Every year, thousands of traffic accidents in Albany and Its environs inflict pain, damage, and cost on crash victims and their loved ones. The toll of motor vehicle collisions represents a major public health, welfare, and economic issue in Albany, one we should all do our utmost to understand and mitigate as much as possible.
One step we can take to reduce the impact of collisions is to understand how they happen in our region. That is the focus of this blog post. Drawing on data collected by the University at Albany’s Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR), we explore the most common causes of collisions in the Capital Region, steps members of the public and policymakers might take to address them, and how a skilled attorney can help injured victims of collisions obtain the compensation they deserve.
What Albany Crash Data Tells Us About Collision Causes
We focus on ITSMR data on traffic accidents in the City of Albany and Albany County over a recent five-year period. During that time frame, Albany County roads saw an average of 8,800 crashes per year.
However, that number does not tell the whole story, because for the initial three years of that period, crashes averaged closer to 8,250 per year, only to soar in the final two years to 9,315 and 9,930 accidents, respectively. That’s a troubling increase, undoubtedly due, at least in part, to rising traffic volumes in-and-around Albany.
Neighboring towns and villages, in particular, accounted for the bulk of the increase in annual accidents in Albany County as a whole. Accidents within the City of Albany limits, in contrast, stayed more-or-less steady during that period at just over 3,000 crashes per year.
Traffic volumes may explain the rise in accidents, but do they explain individual crashes, pile-ups, and fender benders? To pinpoint what’s happening at street level, we took a closer look at the ITSMR data about police-reported contributing factors (a.k.a. causes) of crashes in the Albany region. They reveal that a relatively small set of factors accounted for a majority of the Capital Region’s accidents, at least according to the police reports from which ITSMR takes its raw data. Here’s a review of the top five contributing factors in area collisions.
1. Following Too Closely
Over the five years we reviewed, the most commonly cited contributing factor in Albany collisions was “Following Too Closely.” It appeared on nearly one-quarter (22.5 percent) of all collision reports as a contributing factor to crashes.
The frequency of Following Too Closely as a cause of accidents in Albany seems to bear out our intuition that rising traffic volumes lie at the root of many crashes in the Capital Region. Cars cannot shrink and roads cannot get longer, so the necessary result of increased traffic volume is that vehicles squeeze closer together—sometimes too close—on the same stretch of pavement, making accidents more likely.
Rear-end collisions, in particular, tend to happen more often when too many cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles share a road all at once.
2. Driver Inattention/Distraction
The next-most-common cause of accidents in the Albany area over the five years of data we reviewed was “Driver Inattention/Distraction,” cited as a contributing factor in about one-fifth (20 percent) of the region’s collisions.
This factor includes dangerous driving behaviors like:
- Programming or paying attention to a GPS
- Eating/drinking while driving
- Turning to talk to passengers in the rear seat
- Turning to look at something outside the vehicle, other than the road ahead
- Looking in mirrors/personal grooming
Driver distraction constituted a growing collision hazard on non-City of Albany roads, especially, during that period. In fact, the number of distracted driving accidents in the City of Albany dropped dramatically during that time but rose virtually everywhere else in Albany County.
Again, this would seem to corroborate our instinct that rising Capital Region traffic volumes play a central role in area collisions. As the populations of municipalities surrounding the City of Albany continue to grow, drivers have less space to maneuver and less time to react to hazards on local roads. Those are precisely the types of hazards that distracted driving exacerbates. Distracted drivers often allow their vehicles to drift out of lanes.
They also reduce their own reaction times by not paying attention to the road ahead. The result: More accidents caused by driver inattention/distraction on Albany-area roads.
3. Failure to Yield Right-of-Way
About 17 percent of Albany’s motor vehicle collisions over a five-year period resulted from a driver’s failure to yield the right-of-way. These accidents rose in towns and villages surrounding the City of Albany, while remaining relatively steady within the city limit. However, they also accounted for between 20 percent and 25 percent of collisions resulting in personal injuries in the city, making them relatively more dangerous than their frequency would suggest.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, in particular, face risks of serious injury in failure to yield accidents. Passenger vehicles and trucks should yield the right-of-way to people crossing the street, and to bicycles and motorcycles in many instances. Their failure to do so can have deadly consequences, simply because those road users have little protection from injury in a collision.
Failure to yield the right-of-way accidents are especially common at in-town intersections, where drivers make ill-advised turns into the path of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
As with the other factors above, rising traffic volumes can increase the likelihood of failure to yield accidents. Roadway crowding, for example, can make drivers impatient and lead them to take risks when turning across oncoming lanes of traffic or pulling out into traffic from a side street, which can result in an increased risk of a failure to yield the right-of-way accident.
4. Unsafe Speed
Driving too fast for traffic and road conditions contributed to the cause of approximately 8 percent of the accidents in Albany County over our five-year timeframe. Unsafe speed accidents include those in which a driver exceeded the posted speed limit, and others in which the driver’s speed simply was not safe for the time, weather, road surface, and traffic volume.
