Skip to main content

Speed and motor vehicle crashes

If we could save you almost a half a minute on your next trip by automobile, would you follow the prescription? We can, but more on that later.

Recent Report Findings

A recent report from the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) of British Columbia, entitled Where the Rubber Meets the Road looks at motor vehicle crashes (MVC) in BC and their impact on our health and wellness. The report explores road safety using a safe system framework, examining four pillars: technologies and strategies for improving road safety related to road user behaviours and conditions, speed limits, vehicle technologies, and roadway design and infrastructure.

Background Statistics

First, some background. Each year BC roads see some 280 deaths and 79,000 injuries (based on 2012 data analysed). Big numbers, but they actually reflect an improvement on 20 years ago. In 1996 there were 18.4 deaths per 100,000 population; in 2012, that was down to 6.2. Of these fatalities, proportionately more occur in Northern Health and Interior Health regions. In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, the number was 2.3 per 100,000. Those aged 16 to 25 and 76 or over have the highest MVC fatality and serious injury rates.

Speed is the main factor leading to fatalities

The top human contributing factors for MVCs with fatalities were speed, distraction and impairment in that order, speed accounting for 36 percent of them. Environmental and vehicle conditions also contribute but we will focus on speed as a key factor in motor vehicle crashes.

Speed = less reaction time and more physical force

Established research shows a clear relationship between safe speeds and road safety. This is based on two simple truths: with more speed come less reaction time; and more speed means higher physical force that increases the risk of serious injury and death. The faster a vehicle is moving the less time there is for a driver to react, and the longer the stopping distance, both of which lead to more crashes. And injury? The risk of serious injury in an MVC doubles for every five kilometres per hour in travel speed above 60 km/h.

Pedestrians most vulnerable

The susceptibility of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists adds a further element of danger: there is a 90 percent chance of survival if a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle going 30 km/h, but only 20 percent survive if struck at 50 km/h.

Saving time? Not really.

Now let’s go back to that great time-saving advice: speed up and you will save an average of 26 seconds per trip. Most people claim to speed because it will get them to their destination sooner. Reality is not so generous. One study that followed 106 drivers over 3,049 driving hours found that they saved an average of 26 seconds, not per trip, but per day!

Reducing speed limits may save lives

Among the recommendations from the PHO’s report are several relating to speed. First, would be to amend the BC Motor Vehicle Act to reduce default speed limit on roads within municipalities to a maximum of 30 km/h from the current 50 km/h. Limits should also be set in regards to road and weather conditions and to increase driver awareness and education.

We know that a person has a much better chance at 30 km/h so we should be reviewing local speed limits to reflect the increased survivability at that speed. Think about it.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.
SOURCE: Speed and motor vehicle crashes ( )
Page printed:

Copyright © Vancouver Coastal Health. All Rights Reserved.