Since the removal of the national maximum speed limit in 1995, most states have slowly increased speed limits across the country. Areas which were once restricted to 55 miles per hour now allow speeds up to 85 miles per hour. This large increase escalates the number and severity of crashes throughout the United States. Approximately twenty-eight percent of crash fatalities in 2014 resulted from high-speed collisions. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, high speeds affect the number of crashes in three ways:
- Reaction Time
First, faster speeds increase the distance traveled between the time a driver sees a traffic deviation and is able to respond. When you are driving, and someone: stops suddenly, a car changes lanes, or debris is in the road, you must process the information you see before you react. Your brain is capable of processing this information very quickly; telling you to brake or swerve. However, when traveling at high speeds, you travel further during this reaction time. For example, if you are driving at 55 miles per hour, you cover a distance of 0.91 miles during a single minute. Increase your speed to 85, the highest limit in the country, and you’ve traveled 1.42 miles in that minute. While this may not seem significant, think about how many times you have swerved just in time to miss another vehicle or object.
- Stopping Distance
Second, the stopping distance of the vehicle factors into crash risk. The stopping distance directly correlates to how fast the vehicle is traveling. On average, a car traveling at 50 miles per hour will take 14 car lengths to stop completely; whereas, a car traveling at 80 miles per hour would take 21 cars lengths to stop. That’s a fifty percent increase for only 30 more miles per hour. Stopping distance is a main factor in multiple vehicle pile-ups. Cars simply cannot stop in time to avoid hitting other vehicles.
- Crash Intensity
Third, the Insurance Institute for Highway safety also states that high speeds increase the energy of a crash exponentially. During these high impact crashes, safety systems in cars and on the road may not work as effectively. Cars safety systems are designed to withstand great amounts of crash energy; however, there are limits to the amounts in which they can properly operate. Air bags, seat belts, and other devices are vital to keeping occupants safe. If they fail, the likelihood of serious injury or death grows. The same principal applies to crash cushions, barriers, and other safety measures outside of the vehicle. These devices are put in place to absorb some of the crash energy. However, they cannot completely absorb the energy created in high-speed crashes.
In order to reduce the likelihood of a serious crash in high speed areas, make sure you follow all safety protocols and laws in place, including speed limits. Be aware of your surroundings and look as far ahead as you can for brake lights or other indications of a change in the traffic ahead. Also, brake as soon as you detect the need to stop or slow down. If you are unsure, tap your brakes to alert drivers following you, and hover your foot over the brake to reduce your reaction time. When traveling at high speeds, increase the distance between you and other vehicles. Leave room to react and stop.
Despite your diligence, you may be in a high-speed crash at some time and incur high medical bills, car repairs, and other distress. We are here to help. From dealing with insurance companies to other parties, a DC car accident lawyer may be able to help you recover from an accident.
Thanks to our friends and contributors at Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their added insight into the effects of higher speeds on car accidents.