Once again, the number of unsafe speed crashes in the City of Albany stayed relatively steady year-over-year in the period we examined, while risking markedly in other cities, towns, and villages within Albany County. Growing traffic volumes in the area have likely increased the risks for drivers of operating too fast on an area road.
Speeding reduces a driver’s available reaction time and lengthens the distance a vehicle needs to come to a safe stop. In heavy traffic, those effects make speeding a significant crash risk.
5. Pavement Slippery
Rounding out the top five causes of accidents in-and-around Albany, slippery pavement played a contributing role in 7 percent of collisions in the time we explored. As the only weather-related factor in the top five, we would expect this cause to vary year to year with annual weather patterns, and so it does.
Still, we probably can’t attribute all variability in the frequency of slippery pavement accidents to fluctuating weather. Across all areas in Albany County, collisions blamed on slippery pavement have risen, again likely due to rising traffic volumes. Crowded roads increase the odds of slippery pavement leading to collisions, because more vehicles mean more opportunities for a crash, and vehicles have less distance to slide before they collide with each other.
Other Significant Crash Contributing Factors
Outside the top five collision causes, a handful of factors played significant, albeit less-common, roles in Albany-region accidents. They included:
- Turning improperly (a factor in 4 percent of collisions)
- Backing unsafely (4 percent)
- Disregarding a traffic control device (3 percent)
- Alcohol involvement (2 percent)
- Limited or obstructed view (2 percent)
These factors tend to go hand-in-hand with the top five, in that they each represent factors that increase the risk of accidents on their own, and even more so, when they occur in combination with others, especially in heavy traffic scenarios.
What We Can Do About Albany Collision Causes
As drivers, we all can do our part to reduce collisions in the Capital Region by, among other things, taking the causes listed above as a guide to safe driving practices.
- Leave plenty of room between our vehicles and those in front of us, especially on highways like I-787 and I-90.
- Put down our phones and avoid other visual, motor, and cognitive distractions behind the wheel.
- Use turn signals, practice situational awareness, and exercise caution at intersections and when turning across oncoming lanes of traffic.
- Resist the temptation to speed—even just a few additional mph can exponentially increase the risk of a collision.
- Leave ourselves time to get where we need to go, so that we’re not rushed and prone to making bad decisions.
- Take account of weather conditions when driving.
- Tell local officials about dangerous driving areas and advocate to get them fixed.
Policymakers and other public servants, too, can take steps to keep the roads safe in Albany County.
Steps they may take can include:
- Following safe road engineering practices in designing intersections, merges, and other travel routes.
- Enforcing traffic laws uniformly and equitably.
- Adopting new technologies that make traffic enforcement more efficient and predictable, which tends to increase compliance.
- Planning for future traffic growth.
- Investing, if and when appropriate, in public transportation alternatives like buses and commuter rail systems.
This is not a complete list of steps we can take of course. It is incumbent on all of us, individually and collectively, to think creatively about how we can make sure that our roads stay safe, so that our loved ones, friends, and neighbors avoid becoming victims of a preventable traffic collision.
The Role Accident Lawyers Play in Addressing Albany Collision Causes
Lawyers for victims of Albany traffic collisions also play a role in confronting the causes of accidents by holding the at-fault parties liable for crashes legally and financially accountable. Under New York law, an individual, business, or organization that causes an Albany collision by engaging in unreasonably dangerous conduct will owe money damages to crash victims.
Experienced motor vehicle accident injury lawyers represent those victims in legal actions seeking compensation from those at-fault parties.
Their efforts can often secure payment for a victim’s:
- Past and future medical expenses in treating collision injuries;
- Past and future non-medical costs of adapting to and living with those injuries;
- Past and future lost wages and income caused by the injuries; and
- Pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life owing to the collision and injuries.
Attorneys for collision victims in Albany can also sometimes secure payment of punitive damages from the at-fault party to the collision victim, as a form of punishment of the at-fault party’s extreme or malicious conduct.
By securing money damages for Albany collision victims, auto accident attorneys also play a broader role in the fight to address the causes of collisions in the Capital Region. Each insurance claim and lawsuit a lawyer files on behalf of an injured collision victim helps to influence policymakers, insurance companies, and civic leaders to invest in accident-prevention resources and safe traffic infrastructure.
Attorneys fight to ensure that wrongful actions have an economic effect on the at-fault parties, and in so doing, they spur positive change in the communities they serve.
Injured in an Albany Collision? Contact a Skilled Attorney Today.
A motor vehicle collision on an Albany-area road can inflict a heavy physical, emotional, and financial toll. Every crash causes trauma that ripples through Albany County families and neighborhoods. A skilled collision injury attorney’s job is to hold the parties at fault for that trauma accountable through insurance claims and filings in New York State courts.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a collision in Albany, as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or cyclist, do not wait to contact an experienced auto accident injury lawyer. The sooner you have an attorney working on your behalf to figure out the causes of the collision and to identify the at-fault parties, the greater your chances of securing the compensation you need and deserve.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.