It’s now officially Autumn, so slow down and keep your eyes on the road. It turns out the fall months are the most dangerous time to drive.
Automotive data company CARFAX has issued a new study showing more than 72% of U.S. drivers – roughly 170 million – live in states where fall is the peak season for accident damage.
The study’s authors point to many reasons. For one, there is less daylight. If you normally drive home at 6:00 p.m., it is no longer sunny like it was in July, but dark. Half of U.S. accidents happen in the dark, but those hours account for only 25% of travel.
Leaves are falling and when they collect on the roadway during a rain shower, the surface can become slick, making it more difficult to control the vehicle. Braking on wet leaves can make a car travel more than twice as far as braking on a dry road.
And then there are deer, which seem to be everywhere in October, even in urban and suburban areas. Deer mating season runs from October through December, and nearly half of deer crashes nationwide happen in just those three months.
In addition, one study notes that deer-car collisions spike 16% in the week after the end of Daylight Saving Time in November because of the jump to an earlier sunset. During the fall hunting season, deer being chased by dogs often bolt across the highway and into oncoming traffic.
"CARFAX has the most accident and damage information, and sometimes that data can be surprising," said Faisal Hasan, general manager for Data at CARFAX. "The change of seasons is a good time for drivers to see if any new recalls have been issued for their car."
Winter can also be a dangerous time to be behind the wheel, but only 23% of drivers live in states where winter is worst for accidents. Those states are California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana and Vermont.
What to do
To stay safe in Autumn and prepare for winter, there are several things drivers can do, all having to do with maintenance.
Check tire pressure: Sudden temp drops make tires lose air quickly. Don't wait for a Tire Pressure Monitoring System alert; check tire pressure monthly.
Switch to winter tires: Cold weather can harden the rubber in standard tires, hurting traction. If you live in a frigid area, winter tires with special rubber compounds and tread patterns may be wise.
Get a battery check: Cold weather reduces a battery's power, and it could fail. If your mechanic finds that your battery is weak, have a new one installed.
Check wiper fluid level: Slush from the road can be kicked up onto your windshield, making it hard to see. Carry an extra gallon in cold-weather months.
Check wiper blades: If the rubber has cracked, your wipers may leave streaks. Wipe them down with Windex. If that doesn't work, install new blades.