Getting places faster has been a concern of road users, the motor industry and road planners for years. Yet this rush to increase the speeds at which vehicles can travel around our streets and highways is bad news for safety.
A 2019 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that raising speed limits has resulted in an extra 37,000 people dying over the last 25 years. This despite huge increases in the safety features designed into vehicles. It does not tell the whole story either.
Regardless of the speed limit, thanks to faster and lighter cars, drivers can reach higher speeds more easily. Town planners have also worked hard to speed up traffic flow. By removing bottlenecks and widening streets, they have increased the average speed at which cars can pass through our towns and cities.
How much of a difference do a few miles per hour make to safety?
You might think that a little increase in speed does not make a big difference. Yet the IIHS research team showed it does. They took three identical cars into the lab and crashed them at three different speeds.
- At 40 mph: The crash test dummy survived relatively unscathed
- At 50 mph: The steering wheel smashed through the airbag into the dummy’s head
- At 56 mph: The dummy suffered leg injuries as well as serious neck and head injuries
If your head hits the steering wheel or dashboard, there is a high risk you will suffer a traumatic brain injury or die. The slower that vehicles are traveling, the better your chances of survival if another driver causes you to have a car crash.