Exceeding the Speed Limit

Sometimes it seems like “exceeding the posted speed limit” doesn’t get as much attention as other safety issues like drunk driving or “texting” on a cell phone while driving, but it is just as lethal.  According to National Safety Council; “Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving at an unsafe speed was the most common error in fatal accidents.” (http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/DriverSafety/Pages/Speeding.aspx)

Speeding is the most commonly cited factor in deaths from collisions where there was some form of “improper driving” assessed by the team investigating and reporting the crash.  This is also confirmed in the most recent Large Truck Crash Causation Study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/LTCO2009/LTCO2009.aspx):  “The top two driver-related factors for large trucks and passenger vehicles in fatal crashes were the same: driving too fast…and failure to keep in proper lane.”

Interestingly, only 12% of fatal crashes where speeding was the principal factor occurred on interstate highways – speeding in your home town, going 45 in a 25 zone, etc. were more likely to lead to a fatality than exceeding the limit on a limited access highway.  This is likely due to many factors:  the relative absence of pedestrians and bicycles on highways; the road design of rural highways and county roads; sharper curves, poor illumination and oncoming traffic that is not separated by a barrier or median strip.

Speed increases the potential of having a crash for two specific reasons:

  1. As a vehicle travels faster, more time is needed to safely complete any turn, swerve or stop.  (You need more time)
  2. Additionally, greater speed significantly reduces the time available to view and judge the situation, and decide what action to take. (You have less time)

Speeding also raises the chances of severe injuries or death during the crash.  The amount of energy that is released at the moment of impact is directly related to your vehicle’s speed.  Speeding increases the crash energy by the square of the speeds involved. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), “when impact speed increases from 40 to 60 mph (a 50 percent increase), the energy that needs to be managed increases by 125 percent.” (http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/speed_limits.html)

Simply put, the faster you go, your injuries will be more extensive and the more likely it becomes that seatbelts, airbags, antilock brakes, traction control systems or other safety devices will not be effective enough to save your life.

There are other consequences to speeding that can affect drivers, too.  Most states add extra penalties (points, fines) for speeding violations that are more than 15 miles per hour above the posted limit.   

This type of violation (excessive speed) is perceived as a major violation by most employers and insurance carriers and could affect future employment prospects or increases in personal insurance costs.

If you need additional information about speeding, this month’s SafetyFirst Ten-Minute Training Topic covered this in more detail.  Also, you can check out NHTSA’s tool box on speeding — http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/speed/toolkit/  This offers materials in both English and Spanish and it’s a free resource!

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