Speed doesn’t cause crashes?


Travel any of our highways and massive billboards shout the message ‘Speed Kills’ which, of course,  results in one of two reactions towards speeding:


  • Those who agree nod in affirmation and decry those who differ in opinion and
  • Those who say it is stupid and then quote instances of Formula 1 being the ‘safest’ sport. This is albeit the fact that drivers do everything but drive slow.


This article considers the debate from several perspectives, one of which is that some drivers ardently believe that ‘speeding alone does not actually cause crashes.’ This is even though the over-simplification contained in this phrase is not totally inaccurate (see below). Yet, in real life-and-death terms, it is both misleading and deadly…


Breaking speed limits in the USA is an endemic issue, something many drivers even consider to be a right. They can go x-number of miles per hour over the speed limit without getting a ticket.


The problem is that very few crashes are due to one factor alone, including speeding. So the claim in the opening paragraph is effectively bound to be right. But this also illustrates that clinging to this claim as proof that speeding is not inherently unsafe, is worthless.


Bloodhound SSC project

A good example of this is repeated attempts to break the world land-speed record, over recent decades.  The Bloodhound SSC car uses a Typhoon/Eurofighter jet engine in the hopes of breaking the 1 000mph barrier.  If it stays completely flat and straight, and has no critical mechanical failures, then there is a very good chance that it will travel extremely fast and not crash …. But it will be driven on an empty salt-flat. Not a public road with a vast array of potential dangers!


It is not just breaking the posted speed limit that can contribute to serious or fatal crashes. If there are problems on the road, then it is easy to drive potentially dangerous speeds, even within the posted limit. It is called driving at an inappropriate speed for the circumstances, and it is particularly common — and deadly — on suburban and rural roads.


The “equation” is remarkably simple:

  1. The faster a car is travelling, the less time a driver has to react to any hazardous situations
  2. The faster the car is travelling, the further it will take to stop it. So if you cannot stop before reaching the hazard, it will collide
  3. The faster a car is travelling at the moment of impact, the greater the damage, the more serious the injuries and the higher the risk of death
  4. The more extreme the measures taken by a driver to avoid a collision as outlined in a, b, and c, above, the more likely they are to cause a secondary collision. They can also involve other road users in the incident before even reaching the original hazard


Many of us see heavy trucks speeding on highways (in excess of the 80kph limit) every single day. Truck drivers take the same liberties as car drivers and exceed the speed limit. They are confident that they won’t get a ticket. But these extra few kilometres per hour emphatically do affect the number of crashes and the severity of the outcomes.


Every driver should remember that  a, b and c are laws of physics — the only laws that no driver can break!


Ultimately, in developed countries worldwide, each one identifies about 30% of annual road deaths as involving excess or inappropriate speed. This is a huge and deadly problem. South Africa is no exception and, in fact, one can see it as the worst example. We have the means to enforce appropriate use of speed but fail to do so – whether that is because of bribery or simple neglect.


Till next time drive safe and don’t speed


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