5 startling statistics about car accidents

Car accidents are so common -- you see evidence of them every week. Maybe you come up behind a recent accident or get stuck in the traffic backup it creates. Maybe you see an ambulance or firetruck tear by on the way to a crash scene. Maybe you just see the skid marks in the grass, ending at a broken treeline, and you know someone crashed.

Even so, the statistics themselves can be striking. Here are five that help to shed some light on what causes so many accidents.

1. Nothing kills more people between the ages of five and 24 than motor vehicle accidents.

For that age group, car crashes are the leading cause of death year after year. That's part of the reason why young people have higher insurance rates and are sometimes denied access to rental cars. The statistics support the stereotype that young people are simply not safe drivers. Everyone else isn't much better, though. For those over 24, car accidents are the second leading cause of death.

2. Speeding can increase accident risks by as much as 13 times.

Everyone admits to speeding -- you've probably done it when you're late for work or just sick of being in the car. While going five miles per hour over the limit may not increase the risk by 13 times, one study said that's exactly how much the risk went up for those driving "well above the speed limit."

3. Being emotional increases accident risks by 10 times.

Driving when you're feeling emotional can be deadly. It makes you 10 times as likely to crash. This was true, according to the report, for "visibly emotional" drivers. That means people who look obviously angry or sad behind the wheel, to the point that they can't or won't hide those emotions -- perhaps by yelling or crying while they drive.

4. Drivers get distracted in some way 50 percent of the time.

This is terrifying, in many ways. Everyone knows -- or should know -- that distraction can cause accidents, but in a video study, even drivers who arrived safely appeared distracted half of the time they were operating their motor vehicles. Distractions could include changing the radio station, texting, setting up a playlist on a phone, and the like.

5. Accidents remain the leading cause of death, despite declining totals.

Some people talk about declining deaths per 1,00,000 vehicle miles traveled as if that shows that people are now safe. In 1920, there were about 25 deaths per 1,000,000 VMT. It's now down near one.

While this is positive, car accidents are still a leading killer in the United States every single year. Plus, fewer fatalities also link back to better safety systems -- like airbags -- and better medical care. Just because doctors can now save injured drivers who would have died in 1920 doesn't mean accidents are no longer an issue. It's still critical for drivers to know the risks.

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