Driving Cars Impacted Climate Change for Decades, Now Climate Change is Making Driving More Dangerous

Lakshmi Iyengar
Jan 20, 2022 · 4 min read
Key Insights
  • Fatal, weather-related car accidents increased by 72% between 2005 and 2019 (from 4,813 to 8,277), increasing an average of 15% per year
  • Fatal crashes caused by rain and clouds contributed most to the increase, which correlates with an increase in extreme weather events like severe storms over the same time period.
  • The states with the largest increases in weather-related fatal crashes are Texas, Florida, California, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. This corresponds with an increase in extreme weather events like wildfires in California, and tropical cyclones (hurricanes) in Texas, Florida, and Virginia (plus proximity to severe storms in Pennsylvania).
Fatal weather-related crashes increased by 72% (from 4,813 to 8,277) in the U.S. between 2005 and 2019. This pattern correlates with a rise in billion-dollar natural disasters in the U.S. over the same time period, with climate change driving more frequent extreme weather. In 2005, there were four natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina being one) that caused at least $1 billion worth of damage; in 2019, there were 14 (Hurricane Dorian and California wildfires topping the list).

Fatal Crashes Due to Rain and Cloudy Weather Increase Most

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that combined land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of more than 0.26 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 40 years. Temperature extremes result in intensified heavy rainfall and reduced snowfall.
Fatal rain-related accidents increased 29% over that same period. Fatal cloud-related accidents increased by 22% between 2010-2019, from 3,961 accidents in 2010 to 4,828 in 2019. There was no available data about cloudy weather-caused fatal crashes before 2010.
Snow-related crashes decreased over the time frame and wind-related crashes remained level. The volume of freezing-rain-related fatal crashes increased from 15 in 2012 to 37 crashes by 2019. There was no available freezing-rain data prior to 2012.
Texas, Florida, California, Virginia, and Pennsylvania experienced the largest increases in fatal weather-related crashes between 2005-2019.
Climate scientists predicted this. Texas and Florida are the states with the most hurricanes in America from 1851 to 2021. Virginia is tenth. As water temperatures increase from climate change, more heat energy is available for hurricanes, officially known as tropical cyclones. And studies have shown that hurricanes are getting stronger, and more are making landfall. States like Texas, Florida, and Virginia will only continue to suffer from worsening hurricanes.
California is a different story. The state has experienced record drought, flooding, and wildfires this year alone. Wildfires ravaged 6.2 million acres of California in 2021 and 2020. When it does rain, the state experiences flooding and power outages. Pennsylvania is also feeling the impact of extreme weather. In 2018, record-breaking flooding and landslides cost the state an extra 105 million dollars in infrastructure replacement.  Philadelphia is also the 17th fastest-warming city in the U.S.

Conclusion

While the number of registered vehicles only increased 11% between 2005-2019, the number of fatal crashes increased by 72%. Climate change may be the culprit. It’s caused caused an increase in extreme weather over the past several decades, with a clear impact on the increased number of fatal crashes, specifically due to rain and clouds. Drivers in coastal states like Texas and Florida are not the only ones at risk -- Jerry’s data shows all states have experienced some increase in weather-related fatal crashes over the time frame. 
So what can drivers do? Avoid driving in bad weather, purchase or lease weather-safe vehicles, and be extremely careful while driving in bad weather are good first steps. Drivers can also take part in local sustainability efforts to preserve and improve the environment, wherever they are. 
Reporting by Ben Guess and Lakshmi Iyengar

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