Study: Even slight increases in speed make crashes much worse

Even as traffic levels dropped dramatically in the first half of 2020, the rate of traffic fatalities jumped. Safety experts say that because roads were unusually open due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people drove faster. And traffic crashes that occur at higher speeds are much more likely to result in severe injuries and fatalities.

New research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that even incremental increases in speed can result in dramatically worse crash outcomes.

The 10 mph difference

USA Today article about the study stated that a car wreck that’s “easily survivable at 40 mph miles per hour can be fatal at 50 mph or more.” Those results are particularly important in and around Pasadena, where freeways are a major part of our transportation options.

Big jump in speed

When traffic dropped significantly last year, there was a 22 percent median increase in speeds in U.S. metro areas, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. When several thousand pounds of metal, plastic, rubber and glass collides with a similarly heavy, fast-moving vehicle, the laws of physics dictate the amount of damage done to occupants and vehicles.

The recent crash tests were conducted at three speeds: 40, 50 and 56 mph. According to the testing organizations, at the 40 mph impact speed, intrusion into the driver’s space was minimal. Bumping the vehicle up to 50 mph resulted in deformation of the driver-side door opening, the foot area and the dashboard.

Severe injuries

At 56 mph, the vehicle’s interior was significantly compromised, researchers said, and the crash test dummy’s sensors showed that there would have been severe neck injuries and a likelihood of lower leg fractures.

Researchers noted that at both 50 and 56 mph, the upward thrust of the steering wheels was forceful enough to compress the deployed airbags so much that the steering wheels smashed into the dummies’ faces. Measurements of the dummies showed a high likelihood of severe brain injuries and facial fractures.

Those are the kinds of terrible outcomes people risk as they drive fast in the hope of arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier.