Although the traffic in Phoenix is not as bad as it is in other large cities, the roads in the area are by no means safe. Although the number of traffic accidents has fallen recently, the number of motor vehicle fatalities continues to rise, hitting recent highs. While that is largely in line with national trends, unique risk factors increase the danger for Phoenix drivers. Arizona roads, while not the most dangerous in the country, are more hazardous than average. This is even without the rain and harsh weather that endanger drivers in other states.
Here are some of the reasons why car accidents happen in Phoenix, including some that are specific to our local and regional area:
Heavy Truck Traffic
Phoenix is in a central area as far as truck traffic is concerned. The city is between the major population centers of Texas and California. In addition, trucks come up through Arizona from the Mexican border on their way to the rest of the country. Truck traffic has been steady in Phoenix, and it has only increased recently. Now, the rise of online shopping means far more trucks on the road than in the past. Trucking companies cannot get enough truck drivers to haul their goods.
Giants like Walmart and Amazon have built massive new distribution facilities in Arizona, meaning even more truck traffic in the area. One of the largest Walmart distribution centers in the world is in Casa Grande, just an hour south of Phoenix. If it seems like you see Walmart trucks everywhere, you are probably right.
All of this truck traffic raises the risks for drivers, especially when the drivers may be inexperienced and insufficiently trained. Motorists must share the road with these large trucks that can weigh more than 25 times more than their own vehicles. Many of these trucks come straight through Phoenix, taking up space on area highways and forcing drivers to be extra careful. Trucks often cannot see out of their blind spots, but it does not stop drivers from speeding to make up time and get in more driving before they have to stop to rest.
Statistics show that Arizona’s urban highways are far more dangerous than the average highway in terms of fatality numbers. Over a recent two-year period, there were 207 fatal accidents on freeways in the Valley area. This breaks down to one every five days. One study showed that the rate of fatalities on Arizona’s urban highways and freeways is 61 percent higher than the national average.
These statistics are puzzling because the urban freeways in Arizona are generally wide. In fact, officials may widen I-10 in the city to eight lanes. However, highways with plenty of lanes, while reducing traffic, also encourage dangerous driving practices. Especially, these involve speeding and reckless driving through sudden lane changes. I-17 north of Phoenix routinely makes national lists of the most dangerous highways.
Arizona highway accidents have more to do with reckless driving than they do with traffic. Statistics show that more than half of traffic fatalities on these roads happen between Friday and Sunday when there is less traffic on these roads. While you can control your actions, you have no control over another driver’s recklessness and lack of regard for your own safety.
Drivers Unfamiliar With City and Suburban Roads
One thing that the Phoenix area has is roads and lots of them. Even though there is a growing mass transit system, the Valley is a mecca for the automobile. Beyond that, Phoenix is a very spread-out metro area because it can constantly expand into the desert. There are nearly 5,000 miles of roads just in Phoenix. This does not include roads in Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert, and other surrounding areas.
The upshot is that drivers have a smaller chance of knowing where they are going when traveling on such an expansive network of roads. There is a greater chance they will be on unfamiliar terrain, struggling to figure out where they are going. Lost drivers are dangerous because they can miss stop signs and red lights. Figuring out where they are going and stopping to look at their phones for directions may distract them. Being lost may also affect their concentration and their ability to deal with sudden dangers around them.
The rise of ridesharing companies has caused the number of distracted and lost drivers to increase. Many Uber and Lyft drivers spend their days on unfamiliar roads trying to squeeze out a living. They have one eye on their app, struggling to figure out where they are going.
Because Phoenix is a newer city than most, it has wider roads than many older cities that carry more traffic. While that may make life easier for motorists traveling in one direction, it can become far harder to make a turn. This is especially true when an intersection is within a mile of a highway (and Phoenix has many highways). When that happens, cars tend to back up, making getting through an intersection and turning even harder.
Some of Phoenix’s major roads can carry between 60,000-80,000 cars per day. Some of the busiest roads are Camelback and McDowell Roads. There is an average of over 20,000 crashes at intersections each year in the Phoenix area, as intersections here are busier than they are in most cities. Drivers often misjudge the intersection and the amount of time that they have to turn. Other drivers may run red lights, either because they did not see them or because they were trying to make it through the light.
