Posted On October 11, 2020 Personal Injury
Fatal traffic accidents on New Jersey roads kill between five and six hundred people every year, according to data from the New Jersey State Police. Speeding was involved in 26 percent of fatal traffic accidents in 2018, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Every fatal traffic accident causes profound grief and suffering. When the crash happened because someone made the reckless choice to drive at unsafe speeds, it only compounds the tragedy.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at the role speed plays in fatal traffic accidents and the legal rights of the surviving spouses and family members of motorists who die in speed-related crashes. To learn more about your legal options after suffering a tragic loss in a fatal traffic accident, consider speaking with an experienced, compassionate motor vehicle accident injury attorney.
Speeding is a common practice on U.S. roads. Speeding can be defined as either:
A 2018 federal study that logged the speed of over 12 million vehicles found that two-thirds of all vehicles observed in the study exceeded the speed limit. On highways, 70 percent of the vehicles observed in the study exceeded the posted speed limit, and nearly one in five did so by more than 10 miles per hour (mph).
By and large, the study’s findings matched those of one conducted six years earlier. In other words, despite years of public awareness campaigns and law enforcement crackdowns, Americans continued to speed as much as ever in 2015, the year the data used for the report was collected.
Speeding plays a major role in fatal traffic accidents nationwide. As summarized in a 2019 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) that used 2017 traffic fatality data, study after study has identified speeding as a major contributing factor in at least a quarter of all fatal traffic accidents. The GHSA also reported wide state-by-state variations in the number of fatal accidents in which speed played a major role, possibly due to differences in traffic enforcement, road design, or data collection methods.
New Jersey fares slightly better than the national average expressed in the GHSA report. Unsafe speeds accounted for 20 percent of fatal traffic accidents, according to NHTSA data from 2018. However, this figure may give a false impression of relative safety on Garden State roads or anywhere else.
Speeding goes unreported in many accidents because of other common contributing factors in a fatal crash, such as driver inattention or alcohol use. After all, if 66 percent of all vehicles traveling on U.S. roads at any given moment exceed the speed limit, it seems unlikely that only a quarter of vehicles involved in fatal accidents on those same roads were traveling too fast at the time of the crash. Even when other factors contribute to causing an accident, moving at an unsafe speed doesn’t help drivers mitigate the impact of a collision.
Driving too fast for conditions or exceeding the speed limit increases the risk of a fatal car accident. Here’s why.
The faster a vehicle travels, the less time its driver has to react to road hazards. The greater the car’s velocity, the more distance the vehicle needs to come to a controlled stop. Together, these two consequences of speeding vastly increase the risk of a traffic accident.
Suppose a car is cruising along when a vehicle ahead stops suddenly or an animal darts out into the roadway. It’s much harder to avoid colliding with that obstacle when traveling at 70 mph compared to 45 mph.
Even when a speeding driver manages to avoid colliding with an obstacle, speed increases the risk of losing control. Speeding makes it more difficult for drivers to maintain control on curved roads, in particular. In wet, icy, or high-wind conditions, or on roads with gravel or sand on the pavement, high speeds raise the risk of a sudden loss of control.
According to data cited in the GHSA report, speed has an exponential correlation to the energy released in a collision: “For example, when impact speed increases from 40 to 60 mph (a 50 percent increase), the energy increases by 125 percent.”
The higher the energy of an impact, the more damage inflicted on vehicles, the greater the destructive forces acting on the vehicle occupants’ bodies, and the less effective the vehicle’s crash safety features (such as airbags, seatbelts, and crumple zones) are in preventing fatal injury.
Despite these obvious risks, drivers speed constantly (as shown by the federal traffic study linked above). Two-thirds of all vehicles on U.S. roads exceed the speed limit. That does not even count the vehicles driving too fast for road conditions even while observing the speed limit.
What accounts for this disregard for personal safety? Let’s take a look.
