As the most populous and frequently traveled state in the U.S. California’s roads are also some of the busiest. Unfortunately, this also means car accidents are a common occurrence. In 2021, there were 3,983 fatal car accidents in the state, leading to 4,285 fatalities. These figures clearly illustrate the risks associated with driving on California’s highways.
Understanding California car accident statistics can reveal the trends, causes, and impacts of these frequent incidents to help improve road safety and develop effective preventive strategies.
Top 10 Most Dangerous Counties in California
Although traffic-related challenges are widespread in the state, some counties are known for their higher frequency of hazardous driving conditions and accidents. Here’s a look at some car accident statistics in California for the state’s most dangerous counties based on accident rates, fatalities, and traffic conditions:
- Los Angeles County. Home to the bustling city of Los Angeles, this county records the highest number of injurious traffic accidents in the state at 39,957, which resulted in 793 fatal crashes in 2022. The heavy traffic, fast-paced highways, and urban gridlock contribute to many vehicle collisions each year.
- San Bernardino County. Known for its extensive freeway system, San Bernardino County saw 390 fatal accidents in 2022, mainly on routes like the I-15 and I-10. The mix of heavy commercial vehicle traffic and passenger cars creates a challenging driving environment.
- Riverside County. With rapidly growing suburbs and heavy commuter traffic, Riverside County experienced 312 fatal traffic incidents last year. Areas like the I-10 and the 91 Freeway are known for their high incidence of accidents and congestion.
- San Diego County. San Diego’s extensive freeway system and high population density led to 269 fatal accidents in 2022, with the mix of urban and border traffic adding to the complexity of its roadways.
- Orange County. Despite its smaller size, Orange County has a high rate of fatal traffic accidents at 207 for 2022, partly due to the heavy tourist traffic and densely populated areas. The I-5 and SR-57 are hotspots for collisions.
- Sacramento County. Sacramento County has a bustling traffic scene as the state capital, with the I-5, I-80, and Highway 99 particularly prone to accidents. The convergence of these major highways may be the reason for the county’s 203 fatal accidents last year.
- Fresno County. Fresno combines urban and rural roadways. The region’s agricultural activities and the presence of major highways like the SR-99 contributed to 172 traffic incidents that resulted in fatalities.
- Kern County. With its diverse terrain, including mountainous regions and desert and major trucking routes, Kern County experienced 186 fatal traffic accidents in 2022.
- Alameda County. Encompassing cities like Oakland, Alameda County faces traffic safety challenges, especially on the I-80 and I-880 corridors. The combination of urban and industrial traffic resulted in 99 fatal accidents in 2022.
- Stanislaus County. Located in the Central Valley with major highways like the SR-99, Stanislaus County sees heavy commercial and agricultural traffic, resulting in 66 accidents in 2022.
Top 10 Most Risky Cities for California Traffic Accidents
Numerous cities in California experience a high number of traffic accidents, but some areas are riskier than others. Here’s a closer look at the state’s most dangerous cities for drivers, ranked by the number of severe and fatal traffic injuries reported in 2022:
- Los Angeles. Leading the list with 2,005 reported cases, Los Angeles is the largest city in California and poses the most challenges for vehicle safety, reflecting its dense population and heavy traffic.
- San Diego. As a major urban and cultural center, the city’s high volume of vehicular activity contributed to 491 incidents.
- San Francisco. Reporting 317 cases, San Francisco’s unique urban layout, including its steep hills and narrow streets, contributes to its high number of traffic incidents.
- Sacramento. The state capital, with its mix of local, commuter, and governmental traffic, recorded 297 fatal and serious injuries due to car accidents, highlighting the traffic challenges in this bustling political and economic center.
- Long Beach. With 287 incidents, Long Beach’s traffic safety concerns are likely influenced by its status as a major port city, with a mix of commercial and passenger vehicle traffic.
- Fresno. Fresno reported 237 cases, reflecting the challenges of navigating a mix of urban and agricultural-related traffic in the largest city of California’s Central Valley.
- San Jose. With 233 incidents, San Jose’s position in the heart of Silicon Valley, with its heavy tech industry commuting traffic, contributes to its traffic safety issues.
- Oakland. Oakland, part of the densely populated Bay Area, reported 197 incidents, influenced by its heavy urban traffic and proximity to San Francisco.
- Riverside. Riverside has experienced rapid growth and dramatic urban sprawl into the desert regions. This population increase may have contributed to the 190 incidents recorded in 2022.
- Bakersfield. Recording 140 incidents, Bakersfield’s traffic safety issues are influenced by its location in a major agricultural region and the presence of heavy trucking routes.
Fatal Car Accidents in California vs. the U.S.
Of the 42,939 fatalities that resulted from 39,508 crashes across the U.S. in 2021, 4,285 occurred in California. This means that roughly 10% of all traffic fatalities in the country took place on California roads.
However, when comparing traffic fatalities per 100,000 people, California is below the national average. California has just 10.9 deaths per 100,000 population, while across the U.S., the average rate is 12.9 deaths for every 100,000 people.
Common Causes of Car Accidents in California
California’s picturesque and vast roadways also experience a considerable number of car accidents annually. These incidents vary from minor fender benders to more serious crashes, many of which have tragic outcomes.
Some of the primary factors contributing to vehicular incidents in the Golden State:
- Distracted Driving. With the rise of smartphones, distracted driving has become a leading cause of accidents. Between 2021 and 2022, speed was a factor in 40% of accidents in California and resulted in over 400 deaths and 42,000 injuries. Activities like texting, using social media, or adjusting the GPS while driving can lead to a loss of focus and, consequently, accidents.
- Speeding. Exceeding speed limits is a common issue on California’s freeways and city streets. High speeds reduce reaction time and increase the severity of crashes. In 2020, more than 500 people died, and over 57,000 were injured in crashes due to unsafe speeds.
- Impaired Driving. In California, driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or certain medications impairs driving abilities, leading to serious accidents. From 2011 to 2020, the state saw a dramatic increase in traffic fatalities involving these factors: alcohol-impaired driving fatalities rose by 49.7%, and drug-impaired driving fatalities increased by a concerning 71.6%, highlighting a critical and growing road safety challenge.
Know Your Rights After a California Car Accident
Knowing your rights can help you receive fair compensation for your injuries if you’re involved in a car accident in California. A California car accident attorney can gather evidence for your case, determine who is liable for your injuries, and help you file a claim for damages. This can help you pay for medical bills, replace lost wages, and compensate you for pain and suffering caused by the collision.
How many car accidents happen per day in California?
With 159,882 accidents in California in 2022, there was an average of 438 accidents per day in the Golden State.
How many car accidents happen per year in California?
California saw 159,882 car accidents in 2022, 162,036 in 2021, and 147,148 in 2020. Based on these numbers, the state had an average of 156,355 crashes per year for the last three years.
What percentage of car crashes are fatal?
There were 4,015 fatal car crashes in the Golden State in 2022. Out of 159,882 total accidents, about 2.5% resulted in California traffic fatalities that year.