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The least dangerous routes and times for your California commute

If you're hoping to decrease your likelihood of having a serious accident or even a fender bender, you may find one of the apparent solutions somewhat counter-intuitive. Most drivers likely assume that crowded, heavy-traffic areas during rush hour are the worst places to be. In fact, though, data from a recent study indicates that the opposite may actually be true, at least on the interstates and roads in the Bay Area, and it likely holds true throughout the entire state of California and beyond.

The study analyzed almost 22 million miles of data from over 60 various routes, collected anonymously via certain cellphone apps. Researchers used measurements of different activities performed by drivers — including speeding, aggressive acceleration, hard braking and phone use — to draw some conclusions about highway safety. So how can their findings help keep you and your loved ones safe on California roads?

Highway safety statistics

One of the most surprising findings from the month-long study was one indicating that drivers are 20 percent more likely to get into an accident during non-peak times on relatively uncrowded freeways than they are on busier highways in times of high-volume traffic. Other findings included:

  • On average, drivers are 8 percent more likely to have an accident on I-280 than on Highway 101.
  • The Golden Gate is the least crash-prone Bay Area bridge during the morning rush.
  • The San Mateo Bridge is the most crash-prone any time of day.
  • The overall safest highway is Interstate 580 heading west.

While these findings are location-specific, the conclusions researchers drew apply in more generalized driving situations. For many, though, the main question posed by all this data is, why? Why are motorists who drive during rush hour generally less likely, not more, to be involved in a collision than drivers out on the freeways at other times?

One researcher believes he knows the answer and that it's a simple one: As the amount of traffic increases, drivers slow down. This reduced speed, in turn, lowers the number of collisions relative to the number of cars on the road. The opposite appears to be true on clearer roads, when drivers feel more confident and thus more prone to distractions, and distraction leads to crashes and worse.

Hope for the future

Researchers are hoping this data will be useful in increasing safety for drivers in various ways, such as a mapping tool to help determine safe routes and travel times for commutes, or by aiding highway designers and urban planners in making better policy decisions. One of the remaining problems that the study findings and these new tools don't address, unfortunately, is distracted driving due to mobile phones.

Distracted driving, especially due to cellphone usage, is an increasingly common cause of fatal accidents. No matter how safely you drive and how carefully you plan your routes, you can't control the behavior — aggressive, distracted or just plain careless — of other drivers on California roads. If you or a loved one does suffer a serious injury, there are seasoned professionals who can offer invaluable counsel and guidance in any legal fight for just compensation.

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