Common Car Accident Scenarios — Causes & Determining Fault

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) keeps detailed records of the accidents it investigates. Periodically, CHP releases reports that provide statistics about car accidents in California.

These reports provide insight into how car accidents happen in CA. These statistics also tell you the likelihood of getting injured or killed in various car accident scenarios.

Here are some of the most common car accident scenarios in California, along with how you can determine the causes and fault for the accident.

Common Car Accident Scenarios in California

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver error is the most common underlying cause of traffic accidents. Nearly 95% of traffic accidents result from driver error.

These errors take many forms and can lead to many different types of collisions. Combining the NHTSA and CHP reports, you can see how different errors connect to specific types of collisions. For example, inattention often leads to rear-end accidents.

Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions are, by far, the most common injury crash in California. Over 41% of injuries result from rear-end collisions in California.

Rear-end collisions can have many causes, including:

Rear-end collisions happen when the drivers leave too small a gap between them to brake safely. 

The driver of the rear vehicle almost always bears the fault for a rear-end collision because that driver controls the gap between them. So whether the collision happened because the rear driver was distracted or tailgating, the rear driver will usually get blamed for the accident.

The one exception happens when the front driver cuts off the rear driver. In this situation, the front driver bears the fault for not leaving enough space while passing. The front driver will bear the blame if that driver cuts off the other vehicle leading up to the collision.

Broadside Collisions

Broadside collisions represent the largest number of fatal collisions. About 22% of fatalities on California roads result from a broadside collision.

Broadside collisions happen when one car hits the side of the other car. These collisions, also called T-bone collisions, can cause death because the door is often the weakest part of the car’s body.

Broadside collisions in California happen due to:

  • Failing to yield
  • Running a red light
  • Driving while intoxicated or distracted
  • Misjudging the speed or distance to the other car

Not surprisingly, most broadside collisions in California happened while both cars were traveling straight. Blame for these accidents would fall on the driver who failed to yield to the car with the right-of-way.

The second most common scenario for broadside accidents occurs when one car travels straight, and the other car turns left into or in front of oncoming traffic. In this case, the driver who was turning left likely bears the blame for the accident unless the oncoming car ran a red light or stop sign.

Pedestrian Accidents

Pedestrian accidents kill about 900 Californians every year. Pedestrian accidents usually happen while the vehicle is traveling straight and the pedestrian is crossing the road. 

The second and third most common pedestrian accident scenarios occur when the vehicle makes a left turn or right turn at an intersection, and the pedestrian is crossing the road the car wants to enter.

Pedestrian accidents can result from:

  • Driver inattention
  • Jaywalking
  • Poor lighting
  • Distracted driving
  • Intoxicated driving
  • Failure to yield
  • Failure to maintain control of the vehicle

The fault for pedestrian accidents can fall on either the driver or the pedestrian. When the pedestrian crosses in a crosswalk, drivers must yield. If the driver fails to yield, the driver bears the blame for the accident.

If the pedestrian jaywalks, the driver may still bear at least some of the blame if the driver could have avoided the collision. But the pedestrian may also share in the blame. 

As a result, the pedestrian’s claim for compensation may get reduced in proportion to the pedestrian’s share of the fault. Thus, if the pedestrian bears 55% of the fault for a pedestrian accident, the pedestrian can only recover 45% of their damages.

Left-Turn Collisions

Making a left turn in California is surprisingly dangerous. About 10% of injury crashes in California result from a left-turn maneuver.

Left-turn collisions usually take the form of a broadside or head-on collision. Unfortunately, these forms of collisions have the highest death rate in California, with 6% of California traffic deaths occurring during left turns.

Left-turn collisions usually result from:

  • Failure to yield
  • Distraction
  • Intoxication
  • Misjudgment of speed or distance

The fault for left-turn collisions usually falls on the driver making the left turn. That driver has the responsibility to make sure the way is clear before proceeding.

Distracted Driving Collisions

Many of the collisions discussed previously can result from distracted driving. But what causes distracted driving in California?

According to CHP, the most common causes of distracted driving crashes include:

  • Handheld cell phone use
  • Radio/CD adjustment
  • Eating while driving
  • Other electronic use, such as GPS
  • Children
  • Hands-free cell phone use

Together, these six causes account for over 20% of all distracted driving accidents in California.

The fault for distracted driving crashes falls on the distracted driver. Drivers have a legal responsibility to exercise reasonable care when operating a vehicle. Driving with a visual, manual, or mental distraction will make you liable for any accident you cause.

The Importance of Fault

California uses an at-fault car insurance system. This means that after a car accident, those injured in the accident can seek compensation from the at-fault driver and their insurer.

Negligence requires you to show someone failed to exercise reasonable care and, as a result, injured you. Tracing the sequence of events that led to your car accident will help you and your lawyer establish your right to seek compensation.

To discuss fault and causation in your car accident, Contact our law office in San Diego or call us at (619) 777-5555, our skilled attorneys at Mission Personal Injury Lawyers offer a free consultation.