Continuous Construction Zones
While much of the Phoenix area seems relatively new, it is old enough that the infrastructure now needs repair. This especially applies to the expansive road network in the area. Phoenix is currently in the midst of a five-year campaign to repair roads in the area. Recently, the city passed a measure that tripled the number of roadway miles in its maintenance program. There are continuous construction zones on both major highways and city streets.
Phoenix roads are in less than ideal shape, and the city will need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix that. Only about 30 percent of the roads in the area are considered to be in excellent shape. Arizona is committed to fixing roads in the area, but it requires almost near-continuous construction. Even on city streets, work zones will present a danger to those passing through due to some of the sudden changes in roadway conditions and narrow lanes. When other drivers do not slow down and pay attention in work zones, they cause accidents that injure and kill other drivers who are following the rules.
Arizona also has a major road rage epidemic throughout the state. The problem is only getting worse in recent years as drivers act far more aggressively behind the wheel. These drivers will be out of control, driving recklessly and placing other drivers in danger. There have been numerous reports of road rage shootings in the Phoenix area.
A driver does not have to resort to violence to harm someone else. Some drivers may tailgate or drive erratically in their effort to get the last word in a roadway dispute. Tailgating can lead to rear-end crashes. Aggressive driving can cause another motorist to lose control of their car. It can even hurt other drivers and their passengers in the area who had absolutely nothing to do with the initial incident.
The Phoenix Heat
While Phoenix does not have rain and snow to make its roadways dangerous, heat can actually make things worse for drivers. Motorists are not at their best during the hot days of a Phoenix summer. One study showed that drivers have nearly a 3 percent higher risk of a car accident during a heatwave (and the entire Phoenix spring and summer is considered a heatwave).
Driver performance actually gets worse on very hot days. That same study showed a 7 percent higher chance of a driver performance error causing a crash on extremely hot days. Motorists are more likely to make errors when they are weary and fatigued from extreme heat. It does not matter whether Phoenix drivers are used to the heat—it can still wear them down during the 100-degree-plus days.
In addition to factors specific to Phoenix mentioned above that cause accidents, area drivers also face the same risks as drivers in other cities for car accidents. Below, we will describe some of these hazards.
Many people pin the rise in car accident fatalities on the advent of the smartphone. This is a major reason for road danger. Drivers may miss stop signs or veer out of their lane because they had their eyes down on their road as opposed to focusing on the road. A car can travel the length of a football field in just a few seconds. The same amount that it takes to send a text. Cars cannot apply the brakes to avoid rear-ending cars in front of them, nor can they avoid dangers around them. Not only does this increase the risk of a crash, but it makes car accidents far deadlier.
Cell phones are just one part of distracted driving. People do everyday activities while driving instead of keeping both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. This includes things like eating and doing their makeup. In one year, over 3,000 people were killed nationally in distracted driving crashes.
Arizona ranks in the upper half of states in terms of DUI fatalities as a percentage of total motor vehicle deaths. Arizona’s DUI fatalities are higher than the national average. This is part of why more of Arizona’s highway traffic deaths occur on the weekends than during weekday rush hours. While Arizona has stiff penalties for DUI, it does not stop people in the state from driving drunk.
Alcohol slows down drivers’ reaction times, and it causes them to be unable to perceive what is occurring around them. Some drivers will take far more risks when driving drunk because they have lost inhibitions and judgment. This results in reckless driving and speeding.
Driving without the proper amount of rest can be every bit as dangerous as drunk driving. When motorists have been more than 20 hours without sleep, it is the same as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 (which is the legal limit). Fatigued driving also dulls a driver’s reflexes and keeps them from managing what is happening on the road around them.
This problem can be particularly bad with truck drivers. Even with federal regulations limiting the amount of time that they can drive, they may still not get the proper rest. Driving a large and fully-loaded truck requires a trained driver with all of their reflexes and wits about them.
The long highways and multi-lane roads encourage Phoenix drivers to go fast, despite the speed limits. Even stiff penalties for reckless driving and speeding do not slow them down. In a recent year, speed-related accidents killed 281 people, and nearly another 3,000 suffered an injury.
Nationally, speeding is the third most common cause of car crashes. Drivers cannot brake when they have to, and they can lose control of their car when they are speeding.
Other drivers who are traveling at the posted speed limit end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problem is equally as bad on urban roads, even when there are lower posted speed limits. In fact, it can be worse because there are likely to be other drivers in the vicinity who suffered an injury.
These are only some of the many causes of car crashes in Phoenix. Always contact a Phoenix car accident attorney if you need legal assistance.
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