Car accidents happen in Houston all the time. Cars crash at high speeds on the 610 Loop. They get into fender benders on La Branch Street. They collide head-on on the tollway and sideswipe each other in residential neighborhoods like River Oaks.
Car accidents happen in Houston so often that many do not stop to think about why they occur. That’s a problem. We should all pay attention to what makes car accidents happen in Houston; knowing the reasons why can prevent accidents and save lives.
This blog post looks into the reasons behind Houston car accidents, so that you, our readers and fellow Houston-area drivers, can put that information to use in keeping yourselves, your loved ones, and the public safer.
Facts About Houston Car Accidents
According to the Texas Department of Transportation’s Crash Records Information System (CRIS), there were more than 77,000 motor vehicle accidents involving passenger cars (including pickups and SUVs) in Houston in one recent year, with more than a third of them resulting in injuries or fatalities.
Injury-causing car accidents happen everywhere in Houston, inside and outside the 610 Loop. They happen on major highways and interchanges, like the stretches of I-45 and I-69 running through downtown. They occur at in-town intersections and on winding neighborhood streets. By applying CRIS crash data to a map of the city, we can see clearly that no location in Houston is free of car accidents.
Statewide, Texas DOT estimates that motor vehicle accidents inflict more than $40 billion in economic damage every year, and it’s safe to say that a significant proportion of that cost lands on residents and businesses in major urban centers like Houston. But, of course, dollars-and-cents are just one way to measure the impact of Houston car accidents, which doesn’t account for the human pain and suffering accidents cause. No economic calculation can fully describe the extreme personal hardship and loss that people in Houston car accidents experience every year.
Common Contributing Factors in Houston Car Accidents
Texas DOT publishes annual reports with crash data throughout the Lone Star State. Combining the information in those reports with CRIS data gives us the ability to identify some common contributing factors, as cited in police accident reports, in Houston car accidents.
The single-most-common contributing factor cited in Texas DOT data for car accidents in urban areas like Houston is Failure to Control Speed” which is defined as any time a driver “fails to control the speed of a vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with another person or vehicle that is on or entering the highway in compliance with law and the duty of each person to use due care.”
Police officers cite this factor more often than two related contributing factors in crashes, Unsafe Speed (driving too fast for conditions) and Speeding (Overlimit) (driving above the speed limit), but the three are likely interrelated.
According to CRIS data, police cited one of those three speed-related contributing factors in 5,582 injurious or fatal car accidents in Houston in just one year.
The next most common contributing factor in urban area car accidents statewide, according to Texas DOT, is Driver Inattention (“a driver’s lack of attention to the roadway, highway, or traffic”) and the related factors of Distraction in Vehicle and various forms of cell phone use. In combination, these factors contribute to tens of thousands of car accidents in Texas every year.
According to CRIS Data, in one recent year, those combined factors contributed to the cause of 510 Houston car accidents resulting in injury or fatality.
Failure to Yield the Right of Way
The rules of the road in Texas dictate who has the right of way in a wide variety of driving scenarios. A driver’s failure to yield the right of way in a given situation constitutes another major contributing factor in car accidents in Texas, especially in urban areas. In fact, in Houston, 3,301 injury-causing or fatal car accidents resulted from failures to yield the right of way in one recent year.
Disregard of Stop Lights and Stop Signs
Similar to failures to yield the right of way, many car accidents follow from drivers’ disregard of signs and signals telling them to stop, usually at an intersection. Tens of thousands of such accidents happen annually in Texas, and 1,791 of them caused injuries and fatalities in Houston in a recent year.
Failure to Occupy One Lane and Improper Passing
Tens of thousands of car accidents also happen in the Lone Star State when drivers on a multi-lane road fail to keep their vehicles “entirely within [the] lane of travel” or when they fail to pass another vehicle or road user safely. In Houston, those unsafe behaviors caused injuries and fatalities in 1,387 car accidents in a recent year.
Alcohol and Drugs
Despite constant public awareness campaigns and strict penalties, some Texas drivers continue to get behind the wheel while impaired by the effects of alcohol or drugs. In Houston in a recent year, drunk and drugged drivers caused injuries and fatalities in 305 car accidents, according to CRIS data.
What Those Factors Tell Us About Driver Behavior
The factors above address how car accidents happen in Houston and its environs, but they don’t necessarily tell us why those accidents occur. So, let’s dig a little deeper and ask: What can we learn from crash contributing factors about WHY accidents happen?
Houston Drivers Make Mistakes
Maybe the most obvious conclusion to draw from the common contributing factors in Houston car accidents is that drivers cause accidents by messing up behind the wheel. It’s as simple as that. Reason #1 for why Houston car accidents happen is human error. As a result, accidents happen and innocent crash victims get hurt or killed.
