It’s a health crisis that is too readily accepted: death and injury on the nation’s roads.
Last year, an estimated 42,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes and 4.8 million were injured. That represents an 8% increase over 2019, the largest year-over-year increase in nearly a century — even though the number of miles driven fell by 13%, according to the National Safety Council.
The emptier roads led to more speeding, which led to more fatalities, said Leah Shahum, executive director of the Vision Zero Network, a nonprofit organization that works on reducing traffic deaths. Ironically, congested traffic, the bane of car commuters everywhere, had been keeping people safer before the pandemic, Shahum told Kaiser Health News.
A huge jump in road fatalities started showing up in the data “almost immediately” after the start of the pandemic, despite lockdown orders that kept people home and reduced the number of drivers on the road, said Tara Leystra, the National Safety Council’s state government affairs manager.
South Carolina, which annually has among the highest highway death rates per capita, has not been immune from the rising death toll: 1,062 deaths in 2020 compared to 1,006 in 2019. And so far in 2021, more than 300 people have been killed, an increase of 20% over 2020.
According to the Kaiser reporting, the rising death toll has state and local governments looking at ways to slow people down on the road. And with good reason. National studies suggest that in 27% of fatal traffic accidents, the unsafe speed of a vehicle involved constituted the principal cause of the crash. In many more crashes, unsafe speed plays at least a contributing role.
It’s time to resolve ourselves to a safer way and better day on the roads. Toward that end, here are five good reasons to slow down:
• To save your life. If you're traveling 10 mph above the average speed on the road, you're six times more likely to be involved in a crash. The chances of death or serious injury double for every 10 mph over 50 mph a vehicle travels. A frontal impact, for example, at 35 mph is a third more severe than one at 30 mph.
• To save gas. The faster you drive, the more fuel you burn. At speeds above 55 mph, fuel economy plummets rapidly. Slowing down from 65 to 55 increases your gas mileage by roughly 20%.
• To avoid expensive tickets. The average cost of a speeding ticket, with court fees, runs $150. The average insurance increase over three years after a speeding ticket runs roughly $300.
• Because speeding doesn't save that much time. Speeding, with the goal of making up time on the road, has a surprisingly small payback. A driver traveling 20 miles in a 60 mph zone saves only 1.5 minutes by going 65 - 2.9 minutes by going 70 - 4 minutes speeding at 75 mph - 5 minutes at 80 mph - and 5.9 minutes speeding at 85 mph. Do the math for your own commute.
• Because speeding isn't a "big-city" problem. Nearly 60% of fatal crashes occur on two-lane, undivided roads, and rural local roads are five times as dangerous as urban interstates. Rural citizens, meanwhile are 2-1/2 times as likely to be killed on highways than their urban counterparts. Overall, the fatality rate on local roads is more than three times the rate on interstates.