Why is speed hurting so many people?

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Why is speed hurting so many people?
Speeding is the leading contributor to death and serious injuries on the road | Image: World Bank

We are living in the era of speed –always fast forward, under pressure and trying to achieve as much as possible in a limited amount of time. This is reflected in all aspects of our lives, including when driving. Speeding, even “only a bit over” the speed limit, has become a common practice for some, and this comes out in numerous studies.

Should this be acceptable when speed hurts so many people? The answer is no. Let’s bust some of the most common myths on driving speeds:

Myth 1: Speed has very little impact on road safety outcomes. The reality is that speeding is the biggest cause of death and serious injury on our roads. Studies in the field show that about 650,000 people are estimated to die annually in road crashes involving speeding, which means speed is a contributing factor in 30%-50% of road fatalities, with a higher impact in low- and middle- income countries.  Increased crash occurrence at higher speeds happens for several reasons, including through reduced driver’s field of vision and increased stopping distance. Severity of crash outcomes increases due to greater crash kinetic energy. And we are not even getting to the other variables that can make it harder for a speeding car to stop, such as the quality of the brakes, the weight of the vehicle, or the condition of the pavement.

Myth 2: Most drivers consider that just by driving 1-2 kph over the speed limit will have no impact on their safety or the safety of those around them. But they are wrong. A study from Norway shows the impact of a 1 kph and 2 kph average speed reduction on the severity of crashes for roads with different reference speeds.

Percentage reduction in crashes.

Myth 3: And if the next question coming to mind is “but won’t lower speeds lead to longer trips?” The answer is simple: not really. The perceived time savings are much larger than the real time savings: according to an EU study, it only takes an extra 40 seconds to drive 10 km at 65 kph instead of 70 kph. When factors such as stopping at traffic lights, or needing to slow for severe bends are included, the real journey time impacts are typically less than what most people think.

Myth 4: “I am an experienced driver, so I can speed and still be safe”. This is usually fueled by the so-called self-enhancement bias. Simply put – most drivers consider they are better drivers than others, so road safety messages are not aimed at them, including those related to speeding. Rather, those messages are for the other drivers who are far more dangerous and at risk; but that’s, “of course” not me.

Myth 5: Many policy makers are reluctant to make decisions about providing safer, lower speed limits because they are concerned that communities will object to these changes. The reality is that communities long for a safer road environment with lower speeds. A survey undertaken by ESRA on 35,000 respondents from 32 countries showed that less than 20% of the respondents considered that it was acceptable to drive faster than the speed limit (less than 10% in built up areas) and up to 90% of respondents suggested that traffic rules should be stricter.

Speeding hurts people badly, some worse than others; but in the end, everybody suffers. So, whenever you or the driver next to you are going beyond the speed limit, just consider two key facts: 

  1. Even a few extra kph over the speed limit can harm you and those around you
  2. Speeding will not necessarily take you faster to your destination.

Find out more about the stories of Akuba and Luca, and join the Global Road Safety Facility in honoring those whose lives have been affected by road crashes during the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2021.


GRSF Speed Management Hub

Campaign: Act for low speeds! #WDoR2021

Speeding Hurts Us All – Speed Management Myths

Speeding hurts us all, and the impact is long-lasting


Blair Turner

Senior Transport Specialist with the Global Road Safety Facility, the World Bank

Marisela Ponce de Leon

Transport specialist with the Global Road Safety Facility, the World Bank

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