Every year, negligent and reckless drivers cause thousands of injuries and fatalities. Analyzing bay area car accident statistics can help you identify and learn about the most common causes behind collisions in the San Francisco Bay Area and across California. By educating yourself, you may be able to help avoid these collisions in the future and know what to do should you find yourself in an car crash in California. Additionally, a California auto accident caused by another party may entitle you to financial compensation. Let’s explore the stats, reasons behind accidents in the Golden State, and what to do if you have been involved in an accident.
During the pandemic, traffic deaths increased in the Bay Area.
Car accidents are the foremost cause of personal injury claims in the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest of California. Accident injuries can be painful, costly, and life-changing, whether caused by a minor fender bender or a multi-car pile-up. For the very unfortunate, car accidents can result in death.
This graph shows the weekly fatal or severe injury crashes in the 6 bay area counties in the years 2019, 2020, and 2021. Data is provided by UC Berkeley TIMS (transportation injury mapping system).
Despite fewer drivers on the roads, fatalities in most of the region’s largest counties stayed steady or increased slightly in 2020. Contra Costa County, on the eastern side of the Bay Area, has seen traffic deaths climb from 77 to 102 throughout 2020, despite a nearly one-third drop in overall crashes, according to data collected by The San Francisco Chronicle.
2020 was a unique year in traffic and vehicle statistics as the pande
mic and its lockdowns greatly influenced them. The morning and evening high traffic peaks flattened in comparison to prior years. A sharp decline in minor car crashes was observed across all nine San Francisco Bay Area regions.
The state is experiencing a return of traffic, tickets, accidents, and congestion after a two-year hiatus caused by shutdowns, and unpredictable Covid-19 spikes, which are (for now) in the “rear-view mirror.” The return to pre-pandemic traffic volume is reflected in numerous sources of statistical data from 2020 and 2021.
For example, an interesting bay area car accident statistic, over 55,800 distracted driving tickets were issued by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in 2021.
Over 13,000 accidents were caused by driver inattention in the same year (2021), based on preliminary data collected by the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (CHP maintains SWITRS). The data is made available by the University of California, Berkley, and UC Berkley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS). Fifty-six distracted drivers were killed in crashes in California, and nearly another 6,300 were injured.
Distracted Driving is a Killer
These recent statistics have identified distracted driving as a significant contributor to car accidents and fatalities in the Bay Area. With smartphones, people are now better connected than ever before, but they are also more prone to distracted driving. California’s Office of Traffic Safety defines distracted driving as taking your eyes or mind off the road or taking your hands off the steering wheel — especially when texting or using your phone.
The United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report on distracted driving discovered it takes only five seconds to read a text message while driving. Unfortunately, most individuals are guilty of glancing down at their cellphones at least once in their driving years, if not much more often. What can happen in five seconds with your eyes on a screen and not the roadway?
An annual report by the Road Ecology Center at the University of California Davis found the Bay Area Freeway, Interstate 280, between San Bruno and Cupertino, as California’s deadliest highway in 2021 for wildlife-vehicle collisions. The report discloses a list of hotspots along the route for increased risk of animal collision with vehicles. This list is topped by multiple locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Mule deer, mountain lions, bears, and newts are the most frequent roadkill victims. Imagine hitting a mountain lion at speeds of 65 miles per hour, the damage to your vehicle, the injuries to you and your loved ones, and the death of an animal whose habitat has been shrinking due to growing highways, businesses, and residential areas. It takes less than five seconds for a deer to leap into traffic and get hit and most likely killed by your vehicle. Such an accident can be catastrophic for all involved and could result in a multi-car accident on a major freeway.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety piloted a study in 2018 that found individuals interacting either visually or manually with cell phones while driving more than doubled the likelihood of a crash than individuals who abstained. Approximately 10 people die each day in The US from distracted driving.
Risky Behavior at Higher Speeds
In 2020, California recorded 3,723 motor vehicle deaths, increasing from 2019. Experts are suggesting that 2021 witnessed an even more significant increase in car accident-related fatalities in California, including the Bay Area, as Covid-19 related restrictions and shutdowns have been lifted and terminated.
The spike in fatalities comes as cities around the Bay Area struggle to meet Vision Zero’s goals of ending traffic deaths.
Since the beginning of the decade, fatal crashes in most of the Bay Area have steadily increased. During the pandemic, the trend remained essentially unchanged despite declining traffic.
The National Highway Safety Administration’s recent findings suggest that as average traffic speeds increased nationwide throughout 2020, drivers engaged in more dangerous behaviors, such as not wearing seatbelts and driving under the influence.
In 2019, 50% of drivers killed in motor vehicle collisions tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, an 8% increase over the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Several studies have indicated an alarming rise in personal injuries sustained in collisions and linked them to the increase in alcohol and drug use stemming from the pandemic.
According to the latest California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) crash rankings for San Francisco County in the categories of “Had Been Drinking Driver < 21” and “Had Been Drinking Driver 21 – 34,” the county holds the highest or rather the worst, ranking possible. The two categories focus on crashes in which there were fatalities or injuries involving a driver under the age of 21 and drivers between the ages of 21 and 34.
