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Motorway accidents - The three most common causes

Motorway accidents are very common, but with a little care you can keep yourself and others safe when driving on the motorway.

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Motorway accidents – The three most common causes

According to statistics from the Department for Transport, the number of motorway accidents in the UK is declining, with figures showing 5,615 accidents reported to police in 2012. Yet motorway accidents are fairly common, although not all cause injury and only a small percentage result in fatalities. There are drivers who point blank refuse to drive on motorways as they are worried about their safety, yet these roads remain the fastest way to get to many major towns and cities across the UK. You don’t need to avoid motorways altogether if you are worried about motorway accidents, as there are things you can to do stay safe.

Common causes of motorway accidents

So what are the most common causes of motorway accidents, and how can you stay safe whilst driving on the motorway?


Tiredness is one of the leading causes of motorway accidents, and we don’t just mean the type of tiredness that leads to you falling asleep at the wheel. Whilst there have been many cases of accidents where drivers fell asleep at the wheel and their vehicle crossed into oncoming traffic or struck another vehicle, there’s also evidence which suggests being tired behind the wheel can affect your concentration and reaction time. Finding yourself unable to concentrate behind the wheel could mean you react more slowly to hazards in the road ahead of you. Being thirsty and hungry can make you feel drowsy, but you shouldn’t eat or drink at the wheel – that’s what service stations are there for, so you can stop for a break, a drink and a bite to eat. It’s important to take frequent breaks and if you are travelling overnight, you may want to book a room at a hotel so that you can get some sleep.


Driving too close to the vehicle in front is commonly known as tailgating, and it’s a major cause of motorway accidents. It’s now illegal to tailgate another vehicle, and a spot fine penalty applies if you are caught. Yet this offence is hard for police to detect and penalise, so it remains a common cause of motorway accidents. Tailgating in wet or icy weather, or visibility is reduced, is particularly dangerous as stopping distances are increased. If you are tailgating another vehicle in a town centre, a shunt to their vehicle could lead to cuts, bruises and whiplash. However, when you are travelling at speeds of 60-70mph on a motorway, tailgating could lead to serious injuries or even a fatality. According to road safety charity Brake, 2% of all motorway accidents are fatal, but whilst that figure may not seem high, it’s still higher than the 1.4% of accidents on other types of roads that lead to fatalities.


When an accident happens on the motorway, our natural human instinct is to look and try to see if we can work out what happened. Yet accidents happen frequently on the opposite side of the carriageway to an existing accident, often caused by drivers ‘rubbernecking’ to see what has happened. Rubbernecking and failing to pay attention to other road users around you could lead to a shunt or sideswiping, both of which could cause serious, life-changing injuries. Figures from the Department for Transport suggest that 44% of accidents in 2014 were caused by drivers failing to look properly – and if your attention is on the accident that happened on the other side of the carriageway, rather than the road around you, it’s easy to see how motorway accidents can happen.

Staying safe on the motorway

Since 2000, Accident Advice Helpline has helped hundreds of drivers to claim compensation after they were injured in a motorway accident that wasn’t their fault. Although these are the three main causes of motorway accidents, there are plenty of other factors that could easily lead to an accident too. Official accident statistics suggest that driving too fast for weather conditions is responsible for 10.2% of all accidents on the UK’s roads, whilst sudden braking, using your mobile phone at the wheel or driving a vehicle that isn’t roadworthy are also contributory factors to accidents. In order to stay safe on the motorway, there are some things you can do:

  • Don’t check your phone whilst driving
  • Always wear a seat belt
  • Never drive tired
  • Leave at least a two second gap between your vehicle and the one in front
  • Stick to the speed limits
  • Keep an eye out for bikes

When you consider that 52% of accidents happen within five miles of home, it’s easy to see how important it is to stay vigilant and concentrate on your surroundings at all times.

Claiming compensation after motorway accidents

Injuries from motorway accidents have the potential to be life changing. You’re usually travelling at speeds of up to 70mph which means the impact of a collision can be far greater than when travelling at slower speeds. Accident Advice Helpline has helped drivers claim compensation for a range of different injuries after motorway accidents and here are some of the most serious injuries we have come across:

  • Brain injuries
  • Fractured skull
  • Burns (from a vehicle catching fire)
  • Facial lacerations
  • Loss of vision (temporary or permanent) due to eye injuries
  • Loss of limbs, usually caused by crush injuries
  • Spinal or neck injuries leading to permanent disability

If you have suffered serious, life-changing injuries or if somebody you love has been injured and you believe the other driver was to blame, you could make a claim for personal injury compensation within three years of your accident. You could be entitled to compensation for your pain, suffering and loss of earnings, so why not call Accident Advice Helpline today on 0800 083 5045 (or call to find out if you could make a No Win No Fee claim. There are no upfront fees to worry about and our experienced advisors offer advice on a no-obligation basis, in confidence, so you never have to feel pressured into making a claim if you change your mind at any point.

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