The Impact Of Bay Area Traffic On Car Accident Rates

Published on 01/17/2024 by Monica Burneikis

You’d think post-pandemic increases in remote and hybrid work models would reduce Bay Area traffic, but that’s not the case. And with increased traffic congestion comes higher car accident rates.

San Francisco Bay Grapples With Rising Traffic Accident Rates

A recent Stanford Law School (SLS) website post begins, “The Bay Area is grappling with a pressing public safety concern: highly unsafe roads.” It goes on to talk about some of the most dangerous intersections in the area and notes that the Bay Area isn’t the only region grappling with this serious issue. Across the country, traffic deaths have continued to increase, surpassing pre-pandemic rates. And traffic fatality rates for both pedestrians and motorists highlight racial disparities.

5 Ways Bay Area Traffic Congestion Impacts Car Accidents, Injuries, & Fatalities

Car accidents aren’t the only accident rates that escalate with increased traffic congestion. The SLS post highlights the heartbreaking story of a four-year-old who was hit by a car at a notoriously dangerous intersection in San Francisco. 

There is a direct correlation between traffic congestion and accident rates - involving cars, cyclists, and pedestrians

Chain reaction rear-endings

Increased traffic congestion means less space between cars. Remember that California traffic laws advise using the “three-second rule” when gauging the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. This usually correlates to about one car length per 10 mph. This distance usually provides enough time for drivers to react to anything that happens in front of them, helping them avoid an accident.

However, a look at any congested highway, freeway, or major thoroughfare is proof that only some adhere to this rule. And when they do, impatient drivers will likely cut right in front of them. As a result, increased Bay Area traffic congestion increases the likelihood of rear-ending someone in front of you or being rear-ended by someone else. If there isn’t enough distance between cars, this becomes a chain-reaction rear-ending accident involving multiple cars.

Increased speed on side roads and alternate routes

Apps like Google Maps and Waze have opened up Bay Area byways. Roads once considered quiet sidestreets are now becoming major thoroughfares, especially during peak traffic hours. This leads to speeding accidents when commuters run late or are used to taking roads with higher speed limits to drive far faster than they should.

The City of Oakland takes this rise in accidents and fatalities very seriously. In 2022, The Oakland City Government acknowledged that Oakland’s roads are so dangerous that severe and fatal crashes are now a “public safety epidemic.” Speeding on side streets was one of their main concerns, which has led to the addition of 52-speed bumps, with more on the way.

Accidents involving speeding can also occur on congested freeways, believe it or not, when drivers who think they know better race in and out of responsibly-spaced traffic. 

Increased road rage that leads to irresponsible driving

An article on LinkedIn explored the factors contributing to road rage. The top reasons for experiencing road rage are:

  • Traffic congestion.
  • Disrespectful (aggressive) behavior by other drivers.
  • Time pressures (running late, which is exacerbated by traffic congestion). 
  • Personal issues.
  • Being cut off by another driver.

Unfortunately, as the Americal Psychological Association (APA) points out, road rage increases the risk of traffic accidents. They cite: 

“...the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found “road rage” contributed to 218 deaths and 12,610 injuries between 1990 and 1996. Worse, AAA found that road rage incidents increased nearly 7% each year within that period.”

They also reinforce that crowded roadways are a leading cause of road rage. So, the more we can do to decrease traffic congestion in the Bay Area while providing education about road rage and how to avoid it, the safer our roads will be.

Distracted driving

Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents, and accidents related to distracted driving have increased exponentially with the advent of smartphones and other digital gadgets. When people are stuck in traffic, they are more likely to break hands-free gadget laws for several reasons:

  • They believe traffic is so slow they can focus on the road while texting/scrolling.
  • People begin using map apps to find alternative routes.
  • Texting increases communication with colleagues, family, friends, etc., that you’re running late.

While traffic congestion may mean driving far slower than normal, the number of people on the road, combined with unpredictable behavior from fellow drivers, means drivers must remain hands-free and attentive as ever.

There are more pedestrians and cyclists taking to the (unsafe) roads

Any committed Bay Area bicycle commuter knows it’s almost always faster to bike than drive to work if you live within 10 miles or less from work. Heavy Bay Area traffic congestion, compared with escalating gas prices, caused many people to re-evaluate how they get to/from work. This means more cyclists and pedestrians on the road.

Researchers focusing on reducing traffic congestion and car accident rates have identified a combination of factors that need to be addressed to make our roads safer. These include:

  • Informed, forward-thinking urban design inherently creates safer roads.
  • Public transportation infrastructure that compels people from all backgrounds to get out of their individual cars and into public transportation.
  • Routine, efficient road maintenance to address road safety concerns  (we need to hold municipalities accountable for providing safe sidewalks and streets). 

SLS’s post states, “...the city of Oakland has consistently dealt with a seemingly innocuous problem that has had consequences for traffic safety: potholes. Excessive potholes, especially in Black and low-income neighborhoods, means that drivers are forced to drive unsafely, creating risk for themselves and others.”

Burneikis Law Firm Is Dedicated To Promoting Safer Roads & Driving Conditions In The Bay

Have you recently been involved in a Bay Area traffic accident due to traffic congestion or a distracted driver? Schedule a free discovery session with us here at Burneikis Law. The more we hold everyone accountable for keeping our roads safe, the faster we’ll see a reduction in car accident rates. 

Or, was your accident due to a combination of poor road conditions and heavy traffic? Everyone deserves to travel along well-maintained sidewalks and roads, which are always safer than those in disrepair, and we’re here to fight for that right. Call Burnekis Law at (510) 328-3238, and let’s get to work making the Bay Area a safer place to live, work, and play.

Monica Burneikis - Oakland Personal Injury Attorney
Monica Burneikis has been an accident and personal injury lawyer for over 15 years. She knows what it takes to fight with insurance companies in order to obtain maximum compensation for injury victims and their families.
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