Most common car accidents: And how to avoid them

Author profile picture

Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

Author profile picture

Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross h…

Protect your car and your wallet when you let The Zebra compare car insurance quotes for you.

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

Understanding and preventing car accidents

When we step behind the wheels of our cars, the last thing we want to think about is getting in an accident. Unfortunately, it’s all too common.

Car accidents are a leading cause of injuries and fatalities worldwide. In the U.S. in 2022, there were 42,795 fatal car accidents alone, and accidents were the fourth most common cause of death[1]. And of course, there are many accidents that are not fatal, but can still ruin your day. In 2020, as an example, the number of crashes that resulted in injuries was over 1.5 million and another 3.6 million crashes resulted in property damage. The total for that year was over 5 million car crashes[2].

Many of these accidents can be prevented with caution, awareness and adherence to safety guidelines. By understanding the most common types of car accidents and the strategies to avoid them, drivers can significantly reduce the risk of being involved in a collision.

1. How can you avoid being rear-ended

Your classic fender bender, one of the most frequent types of accidents is the rear-end collision. In fact, they account for 29% of all car crashes[3]. A rear-end collision occurs when a vehicle crashes into the one in front of it. These types of accidents often occur in times of higher traffic volume or at red lights and stop signs. 

Because they usually occur at lower speeds and to the back of the vehicle, rear-end collisions are less likely to cause fatalities, but depending on the speed and vehicle that hits yours, they can still cause a lot of damage. 

To avoid rear-end collisions:

  • Maintain a safe following distance, especially in heavy traffic. 
  • Keep an eye on brake lights and road signs, allowing you ample time to react. 
  • Don’t look at your phone or otherwise allow yourself to be distracted while driving.
  • To avoid being rear-ended, don’t make sudden stops or sharp turns and signal your intentions clearly to other drivers.

2. How to avoid a head on collision

One of the more serious and damaging collisions to be involved in is when two vehicles going in opposite directions collide with each other head-on. Approximately, 10% of car accidents are head-on collisions[3]. A head-on collision causes significant damage and is more likely to cause fatalities because you have the opposing force of both vehicles impacting each other. 

Head-on collisions tend to be caused when at least one driver is impaired whether that’s from intoxication, distracted driving or fatigued driving. It can also occur from improper passing, driver confusion or reckless driving. 

To avoid a head-on collision:

  • Be aware of your surroundings on the road, both in front and on all sides. Keep an eye out for problematic drivers.
  • Bring others drivers’ attention to you if they’re coming close by honking your horn 
  • If an oncoming vehicle is coming close to you in the opposite direction and swerving into your lane, begin to break and move away from the center line if there is enough shoulder and it is safe to do so.
  • Pay close attention when passing and make sure you have enough room to pass safely.

3. How to avoid being t-boned

T-bone accidents make up around 10% of car crashes and usually occur at intersections[3]. They occur when one motorist collides perpendicularly with a car traveling in front of it, creating a letter T when colliding. The most frequent cause is failure to follow the correct right of way, running a red light or otherwise ignoring traffic laws.

To avoid a t-bone collision:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Make sure the intersection is clear before crossing, even if the light is green.
  • Don’t stop and look at your phone while waiting at a red light. Distracted driving is a key cause of intersection accidents.

4. How to avoid collisions with objects

Not every accident involves multiple vehicles. When a single driver hits a fixed object like a pole, curb, shrubbery, guard rail, etc. it can cause significant damage to their vehicle and potentially its occupants. Other accidents occur when a driver hits an unfixed object like a parked car, animal, pedestrian or cyclist. These events can obviously cause injury to others not in the negligent vehicle.

The main causes of these types of accidents are impaired, distracted, drowsy or impaired driving. They can also result from vehicle malfunction or be impacted by the weather.

To avoid collision with an object:

  • Maintain your car including regular checks of brakes, steering, tires, etc.
  • Always focus your full attention on driving and your surroundings.
  • If you think you are too tired/impaired to drive, immediately pull over.
  • Drive slower and more carefully than you normally would if the roads are icy or wet or if visibility is low.

5. How to avoid side-swipe accidents

Side-swipe accidents occur when one motorist skims the side of another vehicle, causing damage. This is another case that is usually the result of driver negligence, whether that’s unsafe lane changing, failure to signal, speeding or just distracted or impaired driving.

To avoid a side-swipe:

  • Keep an eye out for erratic drivers and try to keep a safe distance from them
  • Always look in your rearview mirror, side mirror and/or cameras before changing lanes.
  • Be aware of blind spots.

How to avoid car accidents as a whole

When we get behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle, it can be easy to forget how powerful it is, and what an incredible responsibility we have to keep ourselves and other drivers safe. 

The following are the behaviors most contributing to fatal car crashes:

  • Driving too fast/racing
  • Being under the influence of drugs, alcohol or legal medications
  • Reckless driving
  • Failure to yield 
  • Failure to stay in lane
  • Distracted driving 

Making sure to avoid these behaviors and always making driving your main focus when you step behind the wheel will help you avoid getting in car accidents.

What to do if you get in a car accident

An accident can be a traumatic event, so take a deep breath and try not to panic. You can find a much more detailed resource on what to do after a car accident here, but here are some steps to take if you do get in a car accident:

  1. Make sure everyone in your vehicle and any other vehicles involved is okay.
  2. Get to a safe place.
  3. Report the accident to the police.
  4. Exchange contact information with any other drivers or witnesses involved.
  5. Take photos and document the accident.
  6. Contact your insurance company or the responsible driver’s insurance company to file a claim.

The Zebra has also made a few helpful tools:

There’s never a good day to get in a car accident, so remember, keep your eyes and mind on the road and stay safe out there.