The Top 5 Causes of Car Accidents in 2016

Red car overturned in accident on the road

Getting your driving licence can be one of the most exciting moments of your life and you’ll likely be eager to get out on the road as soon as possible. While driving can be fun, liberating and incredibly useful, it’s important to keep safety at the forefront of your mind. We’re certainly not trying to rain on your parade—but accidents do happen and they can be fatal.

In 2016 there were 100,296 reported road accidents in the UK. A government report released this month sheds light on the main causes, and its findings are illuminating. Many accidents have more than one contributory factor, but here we’ll take a look at the top 5 causes:

#5 Pedestrians

Pedestrians were the main cause of 12% of accidents in 2016. While the behaviour of those navigating the road by foot can be frustrating when you’re in a car, it’s important to remember that we’re all pedestrians sometimes!

Be aware that pedestrians may not see you (and may not try!) so you could be forced to slow down or even stop if they move into the road. Indeed, most of these incidents involve pedestrians not looking properly or failing to judge a vehicle’s path or speed.

#4 Impairment or Distraction


This category covers instances in which a driver is impaired by drugs or distracted by something in the car.  It can also refer to cases where a driver has some kind of illness or disability that impedes their driving ability. It was the main contributing factor in 13% of road accidents last year. As we covered in our July 2018 news roundup, mobile phone usage is often the cause of distractions, leading many to lose their lives on the road.

Closer Look: Drink-Driving

This is a major issue on UK roads, with drink-driving being a factor in 13% of all road fatalities in 2015. Alcohol impairs judgement and slows reaction times. Driving under the influence can encourage risk-taking and hamper a person’s ability to respond to hazards in a timely manner.

According to a 2016 RAC Report: 6% of people admit to driving while over the drinking limit (up from 4% in 2015). The current law states that a driver’s blood alcohol level should not exceed 8mg per 100ml. Penalties for driving under the influence include fines, driving bans and even prison time.


  • If in doubt about your alcohol levels, don’t drive. It is simply not worth the risk.
  • If you plan on drinking: make use of public transport, select a designated driver or book a taxi.
  • If you have been drinking the night before, your blood alcohol levels may be over the limit in the morning.

Wondering whether you should take a PassMeFast course assessment? Check out the 5 best reasons now!

#3 Injudicious Action

Speeding car with blurred background

Many accidents are caused by bad habits that drivers pick up over time. That car following too close behind you? The driver speeding around corners on small country roads? The impatient person going 40 mph in a 20 mph zone? Chances are, you’ve witnessed at least one of these scenarios on the road. This behaviour is incredibly dangerous and often results in accidents.

Perhaps you’re in a rush. Perhaps you feel like the driver ahead of you is too cautious and should let you overtake. These are not valid excuses for flouting driving rules.

For more information on national speed limits in the UK, check out this post from August. Even if you are following the speed limit, different weather and road conditions require you to adapt your driving to protect both yourself and others on the road. Use your head!

#2 Behaviour or Inexperience

Man with road rage shouting in car

In 2016, 25% of road accidents were the result of inexperienced driving or aggressive behaviour behind the wheel. The category is closely linked to the ‘injudicious driving’ factor, as aggressive driving is often shown through speeding or tailgating. However, there is also a focus on new drivers—whose lack of experience on the road can produce nerves or even panic. Some learners may even suffer an accident while learning to drive! Add to this the fact that they could be driving a new car they’re not quite accustomed to, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Of course, this is not to say that all new drivers are dangerous drivers! Indeed, it is often recently qualified drivers who follow the rules of the road more closely (as they are still fresh in the mind).

It is somewhat inevitable that new drivers will take time to adjust to driving on the road alone. We should therefore be patient and understanding of this process. As long as they are not endangering the lives of others, that is!

Closer Look: Mobile Phones

Whether driving or in stationary traffic, use of a handheld mobile phone is illegal. Penalties for such use can include 6 points on your licence, a fine of up to £1,000 or a driving ban.

The 2016 RAC Report revealed that 48% of drivers use their phones to make or receive calls in stationary traffic. 31% admitted to doing the same while actually driving. Even more worryingly, 14% fessed up to taking photos and videos on their phone while driving!

Studies have shown that using a mobile phone while driving can make your reaction time 30% slower than that of drivers who have been drinking and 50% slower than sober drivers.

For a more detailed exploration of this topic, check out Using Your Mobile Phone in the Car—What Are the Rules?


  • Keep your phone in the glove box while driving, so you’re not tempted to check or use it.
  • Don’t call or text other people if you know they are driving.

#1 Driver Error or Reaction

The most common accidents occur when drivers create a problem on the road or respond badly to a problem that is already unfolding. Such instances are responsible for a massive 71% of accidents on UK roads. Of the many issues this category covers, the most dangerous behaviour involves drivers ‘failing to look properly’. This could include failing to make correct observations before emerging from a junction, failing to look before overtaking another vehicle, or failing to see other road users like motorcyclists. Additionally, failing to meet emergency vehicles safely can also lead to major accidents.

Closer Look: Lack of Sleep
Tiredness can kill motorway sign
Photo © Thomas Nugent (cc-by-sa/2.0)

We’ve all see the signs on the motorway: ‘tiredness can kill’. In 2016, fatigue was the primary cause of 1,645 reported road accidents. Though often linked to demanding jobs, for many people, driving while dangerously tired can be avoided.


  • If taking a long journey by car, be sure to factor in a number of breaks. Use these to get refreshments, fresh air or even a nap (if required).
  • Open windows to allow fresh air to circulate in the car. This can keep you alert.
  • Avoid driving altogether if you are severely tired—it is extremely dangerous.

The most striking thing about this list is that drivers are responsible for most of the causes. Faults with the road and other outside circumstances contribute to a much smaller number of road accidents. This means that many of these incidents could be avoided.

warning-road-signAt the end of the day, we all make mistakes on the road at some point and, luckily, errors don’t always result in accidents. If you feel another driver’s behaviour is posing a risk, try to maintain a safe distance from them. If you are particularly worried (and it’s feasible), pull over and wait for them to pass.

What this data teaches us is that if we all made a conscious effort to be vigilant and confident on the road, the number of accidents could be significantly reduced. If you’re looking for ways in which you can improve your driving, black box insurance can help you monitor your driving and push you to get rid of bad habits.

If you found this article to be an interesting read, you might also enjoy our top 10 compilation of Britain’s most dangerous roads.

Looking to begin your journey as a licensed driver? Check out the Top 5 Reasons People Fail Their Driving Test—it can be a helpful guide to the areas you should focus on. Make sure you also know how to adapt your driving for bad road conditions. You can start with our advice on learning to drive in winter.

For now, good luck and be safe out there!



By Isobel Robb

Isobel enjoys the freedom of the open road and loves driving to new places. She's here to offer helpful hints and tips to improve your motoring skills. When not keeping up to date with the latest driving info you can find her discovering new restaurants or exhausting her Netflix subscription.

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    Great content and tips that everyone can refer though to avoid road accidents.

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