By Russ and Tiña De Maris
What kind of driver is more likely to kill you: a drunken driver or a speeding driver? The correct answer is: Both. Over the last decade, nearly the same number of people were killed by either impaired drivers or ones who had simply run it up over the limit. That’s the word from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For the most recent year available, 2016, drunk drivers killed 10,497 people on U.S. roads, just slightly more than the 10,111 killed by speeders.
But why does speeding push up the fatality rate? NHTSA provides an answer from Robert Sumwalt, its then-acting chairman. “The simple truth is that speeding makes a crash more likely. In a crash that’s speeding-related, you’re more likely to be injured, your injuries are more likely to be severe, and you’re more likely to die. And that’s true whether you’re the speeding driver, another driver, a passenger, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian.”
Add to the dangerous mix, attitude. While drunk driving is dangerous, there’s certainly a public sentiment against it, with groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving constantly reinforcing a push against it. But not so with speeding. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Traffic Safety Culture Index, a survey of 4,000 driving-age Americans, 63 percent of respondents ruled speeding on residential streets “completely unacceptable,” while at the same time 47 percent said they had done so in the past month. How much looser might the attitude to toward speeding – and its practice – be when on a Blue Line highway, or a multi-lane interstate?
If professional drivers are a reasonable example of the behavior of a cross-section of Americans, then data from SmartDrive Systems, a San Diego, Calif., driver safety company, may open your eyes. Using on-truck camera recording systems, SmartDrive analyzed information from 220 million “driving events,” and came to some startling conclusions. Among them:
On average, drivers who do the most speeding are the ones more likely to end up in a collision. Compared to drivers who practice staying in the limit, those who go over in a moderate way, that is, driving more than the limit but less than 10 miles per hour over, are 45 percent more likely to get in a crack-up. Run that speed up to more than 10 miles per hour over, and the likelihood increases to 70 percent. It’s no wonder insurance companies keep a hawk-eye on their insureds’ driving records and adjust rates up, or cancel drivers altogether, for those who collect traffic tickets.
Even if no accident happens, speeding can easily bring a driver to a “near hit.” Those who speed the most are 54 percent more likely to cross the median or centerline. A near collision with another moving vehicle was 53 percent more likely. Come close to clobbering a non-moving object, 40 percent; with an animal, 26 percent; or simply run off the road, 15 percent.
But speeding drivers apparently are plagued by other bad driving habits that can lead to ruin. Top speeders are 3.7 times as likely to drive with both hands off the wheel. They’re 2.7 times more likely to leave their assigned lane, or straddle their lane. When it comes time to change lanes, they’re 2.5 times more likely to do it unsafely. Finally, when making turns, speeders were twice as unlikely to make dangerous ones.
Out on the road and encounter a tailgater? Then you’ve likely had a speeder behind you. Those who speed the most are likewise the ones most prone to tailgating. In 1,000 hours of observing professional drivers, top speeders were 191 percent more likely to keep a second or less between themselves and the driver ahead. And stop signs don’t seem to make much difference to them either. Top speeders blasted through stop signs 2.5 times more frequently than non-speeders, and twice as likely to blow a stop light as their non-speeding counterparts.
How about speeders and distractions? You guessed it: Top speeders were 3.5 times more likely to be distracted in comparison to non-speeders. In those statistics, talking on a hand-held phone was 266 percent higher than for non-speeders, while texting was close behind at 241 percent higher. Factor distraction into “death on the road,” and the U.S. Department of Transportation reports in 2015, 3,477 people died in “texting or cell phone” distracted related incidents – and a phenomenal 391,000 were injured.
If the killing and maiming aren’t enough of a reason to get the foot off the pedal, how about personal finances? For commercial fleets, who keep close watch on figures like these, there are more economic incentives to keep the speed down. The higher the speed, the more the wear and tear on vehicles. Clutches, suspensions, gears, bearings and drive trains are all adversely affected by higher speeds. Maintenance costs increase 38 percent when the average drive speed increases from 50 to 60 miles per hour. Run up the average drive speed to 70, and watch increased maintenance costs jump up by 80 percent.
If you find this information strikes a nerve and you’d like to get out of a speeding habit, here are five steps that could help:
1. Use your cruise control. Cruise control will automatically maintain your speed and help to reduce the urge to drive faster. Keep in mind there are times when your cruise control should be off – when the roadway is wet or icy, or when on a grade, for example.
2. Keep an eye on your speedometer while not losing your attention on the road ahead.
3. Don’t drive the limit – drive a bit under.
4. Sit down with your calculator and road map, and figure out just how much time you really save when speeding. Pushing the speed up to 65 in a 55 zone over 15 miles “saves” a mere three minutes.
5. Now compare your time “savings” to the cost of a traffic ticket. Get caught doing 10 over the limit in Arizona nets a $250 fine. Now add on how much your insurance costs may go up, and speeding may easily lose its attractiveness.