Nearly half of the fatal car accidents in 2020 occurred at night – if we understand the factors involved
Everything from distracted driving to adverse weather conditions can lead to the wrong combination of factors leading to tragic, even fatal, car accidents.
Non-fatal accidents involving injuries — or just property damage — outweigh fatalities, but one common factor stands out when comparing fatal auto accidents in America: the time of day. Of the 5.25 million car accidents that occurred in 2020, nearly 29% happened after dark. A closer look at the data reveals an even more significant and alarming trend that for fatal accidents, that percentage rose to 49%.
Staver Auto Accident Lawyers uses data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to find the number and percentage of auto accidents that occurred after dark in 2020, the most recent data available. The analysis provides an overview of accidents that resulted in deaths, injuries and property damage, as well as whether the accidents occurred in lit or unlit areas (ie in areas with or without street lighting).
A number of factors contribute to this high rate of nighttime fatalities, including poor road lighting, lack of retro-reflective signage, inadequate lane markings, and driver behavior such as drunk driving, distracted driving and speeding.
Read on for an analysis of the data behind fatal car accidents at night.
Motor Vehicle Fatal Accidents
- Total number of accidents (2020): 35,766
- Total number of accidents in the dark: 17,572 (49% of all accidents)
- Unlit areas: 9,827 (27% of all accidents)
- Lighted areas: 7,407 (21% of all accidents)
A small but significant difference has been found in the data on fatal nighttime car crashes: they occur more often in unlit areas.
In 2020, nearly 2,500 more fatal accidents occurred in dark, poorly visible areas. When a roadway is unlit or poorly lit, not only is the general environment not fully visible to the driver, but lane markings, signage and other people on the road, such as cyclists and pedestrians, are much more difficult to see.
A 2018 study published by the International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences found a direct correlation between: poor visibility and an increased risk of an accident.
Collisions with injuries only from motor vehicles
- Total number of accidents: 1,593,390
- Total number of accidents in the dark: 476,722 (30%)
- Unlit areas: 171,651 (11%)
- Illuminated areas: 293,168 (18%)
In well-lit areas, the improved visibility gives drivers better reaction time, resulting in a higher rate of injury-only crashes in these locations. Response times have been found to decrease in dimly lit conditions. This means that when there is adequate lighting, people are more likely to be able to correct a mistake before it becomes fatal.
For this reason, experts recommend improving roadside lighting as a way to reduce the number of fatalities in car accidents. It’s also significant that most injury-only accidents occur during the day – at a ratio of more than 2 to 1 – further supporting that visibility is an important factor in determining the probability of a fatal incident.
Collisions with only material damage
- Total number of crashes: 3,621,681
- Total number of accidents in the dark: 1,020,372 (28%)
- Unlit areas: 425,897 (12%)
- Illuminated areas: 564,569 (16%)
Property-only accidents are much larger than fatal and injury-only accidents combined. The percentage of this that takes place in the dark is comparable to the number of injury crashes. Damaged property in car accidents can range from houses and fences to the car involved in the collision itself.
Interestingly, slightly more material damage-only accidents occur in well-lit areas than in unlit areas. While this may seem counter-intuitive, it could simply be because there is more property to damage in well-lit areas.