired” or drunk when their BACs are 0.08g/dL or higher. It is illegal to drive anywhere in the United States of America if you are up to or over that limit. To lower death rates even further, people under the age of 21 are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system at all. This is because they will be under the drinking age limit for most states, and young drivers are the most likely to be in speeding-related fatal accidents.
That being said, the most common reason for speeding is often from alcohol impairment as the driver is unable to clearly understand how fast they are going. In fact, 37% of speeding drivers in a fatal crash were alcohol-impaired.
There isn’t a universal or professional definition for reckless driving. You can easily argue that most of the subheadings in this article can be renamed as “reckless driving.” The only thing that can be truly agreed is that recklessness is when someone is being risky and not caring for themselves or others.
Again, this is a broad term. Apart from drinking, speeding, and looking at their phones, the most reckless thing a driver can do is not wear a seatbelt.
Seatbelts are a simple and effective way to keep yourself safe. All it requires is to remember to strap yourself in. Once you are securely in place, you are dramatically less likely to die in a car crash, as even a 30 mph car can kill a driver without protection.
We have talked about distracted driving at length already. But it is important to learn that many states are also recognizing the importance of educating people about that 5-second glance.
You may have noticed that safety advertisements are all over our viewing platforms, reminding the citizens of America how a quick glance onto your phone can kill an unsuspecting life.
Because of these warnings, Texas had reported that only 368 people were killed in crashes that involved distracted driving in 2020. Although these deaths shouldn’t have happened at all, these numbers show a 3% decrease in comparison to the previous year.
This suggests that the advertisements are working and people are doing their best to avoid the recklessness of giving into the impatient culture of distracted driving.
In 2018, 9,579 people died from speeding cars. In 2019 this number decreased by 1%, as 9,478 people died from speeders. Still, this number is too high for anyone to be happy about it.
If we look at the statistics, young men who have just passed their driving test and those who are up to 20 years old, are the most likely to cause a fatal accident through speeding. As we said before, they were involved in 31% of fatal crashes in 2019.
However, another shocking percentage showed that 26% of speed-related fatal crashes came from drivers without a valid license. This indicates that although the police force has removed the license from reckless drivers, the criminals continue to cruise down our roads.
It is almost as though those who speed and ignore laws do not care for the safety of others. In fact, this is precisely what Dr. Michele Lustman discovered in her dissertation “Just Can’t Put The Brakes On Aggressive Driving: Narcissism, Impulsivity, and Driver Aggression.” In her research, Dr. Lustman found that narcissistic people who could not control or understand their emotions were the most likely to drive recklessly, ignoring speeding laws and, in the end, cause deadly accidents.
Rain means that your windscreen will be blurred, and the roads will be slippy. In these less than optimal conditions, a driver should be taking the streets with caution. This means putting on their fog lights, driving at a slow pace, and being ready to stop if the weather becomes too much.
Ideally, if you are in a location that very rarely rains or when it does rain, it ruins the roads, you should try to stay indoors and away from your car. If you live in an area where rainfall is normal, you should instead drive cautiously and only when necessary.
The reason why rain can cause fatal accidents is because many drivers continue to drive at their regular pace or forget to give the other drivers more space. Ignoring tailgaters, drivers should leave a car space in front of them when driving; that way, if the car ahead makes a sudden stop, you have time to brake before you collide. However, when it’s raining, you should create a space worth two cars, this way, you can break slowly and prevent yourself from aquaplaning.
If you are unaware, aquaplaning is when you lose control of your car as it has no grip on the tarmac due to the water.
Running a red light is an obviously dangerous choice. The red light system is there to help organize traffic. There is a common misconception that you can continue to drive even if a red light is showing, as long as no one else is around. However, this is only true on rare occasions.
Instead of telling you what those occasions are, it would be safer for everyone if drivers refused to go on any red light.
As the traffic light system is designed to help people avoid crashes, ignoring the lights is a sure-fire way to get yourself into an accident.
Similar to driving in the rain, driving in the night means having a less careful visual on the road. Not only are people less able to see the road, but they are also more likely to speed. This is because the drivers are desperate to get home from work, are convinced that no one else is on the road with them, or are confused by the lack of light and do not realize how fast they are going.
This last factor is because most people subconsciously recognize their speed, not from the speed dial but from the background scenery. Seeing trees whizz past you is a great indicator that you are moving quickly. With these indicators gone, your judgment will be off.
Drivers are 20% more likely to speed when driving at night.
As all drivers should be using their lights at night, all cyclists and motorcyclists should be wearing fluorescent clothing. Between 6 pm and 9 pm, two-wheeled vehicles are more likely to be in a fatal crash as 30% of fatalities happen during this time.
The majority of cyclists killed in this time were not wearing fluorescent clothing.
Design defects in cars are rare as vehicles have to go through checks and safety procedures before they are allowed onto a road. However, design defects on roads are common. We aren’t talking about potholes (we will get onto that later, though); instead, we are talking about turns that are too sharp, areas with no way for cars to pass safely at the recommended speed, or blind spots in the roads.
