The Rising Tide of Fender-Benders

As the region’s economy grows, so does the number of accidents

Iris Lee

In the last four years, traffic collisions in Los Angeles soared by 29 percent, according to data furnished by the California Highway Patrol, more than double the 12 percent increase the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports for the country at large.

There is no simple explanation for Los Angeles’s runaway accidents stats, which has implications for everything from public safety to insurance rates and even the turnover at auto body shops. But part of it has to do with California’s lopsided economic recovery.

Southern California was hit hard during the recession; property values here fell more steeply than the national average and unemployment rose to over 13 percent in 2010. Since then, however, the region has been roaring back, which, in Los Angeles translates to more cars on the road.

According to a report by Insurance Information Institute, an industry organization for the insurance industry states the number of cars on the road directly correlates to number of accidents. And more cars have been hitting the road in Los Angeles year after year than in the rest of the country. From 2012 to 2014, registered cars in Los Angeles have increased by 4 percent while the national average was 2.6 percent.

This trend is projected to accelerate, as new car sales have been increasing in Los Angeles according to California New Car Dealers Association.

The increase in car sales points to a healthy economy, another possible factor for increase in collisions. "High employment rates put more cars on the road, too," says Janet Ruiz, the California communication representative for the Insurance Information Institute. "When people have jobs, they drive more," she said.

While Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate is still higher than the national average, it has been declining at a faster clip. Since 2012, unemployment rate has decreased by 5.7 percentage points Los Angles compared to the nation, which decreased by 3.4 percentage points.

However, the increase in number of cars on the road isn’t the only reason why accidents are increasing. According to a 2015 study by NHTSA, the number one reason for accidents is "driver recognition error," or distracted driving.

"We go out on almost daily basis for accidents," said Fire Captain Tyler Dixon, who has been with the Los Angeles Fire Department for over 15 years. He’s currently the captain of Station #26, located near the Western Avenue exit on the 10 Freeway. "It’s mostly because of distracted driving; texting, eating or putting makeup on."

David Jaureguy, a veteran firefighter of 10 years, agree that phones are number one cause of accidents.

"Just the other day I had a guy run into a cyclist while looking at his phone," said Jaureguy.

Mobile ownership in the US has consistently been increasing according to the Pew Research Center. Los Angeles was third in the nation in smartphone penetration as early as 2013.

However, Los Angeles might be embracing a way to reverse this trend. This past November, the county voted overwhelmingly to approve a measure that will send billions in additional sales tax revenue toward transit projects, much of it for new public transportation lines intended to relieve the stress on the area’s freeways. It will be years before many of these projects are completed, though.In the meantime, Captain Dixon has one advice for us all, "put down your phone and drive."