How does speeding affect car crashes?

sign showing the posted speed limit

We all know speeding is bad, but how exactly does it impact the likelihood of a car crash? Speeding, defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as driving in excess of the posted speed limit or too fast for road conditions, may be the biggest risk factor on the road. Higher speeds equate to higher risks of crashes, and the research speaks for itself: A crash on a road with a speed limit of 65 mph or greater is more than twice as likely to result in a fatality than a crash on a road with a speed limit of 45 or 50 mph and nearly five times as likely as a crash on a road with a speed limit of 40 mph or below. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that for every 5 mph increase in a highway’s speed limit, roadway deaths rose by 8.5 percent. Speeding not only increases the likelihood of a crash, but also the severity of injury. The relationship between speeding and car crashes is clearly a negative one.

It’s not just bad for drivers, either. Other people on the road, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists — the most vulnerable on the road — are at a huge risk of fatal or severe injury if a collision occurs with a car. The probability that a pedestrian will be killed if hit by a motor vehicle increases significantly when speed is involved. The Pan American Health Organization, a division of the World Health Organization, has stated that while most pedestrians survive if hit by a car travelling 30 km/h (about 20 mph), the majority are killed if hit by a car traveling 50 km/h (about 30mph) or more.

Speeding in combination with other dangers like drinking while driving unsurprisingly play a role as well. The NHTSA states that between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., an overwhelming number of speeding drivers — 68 percent — were involved in drinking-related fatal crashes.

Though exceeding the posted speed limit is what most people think of when they think of speeding, it can also happen if you’re driving within your road’s allotted speed limit, but too fast for conditions relating to the weather, such as rain or snow; present construction zones; or insufficiently lit nighttime conditions. Driving too fast in these situations poses a threat on the road too and is just as dangerous as ignoring the posted speed limit.

In 2019, over 9,000 deaths, or 26 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities, occurred as a result of speed-related crashes. The statistics speak for themselves.

Who speeds and why?

Though drivers of all ages and genders speed, speeding occurs most often among the young, and young men in particular. Speeding among this group can be attributed to their higher tendency towards risk-taking behavior and lack of experience on the road. As drivers age, speeding-related fatal crashes decline according to the IIHS.

Motorcyclists are also among the groups of drivers who are more likely to speed. They’re over-represented in car crashes, accounting for 33 percent of speeding-related fatal crashes in comparison to 19 percent of passenger car drivers, according to data from 2015.

How are speed limits determined?

Speed limits for all types of roads are determined by state law and take into account land use, roadside environment, roadway design, crash experience, and pedestrians. There’s also a factor taken into consideration known as the 85th percentile speed, the speed that 85 percent of vehicles are traveling at or below in free-flowing conditions. Across the U.S., speed limits range from 60 mph to 85 mph for rural interstates and from 55 mph to 80 mph for urban interstates. The IIHS says that as speed limits have gone up in states, so have travel speeds and, as a result, car crash fatalities.

How important is the role of speed in crashes?

Speeding and Crash Risk

The probability of a crash increases the faster you go in speed for four primary reasons. First, with faster speed comes less time to process information and act on it adequately as a driver. Second, your breaking distance will be longer. Third, your ability to maneuver or negotiate around curves or obstacles is reduced. And lastly, other people on the road — other drivers and pedestrians — will not be able to judge your distance or intentions as a driver accurately.

Speeding and Crash Severity

In addition to crash risk, speeding also increases the severity of a crash, and it all comes down to energy. Speed increases crash energy significantly. Generally, there are limits to how much crash energy can be managed by vehicles, restraint systems, and our bodies. When that energy is exceeded or surpassed, our cars, along with our seat belts and airbags, aren’t able to sustain survival or injury levels that are less than severe. In comparison to the forces unleashed during a collision, the human body is extremely vulnerable. Though vehicles have become better equipped to absorb crash energy over the years, collision speed is still an important factor.

Causes of Speed /Actions Behind Speed

While most motorists rarely speed or drive aggressively, there are many reasons why people choose to do so, and a lot of them may not surprise you. The NHTSA has identified the following reasons:

  • Traffic congestion. A frequently mentioned reason, though not surprising considering many drivers experience traffic congestion in their towns and cities.
  • Running late. Many people find themselves running late for work and various other appointments.
  • Anonymity as a driver. The anonymity as a driver may lead some drivers to engage in behavior they may not otherwise do under other circumstances.
  • Disregard for others and the law. For some drivers, this is frequent behavior, though most drivers don’t fit into this category.

How to respond to speeding drivers (as a driver or a pedestrian)

There are many things you can do safely as a driver or pedestrian when responding to a speeding driver:

  • Check your driving. Make sure you aren’t offending anyone or engaging in any inappropriate or frustrating behaviors, such as cutting someone off or driving slowly in the wrong lane.
  • Make room. Be alert and courteous. Maintain safe distance. Let them pass you. Remember to look at the big picture as you drive.
  • Ask for help. Call the police if someone is harassing you, if you feel threatened, or if you feel unable to resolve the situation on your own.

Consequences of speeding

The consequences of speeding can be as minor as a speeding ticket with no one harmed, to increases in insurance rates, to possible suspension of your license. Speeding can also result in a collision, bodily injury, and even death. Nearly all of these consequences would result in costs to you, whether minor, short, or long-term, and beyond loss of life, the consequences of speeding have the potential to be otherwise devastating. Other major consequences for speeding include loss of employment or lawsuits.

In conclusion

Speeding is clearly very dangerous and you should do your best to prevent it, not only for yourself as a driver, but for those on the road with you. If you are in a crash, speeding-related or otherwise, make sure you’re covered. Get a quote with Elephant today.

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