The speed limit: It’s the law that probably gets broken most often by otherwise law-abiding citizens. After all, everyone has run late and been tempted to push the speedometer needle past the limit. But what happens when the need for speed goes unchecked and results in major or even deadly accidents? And which areas of the country struggle most with unsafe speeds?
To find out, we looked at the average speed of over 12,000 fatal car crashes across the country and determined where drivers put the pedal to the metal and where they proceed more cautiously. Take a look at how your city or state sized up in the speed scene.
Unsafe at Any Speed
High speeds are often associated with fatal car crashes, but it turns out that the two don’t always go hand and hand. While some states like Georgia, Montana, and Texas average almost 70 mph in fatal accidents, many others suffer severe accidents with low average speeds. Iowa’s average is 21 mph and Washington clocks in at 25 mph.
Some of the states with higher average fatal crash speeds also have higher speed limits in general, which may skew crash statistics toward the speedier end. Rural interstates in Montana, for example, actually allow cars to go 80 mph. In the Lone Star State, that figure is as high as 85 mph. But that doesn’t explain the high speeds apparent in places like Alaska, where the standard speed limit across the state is 55 mph, or Vermont, where limits in some areas are as low as 50 mph.
Lethal Lead Foot
Next, we wanted to see if there was a correlation between the states with the highest average crash speeds and those with more speeding-related fatal accidents. Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, Montana, and New Hampshire were all in the top 10 for both high fatal crash speeds and high incidence of speeding-related fatalities, indicating that their lead feet may be lethal.
States’ populations also correspond with the number of speeding-related fatal accidents. The top 10 states in the graphic above fall under the 11 smallest states by population size.
Acceleration by Age
They say that you start to “slow down” as you age, and it looks like that’s true both metaphorically and literally in this case. The average speed of the driver in fatal accidents hits its peak in the early 20s and then generally declines overall as people age, with drivers in their 80s being the slowest. But while the elderly are less likely to be speeding at the time of their crash, they are more likely to die in it, due to their frailty and increased susceptibility to serious injury.
Speeding in the City
The fastest cities in America are located across the country, from California to Virginia and a few places in between. The biggest surprise? A staggering 11 of the 20 cities with the highest average speeds in fatal accidents are located in California. Dallas is No. 1 – the North Texas city recently made headlines for a Facebook page called “You Can’t Drive, Dallas” dedicated to exposing aggressive drivers. Utah and North Carolina each have two cities that make the top 20.
Flying Down the Highway
Breaking down the data even further to examine the thoroughfares themselves, it appears that interstates are by far the fastest type of road where fatal accidents occur. All but three of the top 20 are interstate routes. This makes sense when you consider that interstates, and especially rural sections of them, typically have the highest speed limits of any road type in the country.
It’s also interesting to take a look at where these fast-moving freeways are throughout the United States. Surprisingly, just seven states make up 80% of the top 20. South Carolina and California are each home to three of the fastest roads involved in fatal accidents, and South Carolina’s stretch of I-95 has an average fatal crash speed of nearly 75 mph, despite the 70 mph speed limit.
It’s easy to think that higher speeds equal a higher prevalence of fatal crashes, and there may be some truth to that. But as we can see in Iowa and other slower states, it’s possible for both passengers and drivers to die in low-speed crashes as well. This is especially true when considering other factors like age. In certain cities, it seems speeding is simply more common – so be aware when driving in Dallas, St. George, UT, and those 11 cities in California. The bottom line? There’s no substitute for safe driving, wearing seat belts, and just plain slowing down on the road. Your life could be on the line.
Using the most recent data (2014) from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we looked at the average speed of 12,019 fatal car crashes across the United States. Of those crashes, we examined 17,061 unique vehicles involved in the accidents, which included 17,005 different drivers.
Not all accidents analyzed were speeding related. We pulled data on accidents where there was a recorded speed, and in the case of average speeds in every state, we excluded any recorded speeds of 0 mph. For the most speeding-related accidents by state, we looked at only those accidents where the listed speed of the vehicle was above the posted speed limit.
NOTE: If you're a journalist interested in covering this project, we encourage you to use any of the graphics included above. We just ask that you attribute Auto Insurance Center fairly in your coverage and provide a link to this page so that your audience can learn more about our work. If you'd like to discuss this project, or any of our other research, reach out to us at [email protected]