This guest post is courtesy of Ms. Allison Gamble, writing for ForensicPsychology.net.
What causes an accident? Is it the speed of the car or humans ability to react fast enough to danger? What’s the forensic psychology between the desire to drive fast and the inevitable accident that follows? Speed is a factor in most accidents according to most transportation studies in Europe, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. According to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a consortium of European countries’ experts, speed is a factor.
In 2009, the NHTSA reported that speeding caused one-third of all fatal crashes, resulting in more than 10,500 deaths. In Europe, they noted that even a 1% increase in overall speed resulted in a 2-7% increase in accidents. In 2002, a New Zealand study found that crashes increased by 38% in states that increased their speed limit versus states that didn’t.
Who agrees and who doesn’t agree with studies comes down to who wants to go fast (the public) and who must answer to the public for accident rates (government). Texans pushed for and got an increased speed to 85 on some highways. South African politicians wanted to decrease speeds but ran into major opposition. The autobahn, Germany’s highway, which is rumored to have no speed limit, actually has many speed limits. Their recommended maximum speed equals about 80 miles per hour which compares with the 75 miles hours in the U.S. Fines are very stiff with license revocation possible if caught at racing speeds.
Consider the woman and her daughter who died on the autobahn. The car driver that hit them didn’t even see them. He was driving at racing speed, and he sent them careening off the road. This sort of accident brings up the question of human reaction. The NHTSA has noted the effect of speed on the time needed for human reactions.
The faster a car is driven, the less time a driver has to detect a problem and react to it. At 60 mph, you have 10 seconds; but at 80 mph, you have two seconds. That eight seconds can matter tremendously. Furthermore, the faster a car is going, the more time it needs to stop when the driver starts to brake. So there is less time to see the problem and less time to avoid it.
If human reactions were always equally good, speed would still be a factor. The lack of response time makes the quickness of human reactions a moot point. Quick or not, they cannot be quick enough in a long list of situations.
The fact is that cars traveling at high speeds (even speeds as low as 35 miles per hour) become more and more dangerous to their occupants. They simply cannot withstand the energy of a high speed crash. High speeds simply kill more people than lower speeds whether the speed is the cause of the accident or not. For each rise in speed, there is an exponentially larger rise in serious injury and death. So far that’s been enough reason for most advanced countries to keep speed limits at what are generally called “liveable” levels.