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Fewer Cars Mean Faster Cars

Are Empty Roads Safer?

The Sacramento freeways are nearly empty. We no longer need to consult Waze or Google Maps before we begin a drive. Whereas once the traffic in the Sacramento area could be so heavy that it was prudent to check the estimated time to travel your intended route, now during our shelter-in-place, all that stands between you and nearly everywhere you want to go is a stretch of uninhabited road. But do deserted highways automatically mean that there are fewer car accidents? Perhaps that is true in overall quantity, but the open roads may be the setting for more serious accidents if fewer cars result in faster cars.

The Speed Temptation

California Highway Patrol has been noticing throughout the state that a near-empty freeway may provide a temptation for drivers to put the pedal to the medal.  

Thousands of Californians are staying indoors as many cities have enacted shelter-in-place orders. That means highways that usually host bumper to bumper traffic during commute hours are now all but empty and are providing stretches of open road. Last week, CalTrans maps revealed that motorists were traveling at an average speed of 68 mph on freeways during what would, under normal circumstances, be peak commuter travel times. Normal commute hours are showing no traffic slowdowns.

The CHP notes that with empty freeways lately, there are fewer fender bender-type accidents occurring, but that drivers are pushing the speed envelope. That means it is more likely that injuries will be sustained when an accident does occur, given the higher speed and forces of impact.

Faster Cars, Greater Injuries

According to the World Health Organization, speed is a key factor with regard to injuries caused by road accidents. Speed increases the risk of a crash in the first place, and also the severity of injuries sustained. Excess speed contributes to approximately 30% of road fatalities. When vehicle occupants are involved in a crash that occurs at an impact speed of 50 mph, the likelihood of a fatal injury is nearly 20x higher than if the speed was 15 mph.  

Pedestrians and cyclists are most vulnerable to the relationship between injury severity and speed. Pedestrians have an approximately 90% chance of surviving if hit by a vehicle traveling 18 mph or slower. Those odds drop to below 50% when the vehicle speed increases to 28 mph. There is essentially zero chance of a pedestrian living through an impact at 50 mph.

Watch the YouTube Video. Getting Hit by a Car at Different Speeds. The video below discusses how big of a difference speed makes in injury accidents.

Driving Under Stress

During this global pandemic, there is also the increased potential to encounter impaired drivers, as drinking and drug use increase during anxious times.  Additionally, so many of us have more free time and more hours at home than usual, which could present greater opportunities to become impaired. Relatedly, stressed out and worried, people may be more prone to acting out behind the wheel of a car. We have already seen one egregious episode of road rage in the past few days when a Carmichael motorist intentionally ran over a jogger.  

Unusual Times – Be Cautious as Usual

When we do have to get out on the roads and travel during this shelter in place, be aware that even though there is less traffic and fewer cars, increased vehicle speeds could present a hazard. Remember that sometimes there is a correlation between those that ignore public health orders and those that ignore traffic laws.

Be safe out there!

Elk Grove Personal Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, an Elk Grove personal injury lawyer. Excessive speed causes accidents and injuries. If you have been injured due to the recklessness of a negligent driver and would like to receive my free and friendly advice, contact me at (916) 694-0002 or (800) 404-5400. There is also an option to send me a message online

Many of my former clients have taken the time to write reviews about the services offered by my law firm:

I am proud to be a member of the Million Dollar Advocates and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

For more than 38 years, I have worked on behalf of injured Elk Grove residents

Photo Attribution: CN

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