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The Link Between Vehicle Speed and Fatal Pedestrian Accidents

When a car strikes a pedestrian, there is very little chance the pedestrian will escape without injury. Even at low speeds, cars are capable of doing tremendous damage. A recent analysis of the relationship between vehicle speed and the likelihood of a fatal pedestrian accident demonstrates just how dangerous cars are to people on foot. The study further broke down accident data to show how the age of the victim affects the survivability of a car-pedestrian collision.

Serious injuries and fatalities are possible at surprisingly low speeds. A collision between a car going 18 mph and a 70 year-old pedestrian carries a 10 percent mortality rate. At 23 mph, the collision mortality rate for an average pedestrian reaches 10 percent. At 34 mph, half of older pedestrian victims will die. At 42 mph, half of all pedestrians will die. A collision at 50 mph will kill more than 90 percent of older pedestrians and three-quarters of pedestrians of all ages. 

Speed is a common element in many traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over the past 10 years, speed-related accidents were responsible for more 28 percent of all traffic fatalities. This puts speeding roughly on par with drunk driving in terms of the total death toll inflicted. These numbers have drawn the attention of state and city legislators as the push for a reduction in motor vehicle deaths has gained momentum. The analysis found that the likelihood that an accident would turn fatal begins to rise sharply at 25 mph. Some cities have chosen to reduce speed limits from 30 to 25 mph in areas where pedestrian traffic is high.

Sources: ProPublica, “Unsafe at Many Speeds,” by Lena Groeger, 25 May 2016

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