Is it All About the Speed?
The popular belief among the general population is that speeding causes accidents, and while on the surface that statement may be true, it is not the full truth. The truth is that many other key factors are involved in the causation of an accident, not just speeding. A few examples of these key factors include accident-prone interactions, distractions, and critical driving decisions. These factors must be considered instead of simply placing the blame on speeding.
One main circumstance in the risk of causation of accidents is the amount of time that two cars spend next to each other. In a 2002 study conducted by David Nanon, he called these “accident-prone interactions” (API), which previously described are simply situations where two cars come near to each other. It is a very simple concept, the more time two cars spend next to each other, the greater risk of an accident. The study showed that while APIs have a direct relationship with the number of accidents, speed has an inverse relationship with the number of APIs.
In his study, he found that each type of API was either unaffected or reduced by greater speeds. For type-A APIs, the number of encounters was unaffected by greater speeds, but in the write up for the study, Nanon explained that this type of situation was more or less irrelevant to highway driving because it was considering interactions at intersections. A higher frequency of type-A APIs would increase the rate of accidents substantially due to the critical driving decisions made at an intersection. The frequency of type-B APIs was reduced at greater speeds. Nanon explained that driving at higher speeds decreases the time that drivers spend on the road and decrease the number of cars that they come in contact with. Decreasing the number of cars that they come in contact with traveling in the opposite direction definitely would help decrease the rates of accidents on highways. On the other hand, an increase in the number of cars traveling in the opposite direction going past each other would cause an increase in the rate of accidents on a road. Next, the frequency of type-C APIs was also greatly reduced at higher driving speeds. Nanon explained that the main reason for this is because since the two cars would be traveling past each other in the same direction at such a fast rate, the amount of time they spend next to each other would be minimal. The less time two cars spend next to each other, the lower risk of accidents. Finally, the number of type-D APIs would also be decreased when traveling at a higher rate of speed. Like all of the other situations, the less time two cars spend next to each other, the lower the chance of an accident.
Next, another key factor in the causation of accidents is distractions. Distractions come in many forms such as phone usage, radio usage, eating, smoking, talking with passengers, checking the speedometer and reading billboards, or anything else that causes the driver to no longer is fully attentive to driving. In a study conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, “Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event.” This evidence shows that distractions play a huge role in the causation of accidents. When a driver is distracted, they usually take their eyes off of the road, which leads them to not be able to see any cars or pedestrians in front of them. Distractions put the driver and other drivers at risk.
The main form of distraction seen all over today is texting and driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “ Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” This is a serious issue, especially at high speeds. If a driver travels the distance of a football field without paying attention to the road, that would greatly increase the risk of an accident, just like any other form of distraction.
Another common form of distraction while driving is checking the speedometer. Most drivers constantly check the speedometer to ensure that they are not going above the speed limit to avoid being ticketed. In a study conducted by Safe Speed, it was found that it takes the human eyes 0.91 seconds on average to check the speedometer and refocus on the road. That fact is concerning considering that an accident can occur just in a split second.
Next, another key factor in the causation of accidents is the critical driving decisions made on the road. These critical driving decisions most commonly occur at intersections and occur before the majority of accidents. When the driver makes the wrong decision, there is a much higher risk of an accident occurring than if the driver made the correct decision. For example, if a driver timed their left turn at an intersection with oncoming traffic incorrectly, it could very well likely lead to an accident. According to Choi from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “In the case of 22.2 percent of crashes, the critical event was turning left…” Making the wrong decision leads to an accident occurring. Although making these decisions at a higher speed could be more difficult, most of these decisions are not commonly made on highways because highways generally do not have intersections.
It is paramount to understand that speed is not the only factor in accidents. Many other factors are just as important if not more important than speed, and ignoring these factors does a disservice to your understanding of the role that speed plays in accidents. The APIs are arguably the most important in the causation of accidents, and it shows that higher speed either has no effect or reduces the frequency of APIs. A lower number of APIs would lead to a lower number of accidents. Next, distractions are a huge factor in the causation of accidents. One of these distractions is checking the speedometer and without having to worry about speeding, that distraction could be eliminated on highways altogether. Highways are also designed to decrease the number of distractions through strategies such as cutting the number of billboards. Finally, critical driving decisions are another key factor in the causation of accidents. Making the wrong decision increases the rate of accidents. Although it is difficult to make these decisions at higher speeds, the majority of these decisions are rarely made on highways.
Navon, D. (2002, January 30). The paradox of driving speed: Two adverse effects on highway accident rate. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457502000118
VTTI and NHTSA. (2006, April 21). Findings Released On Real-world Driver Behavior, Distraction, Crash Factors. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060420233031.htm
Currin, A. (2020, October 05). U Drive. U Text. U Pay. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
Temp. (2004). The Speedo. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from http://www.safespeed.org.uk/speedo.html
Choi, E. (2010, September). Crash Factors in Intersection-Related Crashes: An On-Scene Perspective. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from Crash Factors in Intersection-Related Crashes: An On-Scene Perspective