Belief that Speed Doesn’t Cause Crashes is Untrue & Deadly

Many drivers ardently believe that “speeding alone does not actually cause crashes,” but even though the over-simplification contained in that phrase is not totally inaccurate (see below), in real life-and-death terms it is both misleading and deadly…

Photograph of a car passing a 65mph speed limit sign on a highway.
Breaking speed limits in the USA is an endemic issue, something that many drivers even take to be a right — that they can go x-number of miles per hour over the speed limit without getting a ticket. (Copyright image.)

The fact is that very few crashes are caused by one factor alone, and this includes speeding, so the claim in the opening paragraph is effectively bound to be right.  But this also serves to illustrate that clinging to this claim as being any sort of proof that speeding is not inherently unsafe is worthless.

The jet-propelled car of the Bloodhound SSC project, intended to break 1,000mph.
The jet-propelled car of the Bloodhound SSC project, intended to break 1,000mph. (Wikimedia Commons)

A good example of this is the ongoing efforts to continually increase the world land-speed record, over recent decades.  The photograph above shows the Bloodhound SSC car that is propelled by a Typhoon/Eurofighter jet engine and which is intended, in the near future, to break the 1,000mph barrier.  If the “car” stays completely flat and straight, and has no critical mechanical failures then there is a very good chance that it will travel extremely fast and not crash …. But it will be driven on an empty salt-flat, not a public road with a vast array of potential dangers!

A panned photo of a car travelling at speed on a leafy rural road.
It is not just breaking the posted speed limit that can contribute to serious or fatal crashes. If there are problems on the road, then it is easy to do a potentially dangerous speed even within the posted limit. It is called driving at an inappropriate speed for the circumstances, and it is particularly common — and deadly — on rural roads. (Copyright image.)

The real-life “equation” for driving on public roads, however, is frighteningly simple:

(a) The faster a car is travelling, the less time a driver will have to react to any hazardous situation that comes into sight;

(b) The faster the car is travelling, the further it will take to stop it, so if it cannot be stopped before reaching the hazard, it will be in collision;

(c) The faster a car is travelling at the moment of impact, the greater will be the damage, the more serious the injuries and the higher the risk of death;

(d) The more extreme the measures taken by a driver to avoid a collision as outlined in a, b, and c, above, the more likely s/he is to cause a secondary collision or involve other road users in the incident before even reaching the original hazard.

Photograph looking down from above, of a semi tractor trailer, blurred by speed.
Many of us see heavy trucks speeding on highways every single day. Truck drivers take the same liberties as car drivers and do ‘x’ miles over the speed limit, confident that they won’t get a ticket. But these extra few m.p.h. emphatically do affect the number of crashes and the severity of the outcomes. (Copyright image.)

(e)  a, b and c are laws of physics — the only laws that no driver can break!

The fact is that around the developed countries of the world, each one identifies about 30 percent of all their annual road deaths as involving excess or inappropriate speed as a factor, and this is a huge and deadly problem.

Any Fool can Drive Fast Enough to be Dangerous!

For the USA, this means that, if people would stop driving too fast, around ten thousand lives could be saved each year…  But those drivers that do speed, will still ignorantly argue that “speeding alone does not actually cause crashes.”  And sadly, that is misguided hogwash.

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For further information about accurate stopping distances, see: ADoNA: The Clear Leader in U.S. Driver Safety and Training – a Research Victory

Also see:  Just a Few Miles Over the Speed Limit — Is it Dangerous or Acceptable?

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

8 thoughts on “Belief that Speed Doesn’t Cause Crashes is Untrue & Deadly”

  1. The confusion is because the question is illogical.
    At no time is speed the only factor. At no time is there only one factor in a crash. A crash is impossible without movement. In my opinion safety professionals should look at what created the initial conflict. Minimize conflicts, and of course do your best to manage speed.

  2. Eddie,
    to a certain extent I agree with you with regard to points a) to e) in the article. However I have to take issue with the term “speeding”. What I think this means and thus should be re-defined as “excessive speed”. To talk about speed as an absolute issue is incorrect inasmuch it is perfectly “safe” to travel at 70 mph on a motorway but not in a 30mph built-up area. The reason being is that we are considering the same speed but in two completely different types of environment. Points a) to e) in your article will apply in a more relevant manner if a driver attempts to drive at 70 mph in a restricted built-up area but not on a motorway. On a motorway, the hazardous situation will probably come into view long before it will on a restricted road. For a motorway, the design is more likely to be able to cope with higher speeds and the danger of crashing at comparatively high speeds is mollified by design considerations such as safe zones and the use of frangible sign supports, etc. Taking evasive action on a motorway is less likely to cause secondary crashes because there is more space within the highway boundaries. The consequence is that although traffic travels at higher speeds on motorways, the crash rates are lower.
    This is only one aspect of “driving at excessive speed”. Traveling in such a manner can be considered in relation to to weather conditions, to traffic density, to vehicle design and to driver ability. I have often wondered how the decision to attribute “speed” as a contributory cause in a crash report by the reporting officer is arrived at. How does he know what the speeds of the vehicles were immediately or leading up to impact? I’ve seen the results of crashes and it is almost impossible to tell from the damage until detailed forensic examination is undertaken what the speed of impact was. A quick subjective assessment at the scene of the crash is too presumptuous.
    It could be argued that excessive speed is that at which, if an impact ensues, the major organs of the human body cannot withstand the sudden deceleration. If that is applied then no-one would travel faster than approx. 30mph whatever the circumstances or conditions.

    1. Lance, we will have to differ on parts of this — largely, I suspect, because of the difference between your background as an engineer and mine in enforcement.
      Either way, however, I certainly can name situations where speeding on a motorway can indeed be a problem. One is where a collision occurs close ahead of one’s vehicle (and I have had this happen to me, when a driver — possibly falling asleep — not far ahead of me suddenly veered into the centre-reserve/median guardrail, and following a violent impact, spun to a rapid stop across two of the three lanes). Another could be where a driver foolishly allows their own view ahead to be blocked by being in the wrong proximity to one or more large vehicle. As you say, bad situations only “probably” come into view in plenty of time on roads such as motorways.
      I am, of course, very conversant with the fact that crash rates are lower on divided highways (as long as they have central separation by means of guardrails) but this article has been written for all general road users around the world not for specialists in the “E’s” or the Pillars of road safety, so things that you might consider important are not my target — greater, general understanding of the dangers is the goal.

  3. So true, sure there many contributors to the crash but the fact that the vehicle was traveling too fast in first place leads to reduced reaction time and stopping distance. Speeding “creates the initial conflict”.

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