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California Bay Area Distracted Driving Statistics 2021

Across California, traffic accidents have been steadily increasing. California, including the San Francisco Bay Area, has now suffered two consecutive years of unfortunate dramatic increases in traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Sadly, there has also been a nationwide increase in distracted driving traffic accidents and deaths. California has also witnessed a spike in driving and resulting crashes caused by drivers under the influence of either illegal or legal drugs, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and also included in California legal code VEH statute 23123.5. Below is an overview and statistics of distracted driving in California, including the Bay Area. The following outline comprises different forms of distracted driving, measures to address the issues, the traffic fatality crisis, and what to do after an accident involving a distracted driver, including why to seek the guidance of a seasoned Bay Area car accident attorney.

What is distracted driving and what forms can it take?

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving. Such actions include but are not limited to texting or talking on smartphones, eating and drinking, conversing with passengers, fiddling with music, entertainment, or navigation systems — and anything that diverts your attention from driving safely.

California had the most deaths due to distracted driving of any state, according to NHTSA’s 2018 report. Unfortunately, the issue has remained a substantial concern. 74.3% of Californians cited distracted driving as the most significant safety threat on California’s roads in a 2021 OTS survey. Electronics use while driving is the main culprit in California’s distracted driving crisis. Distracted driving derived from electronic use jumped 2.2% from one year to the next, as reported by the 2017 CA Statewide Observational Survey of Cell Phone & Texting Use by Drivers released by the OTS. 59.6% of California drivers participating in the California Traffic Safety Survey reported being hit or narrowly missed by a driver talking or texting. Direct hits or near misses can trigger multi-vehicle accidents, pedestrian traffic fatalities, and driver and passenger severe injuries and death. There were 3,179 deaths and 431,000 injuries caused by distracted driving back in 2014, as reported by Distracted.gov. More recently, the California Highway Patrol issued over 55,850 citations for distracted driving, including 56 distracted drivers who passed away in fatal crashes and over 6,300 severe injuries in 2021. The Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) found more than 13,000 accidents caused by driver inattention (associated with distracted driving) in 2021.

Impaired Driving Leads to Distraction and Chaos

50% of all California drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal and or illegal drugs, an increase of 8% from 2018. In 2019, California’s total alcohol-impaired driving fatalities came at the cost of 949 individuals. Data released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety California had 3,847 motor vehicle crash deaths in 2020 — the second highest nationwide. The report also included numbers related to alcohol-impaired driving. Out of 1,550 drivers killed in 2020, 880, or 57%, had their BAC taken, implying a likelihood of drinking and driving. The actual numbers for individuals with a BAC over 0.08 were not available for California.

Negligent Drivers Beware

When found liable for a car accident rooted in negligence, the driver and their insurance company will feel the costs for driving distracted or impaired by drugs or alcohol. Insurance premiums will rise. The driver, in addition to potential summons and fines, could lose their license and potentially face even more significant consequences as well as lawsuits if another individual involved in the accident is critically injured or dies. Chronically negligent drivers likely have a long history of driving violations and points on their records. However, it is possible for anyone, even those with the best intentions, to be distracted while behind the wheel. A California distracted driving accident lawyer can help you if you have been involved in an accident with a distracted driver or you are concerned that you may be responsible for the accident.

California’s Scenic Wildlife — Rich Landscapes Often Equal Disaster

Wildlife vehicle collisions and distracted drivers are a recipe for disaster; human and wildlife fatalities sometimes result in multi-car crashes. The University of California-Davis released a report from their Road Ecology Center on wildlife-vehicle collisions or WVCs. The information included hot spots for these accidents throughout California. The San Francisco Bay Area had thousands of miles of the Bay Area included in its list.

The University alerts drivers to watch for wildlife interactions on the following Bay Area roadways:

  • US 101 through Southern Marin County
  • I-680
  • I-80
  • State Route 24 and SR 13 through the East Bay
  • SR 17 near Lexington Reservoir

Wildlife itself can be a driving distraction. Accidents also occur when drivers stop to admire wildlife and unintentionally create a hazard by blocking the road. Other times, an animal jumps out or crosses a roadway. A distracted driver is more likely to have less reaction time and swerve into oncoming traffic, a divider, or the animal itself. Disastrous accidents, even involving semi-trailers (also known as 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and big rigs) with devastating consequences, damages, and loss of life often occur in these wildlife hotspots. As their habitat shrinks, mountain lions and black bears become more vulnerable to traffic collisions. UC-Davis reported that from 2016 to 2020, more than 300 mountain lions and 557 black bears were struck and killed. Due to the construction of interstates slicing through wildlife home ranges, the Bay Area was identified as a prime region for such types of wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Safety Tips:

  • Pay attention to road signs
  • Avoid distractions that would divert your vision from the road
  • Mind the speed limit at tight turns
  • According to wildlife.com, using your vehicle’s brake system is wiser and less dangerous than attempting to swerve out of the way. Swerving can be particularly dangerous on congested roads when larger vehicles are present and in any form of inclement weather.

Note: According to the NHTSA, reading or typing a text takes your gaze off the roadway for an average of 5 seconds. While moving at 55 mph, this is comparable to driving the span of a football field blindfolded. An animal or other hazard could quickly appear during this window of time. You can only safely drive if you give your full attention to the task.