This could be because the road was designed before cars were more commonplace, but regardless, the government or local authorities should be highlighting these areas for upgrades. If you are aware that a particular road is hard to drive through, try to avoid it or, if you have to, take it with caution.
Tailgating is when one car is driving too close to another vehicle. The reason why you should give a car-sized gap between you and the next vehicle is so that when they break, you have the space to break too.
You are unlikely to stop moving in the exact spot that you press down the pedal. Instead, your car will keep going until the momentum stops. This is why you need the gap.
When people tailgate, they do not have the space needed for sudden breaks, which means they will cause a potentially fatal accident.
Driving the wrong way down any road is an immediate cause for concern. As traffic in these one-way roads is designed to go in a specific direction, a wrong-way driver will have multiple vehicles they will have to avoid before finding a suitable place to turn around in.
There is no realistic way to do this without causing any issues whatsoever. If you turn around straightway, the other drivers have to make an emergency stop which might cause the drivers behind them to collide. If you continue going down the wrong way, you will be even more likely to hit someone yourself.
The best option would be to find a lay-by but depending on the road, that might not be for miles.
As we have said a couple of times already, if you are a man between the ages of 15 and 20, you are in the category which is most likely to speed and cause a fatal accident.
In general new drivers tend to be teenagers, as the youngest you can learn to drive is as low as 14 in some states. In most other countries, the legal age to drive is closer to 18. The reason for this is because teenagers still have a natural recklessness in their growing brains, and so foreign governments believe that giving them a dangerous vehicle to drive would not be wise.
Although this is true, in America, everything is so far away from each other, and pedestrians are not always safe on the sidewalks, it is considered safer and more convenient to let children drive.
Drugs, just like alcohol, will make you unable to accurately view the road or the obstacles on the roads. They will also inhibit your internal calculations about how far away another vehicle is or how slow you might need to take the corner.
Anything that inhibits the way you think or reason shouldn’t be ingested before you drive. If you need to take medication that also causes these same effects, you should ask someone else to drive you to your destinations. Remember that medications are forms of legalized drugs, so they should be viewed as harmful while using heavy machinery.
Potholes are parts of a tarmac road that have holes big enough and deep enough to cause your car some issues. Going through a pothole will test your car’s suspension and can dislodge your steering.
These types of problems can cause a speeding car to flip onto its side as the wheel clips the pothole at an awkward angle that the vehicle cannot correct.
Issues like these should be picked up by the government way before an accident happens, however as there are so many roads in America, it can take years for a pothole to be filled up. Instead, drivers have to swerve around these vehicle damaging holes, or they have to take the brunt and hope their alignment axles continue to point forward afterward.
If you notice a dangerous pothole or any other fault on the road, contact the local government so they can put the road on their list of repairs.
When a tire blows out, the whole car will be displaced and unable to control its momentum. You might think that this is the cause of a random accident, but in reality, it is usually a sign that the car hasn’t been taken care of.
Yes, sometimes a sharp rogue object is the reason for the tire to falter, but most tires nowadays have anti-piercing technology, which means that if something sharp does hit it, the tire will be more likely to slowly release air than a blowout.
Instead, the normal cause of a blowout is from neglect. Drivers have a responsibility to be aware of their car and look for signs of wear and tear. If you notice that your car tires are wearing thin or have a strange shape to them. You should have them looked at by a mechanic. They will most likely replace your tires with a safer option.
Throughout America, there are areas in which wild animals still roam. This is a great thing, of course, as it shows that nature and humanity can live alongside each other. However, some people mistake animal crossing signs as the exact location where animals will cross. Instead, these signs are meant to indicate that a wild animal or a herd of wild animals might be sighted in this location. This means you are meant to be cautious and drive slowly so you do not collide with an animal.
Instead, many drivers will slow down for the sign and then speed up again after a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, they then collide with an animal, causing a fatal injury to all involved.
We cannot control when animals will cross in these locations, so instead, we have to act like the smarter species and be prepared for their anxiety-driven movements. A deer in the headlights will likely stay still in shock; if you are driving carefully, you should hopefully give yourself enough space to avoid a collision.
This issue might seem like a curveball, but construction sites cannot continue mending a road if someone is speeding in the area. If they do, the workers who are on the road are likely to get hurt, or worse, killed.
When a crash happens on a busy road, the area of conflict will still have a lot of slow-moving traffic hours after the police and clean-up crew move the cars involved to a safe location. This is because people naturally slow down and look at the point of interest. We are curious creatures, and this habit doesn’t just happen on previous crash sites. It also occurred on construction sites.
As everyone dramatically slows down to look at their work, the natural movement of cars has been disrupted, causing people to create emergency breaks further down the line or even drive into the construction site.
Because of people’s naturally nosey nature, construction workers cannot work on a road where people are speeding, in case this sort of incident takes place.
Using this information provided, you know to avoid driving in rainy weather or dark conditions because even if you feel confident on the road, there might be other drivers less sensible than you at the wheel. You also know that giving into aggression can cause you to tailgate or speed, both of which are leading reasons for fatal crashes. If you find yourself getting angry and leaning into road rage, find the nearest gas station and take a breather. It doesn’t matter if you end up being late, as you would have avoided a terrible car accident.