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driving concerns

I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s okay to drive while texting or while drunk. But I know a lot of people, including my adult children, who think nothing of going 20 or 30 km/h above the speed limit. They say everybody speeds because speed limits aren’t realistic, I say speed limits are there for a reason. Is speeding more dangerous than they think? – Joyce, Edmonton

When it comes to speeding, “everybody’s doing it” doesn’t mean it’s safe.

“There’s this presumption that speeding doesn’t kill, but about 400 people are killed a year by speeding in Canada,” said Robyn Robertson, president and CEO of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). “A large proportion of drivers admit to doing it, but there’s an exponential increase in crash risk.”

Going just 10 km/h over the speed limit doubles your chances of getting in a crash, Robertson said. If you’re going 20 km/h over the speed limit, you’re six times more likely to get in a crash than if you’re going the limit.

“I think speeding is one of the most dangerous things you can do on the road, especially when you’re talking speeds over 20 km/h above the posted limit,” said Shabnem Afzal, vice president of the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals (CARSP). “Driving at 10 km/h over the speed limit has the same risk of collision as driving while impaired [with a blood-alcohol level] over .08.”

In Canada, speed plays a role in about one in four fatal crashes. Research has shown that a one km/h increase in vehicle speed results in a three per cent increase in the risk of a crash that could cause an injury, Robertson said.

“If you’re driving super fast, you don’t have time to respond to the light changing or pedestrians crossing,” Afzal said. “Your vehicle isn’t able to respond either.”

The faster you’re going, the longer it takes to stop.

If you’re driving at 90 km/h, it will take you 83 metres to stop – that’s your reaction time plus your braking distance, Robertson said.

But at 130 km/h, you need 150 metres. That’s longer than a football field.

Plus, the faster you go, the worse the crash – and the worse your injuries.

“It’s basic physics – the crash energy increases exponentially with the speed of the impact,” said Joe Young, spokesman for the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). “Driving just a little bit faster makes a crash more likely and makes that crash more severe.”

In crashes between cars and a pedestrian or cyclist, that’s true even at lower speeds.

If a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a car by a car going 30 km/h, they have a 90 per cent chance of surviving. If the car is going 50 km/h, they have a less than 20 per cent chance of surviving, Robertson said.

The need for speed?

About 20 per cent of drivers say they speed excessively, Robertson said.

“That’s because they tend not to appreciate the risk,” Robertson said. “There are a lot of myths associated with speeding that drivers tell themselves to rationalize their behaviour.”

For example, there’s the idea that it’s safer to drive the same speed as the traffic around you, even if everyone else speeding. So, the thinking goes, if you’re driving 110 km/h and the cars around you are going 130 km/h, it’s safer for everyone if you speed up.

But that’s not true – even if everyone else is speeding, it’s still safer to go the speed limit because you have more time to react to other drivers and stop, Robertson said.

“Everyone thinks ‘I’m a good driver, it would never happen to me,’ " said Robert Martin, chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police traffic safety committee. “People think speed limits are arbitrarily set, but they’re set for a reason by the people who designed the roads.”

Martin said he’s heard people say that roads are designed for 140 km/h or higher, but it’s not true.

When British Columbia hiked speed limits to 120 km/h on some highways in 2014, the number of fatal crashes doubled.

“There’s so much research to show that raising speed limits is a good way to get people killed,” CARSP’s Afzal said.

So are there ways to get drivers to slow down?

“The easiest is for people to speak up and talk about the risks,” Robertson said.

But there are also tech solutions, Robertson said.

Several provinces, including Ontario, are allowing insurance companies to use telematics devices that track risky driver behaviour. For example, you may get a discount if you don’t speed. If you do speed, you could, potentially, see a rate hike.

Or, your car could stop speeding for you – the European Union is requiring all new cars to have electronic speed limiters by 2022. Drivers can choose to override the systems. Also, photo radar has been proven to slow down drivers without requiring police to make potentially risky traffic stops, Robertson said.

“Photo radar has been a very controversial issue in Canada,” Robertson said. “There’s this perception that it’s a cash grab, but the research around automated enforcement shows very good results.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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