For one thing, something of a herd mentality predominates on American roads. No matter the posted speed limit, drivers tend to match (or even exceed) the speed of other vehicles. It feels uncomfortable, and even a little dangerous, travel at the posted 55 mph while vehicles fly past going 70.
Having observed other drivers routinely exceeding the posted speed limit by five to 10 miles per hour, over time drivers simply settle into a mindset of thinking that speeding is the norm and perhaps even what is expected of them as drivers.
Speeding can get drivers to their destinations in a shorter amount of time, assuming that an accident doesn’t occur. Not surprisingly, that desire to get somewhere quickly motivates many drivers to speed.
Americans lead lives often jam-packed with appointments, plans, and places to be. Few of us manage these hectic schedules without falling behind from time to time, if not chronically so. The pressure to accomplish the next task and arrive at the next meeting on time drives us to press just a little harder on the gas pedal than we might otherwise.
In a related sense, drivers also sometimes allow their driving behaviors to mirror their inner emotions. Stress influences body mechanics, including how hard we grip the steering wheel and how heavily we step on the accelerator. Stressors that can increase the propensity to speed include running late, anxiety about personal relationships, and anger or frustration over job, family, or other life circumstances.
For most of us, this connection between emotional life and body control happens unconsciously; we get lost in our thoughts about an upsetting topic while driving. Suddenly, we realize we’re doing 80 mph in a 55 mph zone.
Some people, however, consciously decide to use their driving as an emotional outlet. These people tiptoe dangerously close to, and sometimes cross over, the line between emotional self-control and road rage. Speeding serves to vent or validate their anger and frustrations. The physical confinement and isolation of a vehicle cabin can even feed into these drivers mistakenly (and dangerously) thinking their speeding has no consequence or effect on others.
Finally, some drivers speed because they like the thrill. Speeding fulfills a need for an adrenaline rush or a sense of freedom. It can serve as an expression of the person’s personality or their devil-may-care attitude about personal actions and responsibility.
No matter what reason (or lack of reason) a driver has for driving too fast, we hold them accountable when their speeding causes someone else harm.
As every driver knows, one consequence of speeding involves consequences enforced by the state. It is illegal to speed. Those caught doing it face sanctions for moving violations, such as a ticket, fine, or license suspension.
Drivers who speed excessively or cause someone harm by speeding may even face potential criminal penalties. Prosecutors will typically cite speeding as an aggravating factor that convinces them to charge someone with vehicular manslaughter, for example.
Speeding also has potentially significant financial consequences. We’re not just talking about fines. When speeding causes a driver to crash into another vehicle, that driver is liable for the harm speeding causes victims.
Every driver owes the public a duty of care. This means following traffic laws and making responsible decisions behind the wheel to avoid putting others in unreasonable danger.
The law labels as negligent those drivers who violate that duty of care and cause someone else physical or emotional harm. A negligent driver will typically owe monetary damages to victims as compensation for their injuries and losses.
Most drivers carry auto insurance that insulates them somewhat from the financial consequences of causing a crash that harms others. However, that does not mean that they escape their legal duties. A driver who speeds, crashes, and injures others will likely see their auto insurance premiums skyrocket.
Carrying insurance also may not protect a driver’s personal assets when they cause an accident. If they cause damages that exceed their insurance policy limits and have money, stocks, or other personal property available to pay additional compensation to their victims, then they may have to fork those assets over following a civil judgment.
Families of the victims of fatal traffic accidents find their lives thrown into turmoil. The sudden, tragic loss of a loved one causes profound emotional suffering. It can also impose massive financial costs when, for example, the deceased accident victim was the family’s breadwinner or filled a caregiving role that the family can now only fill by hiring someone to help.
Personal injury lawyers represent families of fatal traffic accident victims by pursuing legal action to seek compensation from the parties at fault for the crash.
Losing a loved one in a speeding-related traffic accident causes immense pain and difficulty. The grieving families of victims should not have to bear these challenges alone. Having a compassionate, knowledgeable traffic accident injury lawyer on your side can help you understand your legal rights to compensation during this difficult time.