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Why is Driving in Los Angeles So Dangerous? 

People flock to Los Angeles and call the City of Angels home for a number of reasons, including the lifestyle, the weather, the beach, the culture and the thriving local economy. 

Not on that list is the notorious L.A. traffic, which can make your commute or evening joyride an aggravating and time-consuming experience. Congestion, severe weather, road work, poor conditions and driver mistakes can wreak havoc on your daily commute.

Nearly 5.4 million cars, 1 million trucks and 125,000 motorcycles traverse Los Angeles County’s 22,000 miles of road, accounting for 221.8 million miles of travel within county lines every day. 

Unfortunately, an estimated 80 percent of major roadways in the metro area have fallen into disrepair. Combined with a rise in aggressive, distracted and intoxicated driving, motorists and passengers are perhaps at more risk than ever before, which is why it is important to be prepared and understand the local driving conditions before you leave your home or hotel. 

Driving like an Angeleno will not necessarily prevent every accident or keep you out of every traffic jam but it can significantly improve the experience of being behind the wheel in L.A.

Woman drives car heading towards los angeles skyline

L.A.’s Major Roads

There is no shortage of ways to travel L.A.’s 472 square miles, whether it is on foot, by bicycle, or through the connection of various public transportation options. 

Still, Los Angeles residents and visitors often prefer to drive. The local area features a sprawling network of freeways, state highways, suburban roads and city streets. 

One of the first things that you need to know before revving your engine is that Southern California’s various major roadways are typically preceded by “the” in the local vernacular. Interstate 405, for instance, is typically called “the 405,” while U.S. Route 101 is “the 101.”

I-405: San Diego Freeway 

Interstate 405 is a major freeway that runs north-south between San Fernando and Irvine. 

The freeway, which is a bypass auxiliary route of Interstate-5, largely follows the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. It services three airports - Los Angeles International, Long Beach and John Wayne - as well as Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos in the southern end and Long Beach, the City of Los Angeles, the South Bay, and UCLA on the northern tip before passing through Sherman Oaks and merging with I-5 near Mission Hills.

The 405 regularly sees heavy commuter, commercial and other traffic. Three stretches of the freeway are considered among the worst traffic hotspots in the country: 

  • North, Exit 43 to Exit 21
  • South, Exit 22 to Exit 45
  • North, Exit 53 to Exit 38B

The highway has continued to be a major source of traffic congestion, despite efforts to expand and enhance it, largely because the 405 remains one of the only major north-south roadways in the area. 

Interstate 5: Golden State Freeway, Santa Ana Freeway

I-5 is a major interstate roadway that runs from Oregon to the Mexican border.

The Santa Ana Freeway section starts in Orange County at San Clemente, passes Disneyland and traverses the El Toro Y exchange with I-405 and into Santa Ana’s Orange Crush Interchange before entering Los Angeles County. The Golden State Freeway section begins east of downtown L.A. and travels along the Los Angeles River east of Griffith Park, into Santa Clarita and passing by Six Flags Magic Mountain. 

The L.A. portion of the five that connects with the Hollywood Freeway and is commonly used to get to Dodger Stadium is considered among the 20 worst traffic hotspots in the country.

U.S. Route 101: Ventura Freeway, Hollywood Freeway

The 101 is another major roadway running from California to Oregon and a popular alternative to the five for motorists traveling between L.A. and San Francisco.

The Ventura Freeway segment serves as a primary freeway for much of Ventura County, starting in Santa Barbara and stretching into Pasadena in Los Angeles County. The Hollywood Freeway section is the second oldest freeway in L.A., connecting the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley.

State Road 110: Harbor Freeway

S.R. 110 begins in Pasadena as Arroyo Seco Parkway, the state’s oldest freeway. It stretches south into Los Angeles, passing Dodgers Stadium, Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center, continuing into San Pedro and passing the Port of Los Angeles.

Interstate 10: Santa Monica Freeway, San Bernardino Freeway

The 10 is the major east-west interstate roadway connecting Arizona and California. 

The interestate begins in Santa Monica at the Pacific Coast Highway, with the segment that runs to East Los Angeles and into downtown L.A. often called the Santa Monica Freeway. East of the city, the roadway is known as the San Bernardino Freeway for a stretch that runs from the San Gabriel Valley and into San Bernardino.

Los Angeles Traffic, Car Accidents

When driving in L.A. - like anywhere else - car accidents can and do happen. 

L.A. sees some 54,000 vehicle collisions each year, from relatively minor parking lot fender benders to multi-car pile ups on busy freeways. More than half of those accidents are considered hit-and-runs, even though fleeing the scene of a crash is a felony offense, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. 

The total number of crashes has recently been on the decline, but the severity of those accidents appears to be rising. More than 230 people died in traffic accidents in L.A. in 2019, a 32 percent jump over the previous five years. Much of that increase appears to be tied to a rise in pedestrian deaths. 

A number of factors contribute to car accidents in L.A. and across the country. Driver fatigue and mistakes, severe weather, crumbling roads, road hazards, and defective vehicles are among the most commonly cited causes of collisions. That is not to mention dangerous behavior behind the wheel, like speeding, aggressive driving and drinking or texting and driving.

More than a quarter of fatal accidents across the county are reportedly alcohol-related. The county’s DUI rate - the number of drivers who have a DUI on their record - is more than eight times the national rate. Drunk driving accidents throughout Los Angeles and California are a real concern.

Traffic congestion is also a driver of accidents. Heavy traffic means more cars on the road and less time for those vehicles to react to what is going on around them. It also means that when an accident does happen, more cars are likely to be involved and more people are at risk of getting hurt. That is why it is essential to remain alert behind the wheel in heavy traffic, to maintain appropriate speeds and to refrain from aggressive behavior, like frequent and sudden lane changes. 

In Los Angeles and across the country, 3 p.m to 6 p.m. is the worst time to be on the road when it comes to accidents. That largely appears to be because of the high volume of cars on the road during those hours. Similarly, Saturdays see the highest number of traffic accidents each week.

Wildfires and Smoke Make L.A. Driving Dangerous

Southern California’s dry climate puts the region at risk of wildfires, particularly during summer months in which temperature rise and rainfall is infrequent. The Santa Ana winds can also often have a drying effect in the fall, setting the conditions for more fires and spreading those blazes across the state. 

The winds often sweep smoke far and wide, creating a hazard for anyone on the road. Wildfire smoke reduces visibility and can distract drivers from what is ahead of them in traffic. 

Drivers are encouraged to stay off the road in situations where smoke is heavy and to proceed with caution when they must drive in poor conditions.

What to Do After an Car Accident in Los Angeles

If you are involved in a car accident in L.A., it is important to remain at the scene until a police officer arrives and to seek medical treatment for any injuries. 

It is also a good idea to consult an experienced Los Angeles car accident attorney. Insurance companies often look to settle these cases for pennies on the dollar by aggressively pushing offers immediately after a wreck. Do not accept a deal before speaking with a lawyer first.

Anyone who has been injured in a crash in L.A. has the right to seek compensation from those responsible. A seasoned injury lawyer can help you understand your rights and explore your options for maximizing that compensation.

If you have been involved in an accident, contact Banafshe Law Firm, PC as soon as possible for a free initial consultation by calling 800-789-8840 or contacting us online.