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Study: A small speed increase ups the severity of crashes a lot

| Feb 5, 2021 | Auto Accident Injuries |

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and a crash-test dummy manufacturer called Humanetics crash tested the same average vehicle at 40, 50 and 56 mph impact speeds. They found that just 10 mph in increased speed drove up the risk substantially that the driver would suffer severe injuries or death.

This is important for all drivers to keep in mind. Speed can be dangerous, and excessive speed can easily be deadly. But what constitutes excessive speed?

As of today, 41 states have roads with posted speed limits of 70 mph or higher, and eight allow drivers to go 80 mph or higher. In California, some rural interstates and limited access roads have speed limits of 70 mph for passenger vehicles (55 mph for trucks).

Over the past few decades, states across the country have ended the 55 mph speed limit, at least on some roads. In many cases, policymakers agreed with drivers, including truckers, who wanted to get to their destinations faster. After all, when the speed limit was 55, traffic tended to travel at around 70 mph. Why not make that the limit?

Unfortunately, according to the IIHS, when the speed limits rose, drivers still tended to go faster than the new speed limits. In 2019, the nonprofit estimated that rising speed limits over the last 25 years had cost us almost 37,000 lives.

For this new study, the researchers selected the 2010 Honda CR-V EX crossover as a representative vehicle. It matches the average age (11.8 years) of a passenger vehicle on U.S. roads. The CR-V earned the top IIHS rating in a moderate overlap front crash test, where the vehicle strikes a barrier partially head-on.

The CR-V, carrying a crash-test dummy with hundreds of sensors, was crashed into a barrier at 40, 50 and 56 mph.

  • At 40 mph, there was little intrusion into the driver’s space.
  • At 50 mph, there was noticeable deformation of the driver’s door opening, dashboard and foot area.
  • At 56 mph, the vehicle’s interior was significantly compromised, and the dummy’s sensors indicated there would be severe neck injuries and likely fractures to the long bones of the lower leg.

Moreover, at both 50 and 56 mph, the steering wheel was forced upward, which caused the dummy’s head to be pushed through the deployed airbag and smash into the steering wheel. The dummy’s sensors indicated a high risk of facial fractures and serious brain injury.

Remember this when you see a speeding driver. A crash at even 50 mph could cause injuries. A crash at 56 mph could be catastrophic or even deadly. Should lawmakers consider reducing the speed limits?