Houston Drivers are Stressed
Another reason for Houston car accidents that can be teased out from those contributing factors is that drivers are stressed.
We see this in the fact that speed plays such a significant role in Houston car crashes, which is a symptom of drivers feeling like they need to rush from one place to the next. We see it in the role drugs and alcohol play in car accidents, which reflect a population of drivers who self-medicate and make obviously poor choices about driving after consuming substances. We see it in the way inattention and distraction cause accidents, which suggests drivers have too much on their minds and try too hard to get too many things done at once while behind the wheel.
Houston Drivers Are Tired
Many people live seemingly tired all the time. Unfortunately, driving while fatigued can cause accidents. Tired drivers can create as much of a danger as drunk drivers and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully one-third of Texans do not get adequate sleep regularly.
Fatigued drivers suffer from impaired decision-making, judgment of speed and distance, and motor coordination. They have poor visual acuity and situational awareness. Sometimes, they fall asleep at the wheel. Fatigue-based impairments lead to accidents, like driving through a red light or a stop sign into an intersection and T-boning another vehicle, or failing to yield the right of way and colliding with a bicyclist or pedestrian.
Houston Has Bad Traffic
Finally, if you live or drive in Houston, you know Houston has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. In fact, you can probably point to heavy traffic as a reason for all the types of accidents we’ve listed above. More cars on the road means less time for drivers to react to dangerous situations, less room for them to maneuver, more frustration, more stress, and ultimately, more accidents.
None of These Reasons Excuse Car Accidents
While there are many reasons behind why people get in car accidents in Houston, that doesn’t mean we have to accept the consequences and not hold drunk, or speeding, or fatigued drivers accountable for accidents they cause. At the end of the day, these accidents are preventable. They mostly occur because of factors within the control of the drivers and others whose decisions and actions lead to crashes. We can all do better to prevent traffic accidents, and we should.
Lawyers for car accident victims sometimes get a bad rap of profiting off of people’s misery. But, in reality, the work car accident injury lawyers do to hold parties at fault for car accidents accountable serves the higher purpose of deterring the conduct that leads to car accidents. The possibility of facing a lawsuit and legal liability for causing an accident encourages individuals, businesses, government entities, and others to exercise reasonable care.
This is why it’s important, not just for you and your family, but for the public-at-large, for you to seek experienced legal help after you experience harm in a Houston car accident due to no fault of your own. You have rights under Texas law to pursue compensation for your injuries and losses.
A skilled lawyer can pursue such compensation on your behalf that can pay for:
- Medical costs associated with the car accident injuries
- Other expenses you would not have had but for the accident
- Wages and income you did not or will not be able to earn because of your injuries (such as if you miss work while in recovery or become disabled)
- Your pain, suffering, and overall loss of quality of life due to your injuries
- In some cases, punitive damages, which are designed to punish a defendant for especially egregious misconduct.
Lawyers cannot promise that every lawsuit will result in victims receiving damages or receiving a certain amount for their Houston car accident. However, by trusting your rights to an attorney with the experience and a track record of success, you can substantially increase your chances of a favorable outcome
What (Else) You Can Do to Help Reduce Houston Car Accidents
Contacting a lawyer right away after any Houston car accident can help you, your family, and your community. But, beforehand, here’s what all Houston drivers can help reduce car accidents.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Many people tend to underestimate the amount of sleep they need to function effectively. You might think you’re one of those people that can get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night, but chances are, you are not. Only a small percentage of people are true short sleepers. The rest of us need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to be able to function optimally during the day. One result of a chronic lack of sleep is not being as alert and effective behind the wheel as we should be, which increases the risk of getting into accidents.
So get your sleep, Houstonians, and make our roads safer.
Take Your Time and a Few Deep Breaths
Stress, like sleep deprivation, is often controllable. We over-schedule our days. We don’t leave ourselves enough time to get from one place to another. We worry over things we can’t control.
Everyone is busy. Stress gets to the best of us, and this piece does not claim to have a solution to eliminating stress. But, by giving yourself just a little extra time in your day to get from place to place, and reminding yourself to take a few long, deep breaths every once in a while (especially behind the wheel), you can clear your head, reduce your stress, and avoid making the kinds of driving mistakes that cause accidents.
Put Your Phone Down
Finally, put your phone down while driving! Another lie people tell themselves far too often is that they are multi-taskers who can drive safely and use a phone simultaneously. This is a grave misconception. Our brains cannot truly multitask. Using your phone behind the wheel impairs your ability to drive in a straight line within your lane or to maintain a safe speed. No text is worth losing a life.