NewsProject: Drive Safer


I-TEAM: Deadly speeds are probably slower than you think

Take a second to remember how fast you were traveling in your car most recently. Were you going the speed limit?
Posted: 10:20 AM, Nov 10, 2022
Updated: 2022-11-11 08:40:26-05
Crash test video

MILWAUKEE — It’s like a magic trick.

Pick a road, any road in Milwaukee. Capitol Drive, Layton Avenue, Good Hope Road.

The I-Team has spotted people far exceeding the posted speed limits in each of these locations. But, right before your eyes, most vehicles give the illusion they’re following the rules.

However, almost every single vehicle is going over the posted speed limit. No, not egregiously fast, but nearly everyone is driving at speeds that could kill.

Watch Shaun Gallagher's social media report:

I-TEAM: Deadly speeds are probably slower than you think

“If you’re one of those drivers driving five miles per hour faster, ten miles per hour faster, you’re putting yourself at risk,” Jack Jensen, former VP of Engineering at Humanetics said. “You’re putting other people at risk. Just five or six miles per hour faster really puts you at much greater risk.”

Take a second to remember how fast you were traveling in your car most recently. Were you going the speed limit? Maybe 5 or 10 miles per hour over the speed limit? It’s not something considered “reckless” but just a few miles per hour over the speed limit could be the difference between life and death.

“We’re not talking the difference between 30 or 40 and then doing 70, 80, 100 miles per hour,” Nick Jarmusz, Director of Public Affairs for AAA said. “Just that difference, the study shows, has a huge impact on what kind of damage is done to a vehicle, what kind of injuries are caused and the likelihood of those injuries being severe or fatal.”

AAA ran a study in 2019 with the help of Michigan-based Humanetics to better understand the impact crashes have on a person at different speeds. The tests were marked at 40 mph, 50 mph and 56 mph.

“The first test at 40 mph, all of the dummy numbers look good,” Jensen said. “Basically that means a low risk of serious injury. We estimated 15 percent risk or serious injury.”

40 mph reckless driving crash test

Jensen says the dummies they use are extremely accurate to how a human body would react in a crash. With 150 transducers that measure injury risk on all different parts of the body; from the head, neck, thorax, pelvis, femurs, tibias, ankles, etc.

“The injuries of most concern in automotive crashes are, as you might expect, head injuries, neck injuries, thorax injuries, then probably leg injuries,” Jensen said. “Leg injuries typically aren’t life-threatening, but it can be very, very serious and affect your way of life for the rest of your life.”

50 mph reckless driving crash test

The next test, at 50 mph, was significantly more dangerous.

“It was more of a 59 percent risk of one of those body regions experiencing a severe or fatal injury,” Jensen said.

Then, just six miles per hour faster, more often than not severe injuries or death are expected.

56 mph reckless driving crash test

“At 56 mph,” Jensen said. “That risk is going up to 79 percent. You’re looking at a 15 percent risk of severe injury (at 40 mph) up to 79 percent. So there is a big difference there. Speed kills.”

Jensen admits this test does not take braking into account. He says someone reacting to the potential of a crash may change their speed by five or ten miles per hour before impact. However, he says this is a good representation of what can happen in crashes on major arterials in an area like Milwaukee County.

Deadly speeds probably slower than you think

In January of 2022, a 75-year-old Franklin woman was pulling out of a supermarket’s parking lot in Oak Creek. As she pulled out, a car traveling north on 27th Street collided with her vehicle traveling at 47 mph, according to police.

It’s only seven miles per hour over the posted 40 mph speed limit. The 75-year-old woman later died at the hospital.

“We did demonstrate that the risk of injury was significantly greater,” Jensen said of Humanetic’s study, unaffiliated with the Oak Creek crash. “Even with a six miles per hour increase in speed.”

On a road like Good Hope, it’s easy to find people within this fatal range. The I-Team continually found vehicles traveling between 45 and 60 miles per hour. According to the Milwaukee Police Department, it has issued 71 citations for speeding on Good Hope Road since 2017, averaging 23.1 mph over the speed limit.

“We’re here on Good Hope and on this stretch coming in was 40 mph,” Jarmusz said. “Everyone was passing me, doing probably 50, 55 or 60. It’s very easy to reach these sorts of speeds on arterial roads like this but it’s not safe to do that.”

Jarmusz says this study should be a wake-up call for drivers everywhere. He says, the jump between minor and deadly starts so much sooner than most drivers realize.

“Just because you may not get pulled over for it doesn’t mean it’s the safest thing to do,” Jarmusz said. “At the 50 and 56 mph crashes, you could see the head [of the dummy] is fully depressing through the airbag and is actually still hitting the steering wheel. If you’re only talking at 40 mph, the airbag is preventing them from actually touching the steering wheel as it’s intended to do.”

Jensen points to safety improvements plateauing over the years. So yes, a newer car may provide more protection, but there is a guaranteed failure rate for all vehicles. In the last 20 years, 15 people have been killed in crashes on Good Hope Road. Speed isn’t always the factor, but Jarmusz and Jensen both agree, the best safety feature on any vehicle is the person with their hands at 10 and 2.

“Vehicles have a lot of safety features these days,” Jensen said. “We have airbags, seat belts, pre-tensioning seat belts, load limiting seat belts, a safety cage which is typically made out of high strength steel. But the most important safety feature without question is the driver. If the vehicle is going 56 mph, that means the driver is going 56 mph and that driver somehow has to come to a stop. Getting that driver to a stop in a friendly manner, without causing injuries, are much more difficult to bring people to a safe stop at greater speeds.”

“It’s simple physics and common sense,” Jarmusz said. “The speed that you’re traveling at, which you do control, does play into the amount of energy released in that crash in the chances that you may or may not survive it. You do have some control over that.”

Many of the vehicles the I-Team saw on Good Hope Road were not alone in their speeds. Frequently, vehicles travel in packs from traffic light to traffic light, going with the flow of traffic, all at the same speeds. Jarmusz admits, there is an increased risk of going significantly slower than the flow of traffic. However, he says going the speed limit of 40 mph when people are going 50 to 56 mph isn’t a significant enough difference to cause danger to someone following the speed limit.

But driving at the speed limit, according to Jarmusz, is the best strategy to save your own life.

“Traveling at higher speeds like that, you are contributing to your own risk, regardless of what anyone else is doing,” Jarmusz said. “Every mile an hour does add an additional amount of velocity to the crash. It increases the energy that’s released in it.”

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