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Speed is Fun, until

Guess what Car Talkers… New NHTSA Report out, titled National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey Report To Congress. Now I know this has been one of the most heated debates in the past on this forum, and many of the arguments were made using information from other countries or 30+ years ago.

Well, the newest version is out, and not suprisingly to many of us one one half of the debate, speed isn’t the major cause of accidents. However, this doesn’t address speed over the “limit”, and only breaks it down to speed for conditions and in curves.

Here is the basic break down of the top causes that are driver based.

Inadequate surveillance - 20.3%

Internal Distraction - 10.7%

To fast for CONDITIONS - 8.4%

To fast for CURVE - 4.9%

Aggresive behaviour + tailgating = 3%

And the event which caused the crash is broken down as:

Turning at Intersection - 36%

Off the road - 22%

Over the line - 10.8%

Stopped vehic in lane - 12%

Traveling to fast - 5%

So here are the facts, it isn’t the speeder, or even the tailgater, causing the most crashes; it is inattentive drivers, cell phone drivers, and distracted drivers that are responsible for the largest percentage of crashes. They may be speeding, but that isn’t the cause of the crash, because as we all know very well, nearly everybody on the road is speeding, but not everybody in the road crashes each day.

So what do you think? What do we as the driving public need to do, and what do we need to ask congress/states/etc to do?

Or are us “it isn’t the speeders fault” side guys just blowing smoke?

Speeding and inattention are not mutually exclusive. Nor are tailgating and inattention.

Yes, inattention is the cause of a great many accidents. However, if you combine the all-too-common trait of inattention with speeding and/or tailgating, or any number of other driver infractions, the possibility of an accident greatly increases, and the probability of the accident being very serious increases also.

Please don’t take the quoted statistics as carte blanche to speed or to tailgate, as these are also the proximate cause of accidents–rationalizations notwithstanding.

I should clarify something then to address this now. The study doesn’t limit the number of factors to just one for each crash, so if speed was in fact a factor, just like tailgating, rain, etc, it would be included in the results. An example from the report:

A 16-year-old female was traveling southbound in the left lane
of a four-lane undivided highway. The driver of this vehicle made a left turn at a signalized intersection across the path of a 2004 Ford F-350 truck traveling northbound in the right lane driven by a 62-year-old male.

16 y/o factors: Interior Distraction, Inexperience, Unfamiliar road, Inadequate survaillance. 62 y/o factors:none

16 y/o Critical Event: Turning left at intersection 62y/o event: Encroaching vehicle from opposite direction

16 y/o Critical Cause: Driver error = Interior Distraction.

all 4 factors would be included in the reporting, but they pick which one is actually responsible for the crash (distraction). Even though there were three other factors, analysis of the collision determined the GOVERNING reason was Interior Distraction, meaning even if the driver had been speeding on her first licensed day as a driver in the rain, the accident could have been avoided if she was paying attention.

…I edited this with an actual example from the report…

Are you trying to make the case that if you are in the group labeled “speeders” you will not be in the group labeled “cause of accident”?

Might the point be that most of the traffic enforcement effort goes to ticketing speeders, yet they are far from the biggest cause of accidents?

That fits what I previously though caused most crashes. I wish I was surprised.

The answer? I think the answer is to make the distracted driver who caused the collision pay…out of pocket…for all the damage and injuries. If it bankrupts the idiot, so be it.

The way I see it is collisions are caused by an accumulation of risk factors. Among these are allowing or creating distractions, speeding, improper maintenance, road rage, etc. However, when one talks on a cell phone, puts on make-up, plays with the MP3 player, eats, etc. while driving, that person is choosing to put everyone at risk. Insurance should not cover that unless the person’s entire estate has already been sold off to pay for damages. The first time someone ends up homeless and indigent, it will get everyone else’s attention and set an example. Then people might actually pay attention to their driving.

Some limited accesses highways which may not have apparent speed limits (here and abroad) may not statistically produce higher accident rates…but you have to admit; at nigher speeds, when they occur they are indeed more spectacular. And your chances of walking away from one are greatly diminished.

Speed is not necessarily the cause of accidents, but a large difference in speed is. As an example, if I’m going 55 and ned to make a panic stop, I will stop in the time it takes they guy going 75 behind me to slow to 55. If the speeder is close enough and can’t maneuver, I will be rear-ended. Hopefully, the speeder will be attentive enough to notice the stop before he hits me, but he has less time to react since he’s going 40% faster than me. And we can also hope that there is room to move around me and that a panic move left or right will not cause an accident.

One more thing: the faster you go, the more likely you are to die. The likelihood goes up exponentially. It’s not just whether an accident will happen, but what the results are, too.


There are lots of country road accidents where the driver doesn’t know the road and drives 55 MPH; then the road takes a turn and the vehicle doesn’t. Then there are those 4,000 pound boulders that line some roads. Ice won’t kill you too often. It’s the trees and boulders you run into when you slide off the road.