According to the NHTSA, despite Americans driving less in 2020 due to the flu pandemic, 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, the most since 2007.
From 2019 to 2020, California had the most significant increase in the quantity of alcohol-impaired driving collisions. Thirty percent of fatal accidents nationwide were caused by alcohol-impaired driving.
In the event of any type of motor vehicle collision, the importance of wearing a seatbelt cannot be overstated. The seatbelt is one of the most essential safety measures in any vehicle as it keeps occupants in place and minimizes injuries in the event of an accident.
NHSTA data shows an increase in the ejection rate during car accidents from 2019 to 2020, and preliminary data suggested an expected rise for 2021.
Note: The highest ejection rate occurs among males 18-49. The ejection rate is inextricably linked to seatbelt use.
Ride Share Accidents
Many Americans now use ridesharing services regularly. Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft provide mobile apps where drivers can offer ridesharing services using their own vehicles. Users in need of transportation order a driver at the touch of their smartphone’s screen. It is assumed that these apps make it easier for customers to get rides on demand rather than relying on traditional taxis and buses. However, convenience and technology growth may have cost some their lives.
- A study conducted by the University of Chicago Booth Business School using comparative data from the NHTSA with figures from Uber and Lyft revealed the number of car accidents, fatal accidents, and fatalities involving vehicle occupants and pedestrians has risen by 3% as a result of ridesharing.
- The study was conducted between 2011 and 2016. Experts estimate the original figure has increased as the popularity of rideshare apps has only continued to grow and extend from metropolitan cities to residential and rural areas.
- According to an estimate by the Department of Transportation, the cost of fatalities due to ride-hailing is about $10 billion. Non-fatal accidents are not included in this figure.
Population, Pedestrians, and Cyclists
California’s rising car accident injuries and deaths may also result from the state’s large population. With approximately 39.51 million people, California is the most populous state in the US. California is often at the top of US lists regarding statistics on auto accident injuries and fatalities, with the Bay Area, unfortunately, as no exception.
Even if you aren’t the primary driver in your household or prefer to walk, pedestrian fatalities, particularly for those age 65 and older, have increased since 2019 in California.
Another sobering statistic — for those who enjoy cycling — according to the NHTSA, California hit a 25 year high in 2018 for traffic accident-related fatalities of cyclists. A slight decrease was observed in cyclist fatalities for 2019. However, experts believe the numbers may be higher once the data is made widely available for 2020 through 2022, as many individuals picked up cycling as a hobby during the pandemic.
Note: Helmet use is as important for cyclists as seatbelts are to motor vehicle drivers. A helmet can make a huge impact when involved in a car accident for a cyclist to avoid a traumatic brain injury and other life-altering damages.
Many cyclist enthusiasts attribute recent fatal accidents and injuries to road rage. In April of last year, The Bay Area lost a cycling legend and local hero, Joe Shami, who was hit and killed by an SUV just as Shami was about to close in on 100,000 miles ridden on his bike. Bike lanes exist for everyone’s safety, but all drivers do not observe them, even though it’s the law.
The Bay Area and all of California have much to offer its visitors and residents from beaches, ski resorts, the wine country of Napa Valley, historic districts, and gorgeous coastal drives. For drivers considering making a permanent move to California, they should note the state’s high accident rates and traffic congestion. However, the safety of California’s roads depends on the safety initiatives taken by the state’s drivers; make safety your priority.
Which City in California has the most accidents?
Among California’s cities, Los Angeles is the deadliest for driving, according to the NHTSA. The ranking is partly attributed to the city’s population size, increased risky behavior on the roads in recent years, and accidents occurring on Interstate 15. After a five-year analysis of federal crash data, the freeway known as I-15 was anointed by Dateline MSNBC as the deadliest road in all of the United States. Eight million drivers travel the interstate freeway each year, contributing to excessive traffic accident rates. In the past 10 years, 8% of fatal accidents have occurred on I-15, which spans Nevada and cites its deadliest roadway segment as the 180 miles running through San Bernardino County of California.
San Jose is still the city with the most car accidents in the Bay Area region and it continues to rise. Among the leading factors contributing to the Bay Area’s safety ranking are traffic congestion, distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs, drinking and driving, road rage or any form of aggressive driving, speeding (on the rise in the entire state), coastal road curvatures, and highway construction zones.
Another noteworthy mention is Simi Valley, a city just outside of Los Angeles. Simi Valley has ranked highest in at-fault-related car accidents for 2021.
What to do if you have been in a California car crash?
Even if an accident is minor, it’s always best to call the police. The other driver may be hostile, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or simply unwilling to share insurance information. The police will not only begin a report but get all information from all parties involved.
Next, if you are not severely injured and can do so safely, take photos of the damage to the vehicles involved.
It’s also wise to always get checked out by a medical professional for any signs of injury after you have been in an accident. Even if you have no apparent damage, you may have sustained an injury and not yet know it. Adrenaline and other hormones released after an accident can mask pain. Some injuries, like whiplash, can take hours and even days to manifest.
Finally, if you or a loved one have been injured in a collision or a loved one died due to another at-fault driver, please speak with an experienced California car accident attorney.