Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic about a year ago, there has been a noticeable reduction in traffic, especially in urban areas. You can see it in and around big cities in Georgia and Tennessee, as well as in metro areas across the nation.
The lighter traffic has opened streets, roads and highways up, and also resulted in an auto safety phenomenon: because there are fewer vehicles around, people are driving faster. And even though traffic has dropped off, in many places the number of motor vehicle crashes resulting in severe injuries and fatalities has stayed about the same.
Why? Because even though there are fewer wrecks, the ones that do occur are at higher average speeds and are therefore more likely to involve catastrophic injuries and deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that there was a 22 percent increase in speeds in select U.S. metro areas last year when compared to 2019.
The risk of going fast
And a recent study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Humanetics and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that the old adage holds true in 2021: speed kills.
The crash tests were carried out at three different speeds: 40, 50 and 56 mph. All tests were conducted using 2010 Honda CR-V EX crossovers. The vehicles reflect the average age of typical vehicles on the road today (11.8 years) – and that particular model was given the IIHS’s top safety rating that year.
Researchers found that as speed increases, there is more structural damage to vehicles and a greater likelihood of occupants sustaining major injuries. Take a look at the differences in damage to the vehicles and to the crash test dummies strapped into the driver’s seats at different impact speeds:
- 40 mph: minimal intrusion into the driver’s space.
- 50 mph: noticeable deformation of driver-side door opening, foot area and dashboard.
- 56 mph: vehicle interior significantly compromised. The crash test dummies’ sensors indicate severe neck injuries and lower leg fractures.
According to a news report, at the two highest test speeds, the steering wheels’ upward thrusts “caused the dummy’s head to go through the deployed airbag.” The dummy’s faces then smashed into the steering wheels.
Measurements of the dummies showed high risks of severe brain injuries and facial fractures.
An IIHS spokesperson summed up the study’s bottom line: “The faster a driver is going before a crash, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to get down to a survivable speed even if they have a chance to brake before impact.”