Drivers may believe raising speed limits on interstates save travel time and improve traffic flow; but there’s a downside: Death.
New research, conducted by The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Humanetics Innovation Solutions, a global leader in crash testing and auto safety, reports even small speed increases can have huge effects on crash outcomes.
As many states consider raising posted speed limits to improve travel times, the three national safety organizations collaborated to examine the effect of speed on the severity of occupant crashes.
Here’s what they learned: today’s cars may be safer than they’ve ever been, but no one’s yet figured out how to make them defy the laws of physics.
The research found higher speed crashes were so forceful they cancelled out benefits of vehicle safety improvements such as airbags, seat belts and structural designs, all developed to protect occupants.
The question, asks Dr. David Yang, the AAA Foundation’s executive director is whether it’s worth shaving a few minutes off your drive.
“A speeding driver may arrive at their destination a few minutes faster but is the risk of getting severely injured or losing one’s life worth it if a crash occurs?” he said.
Using crash dummies, outfitted with hundreds of sensors, tests were conducted at 40-, 50-, and 56 miles per hour, using three 2010 Honda CR-V EX crossovers. The vehicles represented the average age (11.8 years) of a typical vehicle on U.S. roadways and earned top ratings in IIHS moderate overlap front tests.
The research found:
- At a 40-mph impact speed, there was minimal intrusion into the driver’s space. But at 50 mph, the driver-side door opening, dashboard and vehicle foot area were clearly deformed.
- At 56 mph, the crash significantly compromised the vehicle’s interior with the dummy’s sensors registering severe neck injuries and likely fractures to the lower legs.
- In the higher speed crashes, the dummy’s head penetrated the deployed airbag on the steering wheel, resulting in a high risk of facial fractures and severe brain injury, and
- The faster drivers go before a crash, the less likely they’ll be able to slow to survivable speeds – even if there’s a chance to brake before impact.
Today, 41 states allow speeds of 70 mph or higher on some roadways, including eight that allow speeds of 80 mph or more. In Connecticut maintains a 55-mph limit on urban interstates and a 65-mph limit on limited access roads and rural interstates.
Speed limits do maximize safety for all public road users – when correctly enforced, the research reports. To do this, AAA recommends states use engineering and traffic surveys to set maximum speed limits and enforce existing speed limits through enforcement, traffic calming measures and road changes.