Over the course of the past few months, I’ve examined the causes of deadly automobile crashes and accidents on Missouri roadways. We’ve already looked at the dangers of distracted driving and drunk driving. Now, I want to discuss the danger of speeding. Many of us speed while we’re driving. I am willing to bet that when many of my readers see a posted speed limit, we think we can do anywhere between 5-10 miles per hour over the speed limit and be safe.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! According to one study, nearly 70% of people admitted to speeding on highways and 36% claim they drove 5 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. I know that we all have important things to do and places to be, and speeding 5 to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit may seem harmless at the time. However, regardless of how harmless it seems, speeding is extremely dangerous.
Speeding is the number one cause of fatalities from automobile accidents and crashes and the number one cause of injuries in automobile accidents and crashes on Missouri roadways. Not only does it hold the number one spot, it accounts for nearly 40% of fatalities and injuries on Missouri roadways according to Missouri’s Blueprint “A Partnership Toward Zero Deaths”. In 2014, speeding-related crashes accounted for over 9,000 traffic fatalities nationally.
What Makes Speeding So Dangerous?
I know this seems like a silly question, but even though people realize speeding is dangerous, they may not realize just how dangerous it is. Here’s a basic fact: Increased speed makes accidents far more deadly. Why, though? First, because of basic physics. Consider this: “in car crashes, every increase in velocity means a squared increase in the energy released by the object. An object doubling its speed has four times the kinetic energy.” Did you get that? Yeah, me neither.
Here’s what you really need to remember when you push down on the gas pedal: Every time you increase the speed of your car you increase the amount of energy it releases by leaps and bounds. That means every small increase in speed causes an even greater increase in how devastating a crash can be at the higher speed. When you drive double the speed limit you don’t just double the power of a potential collision…you actually quadruple it. So, if you hit another car going 40 miles per hour in a 20 miles per hour zone, you are creating a collision four times as powerful because of your increased speed.
Even worse, if you hit a pedestrian at double the speed limit, you are hitting that pedestrian with four times the force as compared to the force involved in a crash at the speed limit. In many cases that is the difference between life and death. For instance, a vehicle traveling at 20 mph that collides with a pedestrian has a 5% chance of killing the pedestrian. However, a vehicle traveling at 30 mph has a 45% chance of killing the pedestrian and a vehicle traveling at 40 mph has an 85% chance of killing the pedestrian. Shocking stats, to say the least. But well worth considering the next time we are driving around town and see a “20 mph” speed limit sign posted.
Besides the basic science, there are common sense reasons to avoid speeding as well. For example, we have less ability to stop and maneuver properly if we are going at a higher rate of speed. This is particularly true if we come upon another crash, a stopped car, or a work zone. We have less time to brake, to stop, and to adjust to sudden changes in traffic. Additionally, when we speed we have less control over our vehicles. A simple increase in speed can cause a car to lose control on water, ice, or other hazardous conditions when we otherwise would have been able to control our car.
Also, many of our car safety features cannot protect us in high speed crashes; this is particularly true if the rate of speed is so high that the force of the collision causes the front, rear, or any driver or passenger compartment to crumple and crush the occupants inside. I have personally seen vehicles crushed due to the force of an impact from a high rate of speed and can tell you that the human body cannot and (typically) does not withstand that type of trauma. Although many vehicles come equipped with numerous safety features, there are many that just do not or cannot protect you correctly in a high-impact crash.
What Can Be Done?
Just like all of the other dangerous driving habits, speeding is a choice. We can choose to obey speed limits or not. In Missouri, there are maximum speed limits for every road in the state. According to §304.010.2 R.S.Mo, the maximum rates of speed are as follows:
(1) Upon the rural interstates and freeways…seventy miles per hour;
(2) Upon the rural expressways…sixty-five miles per hour;
(3) Upon the interstate highways, freeways or expressways within the urbanized areas of this state, sixty miles per hour;
(4) All other roads and highways in this state not located in an urbanized area and not provided for in subdivisions (1) to (3) of this subsection, sixty miles per hour;
(5) All other roads provided for in subdivision (4) of this subsection shall not include any state two-lane road which is identified by letter. Such lettered roads shall not exceed fifty-five miles per hour unless set at a higher speed as established by the department of transportation, except that no speed limit shall be set higher than sixty miles per hour.
There are also numerous municipalities within the State of Missouri which set their own speeding limits based on what is safe for the area and which may be lower than the prescribed speeds above. It’s also important to remember that “advised speeds”, especially when they are lower than the speed limit, are determined by engineers who have spent long hours figuring out what speed is safe for conditions. For instance, when you see a yellow sign like the one below, that sign is telling you what experts feel is the safest speed for the conditions ahead. Don’t just heed the warning, remember that there’s a reason for the advised speed that you or I may not be able see!
At the end of the day, the best practice is to always follow the required and advised speeds. Or, just follow the advice my mom always used to give me when we drove anywhere: “No matter how fast you go, you’ll always end up in the same place.” Make sure to follow the speed limit (and encourage others to do so) so we can all drive to the place we’re going to safely!