Why are fatal car accidents becoming more common in California?

Car accident fatalities have increased in California over the last several years, and early data suggests that this trend may continue this year.

According to recent data, the number of deadly car accidents that occur each year in San Diego and other parts of California is on the rise. The Sacramento Bee reports that between 2010 and 2013, deadly crashes in the state increased 13 percent. In 2013 alone, 3,104 people lost their lives in these accidents. Officials expect traffic fatality data from 2014 to show a continuation of the trend.

The reasons behind this troublesome increase in car accident fatalities are likely complex. However, officials in California have pointed to the following potential explanations for the continued rise in accidents.

Economic improvements

Traffic fatalities in California fell dramatically during the recession, reaching the lowest number in more than six decades. Steep gas prices might have discouraged some people from driving, and high unemployment rates may have made regular commuting unnecessary for others. The resulting reductions in traffic may have been responsible for the decrease in accidents.

Since the recession ended, the number of miles that people in the state travel has increased significantly. From 2009 to 2014, the number of average miles driven per vehicle rose 27 percent. This change may be a factor in the increase in overall accidents.

Driver distraction

Distracted driving crashes may also be contributing to the growing rate of accidents. Drivers in California are prohibited from texting or talking on cell phones, but research shows that these behaviors are only becoming more common. The state Office of Traffic Safety reported earlier this year that the number of drivers seen using cell phones during an annual observational study jumped 39 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Distractions that are still legal, such as in-car infotainment systems and hands-free cell phones, could also be a factor in the rising number of accidents. According to Fox News, studies suggest that some of these purportedly safe hands-free systems are more distracting than a conversation via handheld cell phone is. Additionally, these systems are largely unregulated and incorrectly perceived as safe by many drivers.

Drugged driving

Driver intoxication could also be a factor in the uptick in catastrophic accidents, according to The Sacramento Bee. Impairment from prescription drugs may be a growing issue, especially given the increasing population of elderly drivers. Additionally, the use of drugs such as marijuana may be on the rise among drivers.

National data suggests that various forms of impaired driving are becoming more common. Rates of prescription drug use among Americans have quadrupled since 1999, according to The Chicago Tribune. Troublingly, a recent study found that almost 40 percent of deceased drivers tested positive for prescription or illicit drugs.

Victims' rights

Sadly, these findings suggest that severe or even deadly accidents that involve negligent behaviors may harm many people in California this year. In these situations, legal recourse may be available to victims, if they can prove that the other driver was at fault. Injury victims may benefit from consulting with a car accident attorney for additional information and advice.

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