The Last Text They Ever Sent

Texting is one of the leading forms of distracted driving that triggers accidents and deaths. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study found that texting while driving increases your risk of being in a traffic accident by 23 times.

VTTI data also suggests that hands-free electronic devices are less likely to cause accidents than handheld ones. Many drivers consider using voice-to-text to input the name of a song into a music streaming service as hands-free. However, accidents have resulted from these seemingly quick and effortless actions. For example, tapping a few buttons on the navigation screen while driving can lead to an accident, multi-vehicle crash, a fender bender, or a wildlife collision. According to NHTSA statistical findings, distracted driving led to the deaths of 3,142 people and injuries to an estimated 324,652 people in 2020 — a year that overall saw less traffic on roadways due to the Covid-19 pandemic-related lockdowns.

According to an annual survey by The Zebra, an insurance comparison site, 40.4% of Apple users admit to using their phones while driving, which is nearly a 14% increase from 2021 study results. Among Android users, 55.1% admitted to employing their phones while driving.

The NHTSA estimates that 660,000 US drivers use their cell phones while they drive a vehicle at any given time. The decision to pick up your phone while driving affects not only other drivers and passengers on the road, but also non-occupants (bikers, pedestrians, and others). In 2019, 566 non-occupants died in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the US Department of Transportation (US DOT).

According to a Zogby Strategies poll commissioned by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Root Insurance, Bay Area drivers are five times more likely than Southern Californian drivers to use their phones when they get a call or text. In addition, our youngest drivers, teenagers, are some of the most susceptible to distracted driving, according to the California Highway Patrol, NHTSA, and OTS reports. OTS reports teenagers are most likely to suffer serious injury crashes due to driver distraction. An example needs to be set for the younger generations to reduce the tragic loss of life and decrease the rate of accidents and injuries on Bay Area roadways.

Tip: Stress the importance to those your love and care about to not text you or others while they drive and avoid other driving distractions. In addition, consider sharing articles like this one, filled with driving facts and statistics, with family and friends. You can help drive the message home on the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of handling this issue together as a community. Drivers, policymakers, and all Californians must be prepared to address this urgent crisis marked by the 20-year high traffic fatalities spike in 2022 and its correlation to distracted driving practices.

Texting is among the most dangerous forms of distracted driving as it involves all three kinds of distraction: visual (not focusing on the road), manual (not controlling the vehicle), and cognitive (not thinking about driving).

What is Vision Zero, and is it working?

San Francisco adopted Vision Zero — a traffic safety model that originated in Sweden in the 1990s. The model proved successful across much of Europe and is being employed in many US cities. Vision Zero looks at traffic safety through the lens that crashes, injuries, and fatalities are all preventable. The Vision Zero program recognizes that drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists sometimes make mistakes. Hence, road system designers, stakeholders, and legislators must address the issue together as a multidisciplinary approach aimed at ensuring errors don’t result in serious injuries or fatalities. Although the number of traffic deaths in San Francisco fell notably in 2017 following the program’s first few years, traffic deaths began to rise again from 2018 through 2021. Policymakers are working on employing new strategies and enforcing California distracted driving laws.

What to do after a California collision

California suffers approximately 200,000 auto accidents each year that result in injuries. Distracted driving has played a significant role in the nationwide all-time high of traffic accidents the US is currently facing.

After an accident, always call the police to ensure everyone remains safe and to initiate an official report. Move yourself and your vehicle to a safe position near the accident site, away from traffic and dangerous debris. Always seek medical attention, even if you feel fine at the moment, as hormones like adrenaline can mask pain and other injury symptoms. In addition, some injuries, like whiplash, can take days, even weeks, to surface. You will likely need to file an insurance claim. The claims process can be overwhelming, but it is necessary. Medical expenses and other damages can be costly and accumulate rapidly.

When to Consider Hiring a Bay Area Car Accident Attorney

As a driver in a distracted driving car accident, it is crucial to note that you may be held liable for the accident if it is determined that you were distracted while driving. As well as paying for the damages caused by the crash, you may have to compensate the other party for their injuries. However, a skilled Bay Area distracted driving lawyer will review the details of the impact and the accident report. Your attorney will look to identify points that may prove that the other driver was also distracted, in violation of California vehicle or traffic laws, or partially or totally at fault by other means, reducing or eliminating your liability. In addition, by demonstrating how another driver was at fault for the accident, you could be eligible for recoverable damages.

Distracted driving is the number-one cause of car accidents, and many people don’t realize how dangerous it can be. If you’ve been in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, you may be able to receive compensation for medical debt, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. A distracted driving accident lawyer can advise you of your rights and options and get the compensation you deserve.

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a California car crash, contacting an experienced California distracted driving accident attorney is critical. Schedule a free and confidential consultation with a compassionate and knowledgeable attorney.

California San Francisco Bay Area Car Accident Statistics

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.

Dan Rose car accident attorney - Weekly Fatal or Severe Injury crashes in the CA Bay Area 2019-2021

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.

Dan Rose car accident attorney - San Francisco 2019 crash results graph

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.