The global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more people working from home and fewer cars on the road, but that hasn’t led to an improvement in road safety, according to a news release published by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
That’s because, almost everywhere across America, the presence of open roads has led to an almost universally similar outcome: people driving at higher speeds.
GHSA was one of the first organizations to share statistics about the pandemic-related road safety and speeding crisis in early 2020. Speeding has increased so much during the pandemic that GHSA is partnering with two other organizations to launch pioneering initiatives in Maryland and Virginia to slow drivers down.
Small increases in speed matter
According to a new study from AAA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), even a small increase in a vehicle’s speed can raise the risk of a driver or vehicle occupant sustaining severe or fatal injuries if involved in a crash. The injury risks associated with widespread speeding are so high, they even threaten to cancel out the inherent benefits of other modern safety advancements, such as safer vehicle designs and airbags.
For example, the AAA-IIHS study, which used crash test dummies, found that even a 6 mph increase in speed – from 50 mph to 56 mph – could raise the risk of severe neck and leg injuries to a driver involved in a crash. The risks of face and brain injuries were high at both 50 mph and 56 mph.
The organizations pointed out that people tend to drive even faster when speed limits are increased to match driver speeds, and they urged states to factor in that human behavior when considering raising speed limits.
Teens at greatest risk of speeding-related fatal crashes
The widespread increases in speed during the COVID-19 pandemic are putting a specific population at greater risk: teenagers. A teen speeding study released by GHSA found that, between 2015 and 2019, teens and their passengers involved in crashes where speed was a factor resulted in a higher rate of fatalities than any other age group. Teen drivers in such fatal crashes were also more likely to be male.
Other teen driver facts that parents and young drivers might not be aware of are that teens face greater risks if they drive at night and if they have passengers.
Autonomous driving technology could offer a solution
Autonomous driving technology, which can be programmed to obey road laws and never speed, could one day broadly reduce speeding. Autonomous driving technology also never drives distracted or drunk, can perceive all around, identify other road users such as cyclists or pedestrians, and make real-time decisions to maximize the safety of all road users.
GHSA and AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah are partners of the Waymo-led Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving campaign.
Join us in the most important conversations about how autonomous driving technology may shape the future of safety, mobility, community, and society.