The Most Dangerous Hour in LA

There Is One Moment When You Definitely Don’t Want to Be on the Freeway

Zachary Siegel

The most dangerous hour of the most dangerous day to be driving on Los Angeles freeways is Friday between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In 2016, there were 4,995 collisions during Friday rush hour. That’s 23 percent higher than Wednesday’s rush hour, which saw 3,962 collisions during 2016.

Los Angeles is the fertile crescent of traffic accidents in America. Nationwide, accidents have been increasing at about 3.8%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Los Angeles, they have been rising by nearly double that amount, according to an analysis by insurer Allstate. The only bright spot: Fewer of the crashes are fatal.

But an analysis performed by University of Southern California’s Integrated Media Systems Center and the Annenberg School of Journalism reveals just how widely safety on the roadways can swing depending on the day and the hour of the week. After combing through accident data for the past four years, Friday night consistently wins the unenviable prize for most dangerous.

Accidents in LA M-F

On Los Angeles freeways, a total of 30,756 collisions happened on a Friday during 2016. Nearly 17 percent of those accidents, totaling to 4,995, occurred between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. In contrast, Monday saw 23 percent fewer accidents during its rush hour. A total of 25,886 collisions happened on Monday, only 12 percent of which occurred between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., making it the week’s safest rush hour.

Analyzing collisions between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday shows how sharp accidents spike during weekday rush hour. Sunday saw a total of 21,089 accidents during 2016. Only 9 percent of those collisions occurred during that 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. window. That’s an 89 percent drop from Friday night’s jam.

Theories abound as to why Friday night is so treacherous. Jeffrey Spring, communications manager for American Automobile Association, says a confluence factors made that time of the week the most dangerous, namely, an influx of people on the road.

“It is a matter of high traffic volume combined with drivers’ urge to either get home for the weekend, get to a Friday night party or leave town,” says Spring.

Indeed, examining the data generated by some 25,000 sensors embedded in Los Angeles freeways and regular surface streets—which measure, among other things, traffic volume—indicate Friday night rush hour is the busiest time to be on the road.

Kevin Tao, a public information officer at the California Highway Patrol, says that in addition to being crowded, drivers are more distracted than ever before. This helps shed some light on why collisions are becoming more frequent but less deadly. Drivers inching through rush hour with their eyes on their phone instead of the road cause more minor fender-benders than high-speed collisions, said Tao.

Drivers used to have fewer distractions. Before smartphones became ubiquitous, distractions were limited to eating while driving or tuning the radio. Now, said Tao, smartphones and their numerous apps are stealing eyes from the road.

Tao says young drivers are more likely to be fiddling with their phones than older ones. Hence, the more young people on the road, the more likely accidents will occur. Drivers between 15 to 20 years old comprise 6.4 percent of America’s drivers, but cause 14 percent of crashes where an injury is reported, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Young people also account for 38 percent of the distracted drivers who were using phones in fatal crashes.

Though Friday night is prime time for novice drivers who’ve been waiting for the weekend, it’s impossible to determine the overall impact they are having on Friday night accidents.

CHP officials said distracted driving is the culprit for the uptick in accidents generally. While that doesn’t explain Friday night, CHP said in order to curb what they are calling a public health crisis, a sea change in the culture of distracted driving needs to be tackled head-on.