Study shows even slight uptick in speed increases crash risk
It’s evident that driving fast can lead to increased risk for car accidents—but recent tests showed that even incremental speed increases can have big impacts in a crash.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety collaborated to perform crash impact tests at 40, 50 and 56 mph to determine how speed affects the likelihood and severity of injury in a crash. They found that even slightly higher speeds were enough to increase a driver’s risk of severe injury or death.
“We conducted these crash tests to assess the effect of speeds on drivers and learned that a small increase could make a big difference on the harm to a human body,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA safety foundation in a press release.
Researchers noted that while modern cars are equipped with safety features like airbags and improved structural design, higher speeds cancel out those benefits. The crash tests used 2010 Honda CR-V EX crossovers because they earned top safety ratings and represent the average age of vehicles on roads.
“The report also noted that the faster a vehicle is traveling, the less likely it is to get down to a survivable speed even if the driver has a chance to brake before impact,” said David Tenembaum, Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. actuarial manager and treasurer for Drive Smart Virginia. “Drivers should remember that driving faster than the speed limit may only save them a few minutes.”
According to the release, a 40-mph crash caused minimal intrusion into the driver’s space, but at 50 mph, there was noticeable distortion of the driver’s side door opening, dashboard and foot space. At 56 mph, crash test dummy sensors indicated the vehicle interior was highly compromised and resulted in severe neck injuries and a likelihood of lower leg fractures.
In addition, at 50 and 56 mph, the steering wheel’s upward movement caused the dummy’s head to go through the deployed airbag—hitting the steering wheel and leading to a high risk of facial fractures and brain injury.
A 2019 IIHS study discovered that rising speed limits have cost nearly 37,000 lives over 25 years, and AAA and IIHS are urging policymakers to consider this data when reviewing speed limit changes. Drivers frequently travel faster than the posted speed limit—and when state officials increase speeds to match travel speeds, people drive even faster.
Currently, 41 states allow 70 mph or higher speeds on some roadways, including Virginia, with eight states allowing maximum speeds of 80 mph or more.