HomeCar CultureImpact statement: Crash tests vividly show result of speeding

Impact statement: Crash tests vividly show result of speeding

A few mph can make the difference between bruises and burial


(Editor’s note: Earlier this week, we presented a commentary regarding teen drivers and speeding. We present the following article as a followup and supplement to that commentary.)

With airbags and crumple zones, does it really matter that much if a crash occurs at 40 mph or at 50? And what about 56 mph?

Turns out, it does, and the differences are significant, and you as a parent or grandparent, or even as an aunt or uncle or teacher or neighbor, need to make sure the teen driver in your life is aware.

The debate here isn’t whether speed limits are too high or too low or, as Goldilocks finally encountered, just right. What matters here is what happens when things go horribly wrong. 

To find out, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Humanetics recently conducted crash tests at three impact speeds, and determined that even “slightly higher speeds were enough to increase the driver’s risk of severe injury or death.”

“A speeding driver may arrive at their destination a few minutes faster, but is the tradeoff of getting severely injured or even losing one’s life worth it if a crash occurs?” David Yang, executive director of the AAA foundation, was quoted in the news release sharing the test results.

Crashed in the tests were three 2010 Honda CR-V EX crossover vehicles, selected because they represented the average age of the typical passenger vehicle on U.S. roads and because when they were brand new, they earned IIHS top honors in crash testing.

“At the 40-mph impact speed, there was minimal intrusion into the driver’s space,” the recent tests revealed. “But at the 50-mph impact speed, there was noticeable deformation of the driver side door opening, dashboard and foot area. 

“At 56 mph, the vehicle interior was significantly compromised, with the dummy’s sensors registering severe neck injuries and a likelihood of fractures to the long bones in the lower leg.”

But wait, there’s more…

“At both 50 and 56 mph, the steering wheel’s upward movement caused the dummy’s head to go through the deployed airbag. This caused the face to smash into the steering wheel. Measurements taken from the dummy showed a high risk of facial fractures and severe brain injury.”

According to the news release, “When correctly set and enforced, speed limits improve traffic flow and maximize all public road users’ safety.”

“Cars are safer than they’ve ever been, but nobody’s figured out how to make them defy the laws of physics,” said David Harkey, IIHS president. “Rather than raising speed limits, states should vigorously enforce the limits they have. This includes using proven countermeasures like high-visibility enforcement and carefully implemented speed-camera programs to consistently and equitably enforce speed limits 24/7.”

No explanation was given for why 56 mph was selected rather than, say, 60 mph, but given the injuries likely to occur, 56 mph is bad enough.

Oh, and while we’re encouraging these crash results to be shared with teenage drivers, the impact is the same for drivers and passengers regardless of age.  

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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