Hitting the Road this Summer? Know the Risks [2021]

Every summer, thousands of families and groups of friends all around the Metro Atlanta area load up their cars to take road trips. Sometimes they head a few hours away to visit family or down to the Florida gulf coast for some beach time. Other times, they cross the U.S. or circle an entire region. Hertz recently announced that “The Great American Road Trip is Back!” after a 2021 survey revealed 80% of respondents planned to take a road trip this summer. 

Hitting the road sounds like the perfect plan after being cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. But spending hours driving puts you at risk for an auto accident. It’s best to prepare, and that starts by knowing what the roads are like and the risks you may face. 

Unexpected Dangers on the Road in 2020

When looking at recent car crash and fatality statistics, you have to account for the odd circumstances everyone faced in 2020. Because of the pandemic, authorities expected a decrease in crashes and deaths but found the opposite. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 36,096 motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2019. There were fewer traffic deaths than the year before and, more importantly, the lowest rate since 2014. The 2019 fatality rate was only 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). 

Unfortunately, the good news from 2019 was quickly overwhelmed by what happened next. Overall, Americans drove less in 2020. This makes sense given the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders. Many people became remote workers overnight and no longer had a daily commute. However, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to bring out risky driving behavior, and there were consequences.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit organization, traffic fatalities increased 8% between 2019 and 2020, and the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven rose an unprecedented 24%. Georgia was one of eight states that increased their traffic deaths by 15% or more between 2019 and 2020. 

Will Roads in 2021 Be as Deadly as 2020?

The question is: Will the dangerous trends of 2020 spill over into 2021? The initial estimates aren’t good. According to the NSC, the number of vehicle miles driven is increasing as more people go back to work. That’s to be expected. Unfortunately, the estimated number of traffic deaths for January through March was 10% higher than the first three months of 2020 and up 12% compared to 2019. 

There’s no way to know whether roads this summer will be as dangerous as roads were last year. But the preliminary figures should encourage you to be cautious. While planning your summer routes, think about what causes car accidents and how you can keep yourself and your friends and family safe. 

Drivers’ Mistakes Cause Most Crashes

Car crashes are so common that it’s difficult to gather accurate data about each one. That being said, authorities have accumulated a good amount of data over the years that helps us understand why crashes happen. The NHTSA gathered in-depth data for 5,470 crashes between 2005 and 2007. This weighted sample represented about 2,189,000 U.S. accidents. 

The NHTSA assigned 94% of critical pre-crash events to a driver. Other critical reasons were vehicles (2%), the environment (2%), and unknown reasons (2%). 

The agency broke driver-related events into categories:

  • 41% of driver-related critical reasons were recognition errors, including driver’s inattention, internal and external distractions, and inadequate surveillance.
  • 33% of driver-related critical reasons were decision errors, including driving too fast for conditions, driving too fast for the curve, false assumption of others’ actions, illegal maneuvers, and misjudging a gap or others’ speed. 
  • 11% of driver-related critical reasons were performance errors, including overcompensation and poor directional control.
  • 7% of driver-related critical reasons were non-performance errors, including falling asleep. 

Knowing that a driver’s recognition or decision error causes most accidents should influence how you tackle your road trip this summer. 

Common Causes of Car Crashes

By understanding the most common causes of car accidents, you and your road trip companions can do your best to avoid causing a collision. 

The first step is to make sure whoever’s driving pays attention to the road. In 2019, there were 3,142 distracted driving deaths, according to the NHTSA. Georgia has several laws meant to prevent distracted driving, and it tracks violations of those laws. In 2020, there were 44,259 distracted driving convictions. All of the individuals ticketed for a distracted driving violation were increasing the risk of a crash.

Speeding is a constant problem nationwide. The NHTSA reported 9,378 speed-related deaths in 2018. Worse yet, it said speeding was involved in about one-third of all motor vehicle deaths in the past two decades. In 2019, the NHTSA reported Georgia experienced 260 speed-related traffic fatalities. Avoiding a crash can be as simple as sticking to the speed limit. 

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is often deadly. The NHTSA warned about 28 people die every day in drunk driving crashes. In 2019, that amounted to 10,142 deaths. On this summer road trip, make sure to indulge responsibly. 

Did you know that drowsy driving can be as bad as drunk driving? You can’t focus and react quickly if you’re overly tired or falling asleep. The NHTSA reported there were 697 drowsy-driving-related deaths in 2019. You can prevent fatigued driving by getting enough sleep leading up to and during your trip. 

Reckless and aggressive driving statistics are harder to find, and that’s because police departments code car accidents differently. Not to mention, what constitutes reckless or aggressive driving varies, from speeding to tailgating and weaving in and out of traffic. But we know these behaviors are dangerous. Don’t rush when heading toward a new destination. 

We also know that weather is rarely to blame for car accidents. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. If you encounter bad weather during your road trip, don’t try to drive through it. Pull over to a rest stop or gas station as soon as you can. Also, don’t underestimate how much the sun and glare can interfere with driving. Have a good pair of sunglasses on hand. 

Aggression and Road Rage Are Becoming More Common 

Another concerning trend is an increase in aggressive driving, road rage, and shootings. By early May, Atlanta had at least 16 roadway shootings and five deaths. 

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, road rage shootings have been higher in 2021 compared to the three previous years. Everytown analyzed data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive and found, as of June 7, 2021, a person has been hurt or killed in a suspected road rage shooting every 18 hours in the U.S.

When you started planning your summer road trip, you probably weren’t considering gun violence. Unfortunately, it’s become a real issue. While you can’t prevent someone else from becoming angry behind the wheel, you can drive carefully. 

How to Stay Safe During Your 2021 Road Trip

None of this information is meant to dissuade you from taking your road trip. You should enjoy the summer and take advantage of whatever time you have to visit friends, family, national parks, important monuments, and unique roadside attractions. You simply need to plan ahead and play it safe.

  • Prepare your vehicle: Have your car inspected before the trip. Now is also a good time to stock up your emergency and first aid kit. 
  • Plan your route and stops: It goes without saying that you should plan your route and some alternatives. Think about the rest stops and towns along the way and when you’ll stop for meals. Road trip car snacks are great, but you shouldn’t eat or drink while driving. 
  • Avoid risky behaviors: Certain behaviors are bound to cause you harm. Remind yourself before and during the trip to wear your seat belt and not speed, get distracted, or drive after consuming alcohol or drugs. Besides, speeding is bad for your gas mileage. 
  • Get plenty of rest: Drowsy driving is more dangerous than most people realize. Before and during the road trip, get plenty of sleep. Don’t be afraid to pull over and take a mid-afternoon car nap if you’re tired. 
  • Confirm you have roadside assistance: Double check that you have roadside assistance through your auto insurance or AAA membership. You never know when you might need a tow truck. 

Don’t Be Afraid of Getting Legal Help

If you or a loved one are hurt during your 2021 summer road trip, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Georgia car accident lawyer at The Champion Firm. We represent individuals injured in the state or Georgia as well as residents hurt elsewhere on their travels. 

We offer free case consultations. All you have to do is call 404-596-8044 or send us your information through our online form.