1 in 4 car accidents occur during rush hour

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children, teens, and young adults. Each year, there are more than 200,000 motor vehicle-related accidents in North Carolina. The cost of crashes to the state and its residents —including property damage, lost earnings and productivity, medical costs, emergency and safety personnel costs, and more—is in the billions each year.

The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, an interdisciplinary research organization with the goal of reducing deaths, injuries, and associated individual and societal costs of roadway crashes, maintains extensive data on crash characteristics. While the vast majority of car accidents involve only automobiles (a category that includes cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses), a few thousand involve both motor vehicles and bicycles or pedestrians. The interactive graphic below highlights selected characteristics of crashes by crash type.

Looking at crash type by day and time (the first table), we see:

  • Crashes of all types are at their highest Monday through Friday between the hours of 4:00-6:00 p.m. This is likely when traffic volume, of all types, is at its highest, as individuals are commuting from work to home or to other evening activities.
  • Automobile accident frequency is slightly elevated during midweek morning commutes and picks up a few hours early on Friday afternoon.
  • Pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes are the only crash type with above average occurrence on Saturday evenings, likely reflecting trends in overall pedestrian traffic volume.

The most interesting element, to me, however, were the trends in crashes by month:

  • Automobile crashes spike in November and December, as more people are on the road traveling for holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Bicycle crashes peak in the summer months when kids are out of school.
  • Pedestrian crashes peak in October and remain high through December. During this time period, daylight hours are declining (making pedestrians more difficult to see) and both children and college-age students are back in school.

Last, we see that pedestrian crashes have the highest fatality rates of all crash types (6.4%) and also a higher incidence of disabling injury (6.7%). Compared to bikers wearing helmets and individuals enclosed in cars, pedestrians are relatively unprotected, and are more vulnerable to serious consequences from crashes with motor vehicles.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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