It’s simple physics really: The faster a car is going when it hits you, the more likely you’ll be killed. But there’s a correlation between the speed of the car and the likelihood you’ll be killed, especially when you take age into consideration. Just 5 mph can make a dramatic difference in whether you live or die.
An interactive chart made by ProPublica uses data from a famous 2011 study that collected four years of US car vs. pedestrian crash data. This chart is not only the best illustration of that data I’ve ever seen, it also adjusts for age—older Americans are less likely to recover from injuries sustained in a crash.
If cars are traveling at 45 mph, which is a pretty standard speed for many cars to be traveling on major streets in the US, any person being hit is more likely to be killed than to survive.
But if the speed is reduced by just 10 mph, which I would argue would be a nearly imperceptible speed reduction from the driver’s perspective, the chances of being killed plummet. Now about half of all elderly pedestrians would survive, and the chances of a 30-year-old being killed go from 1 in 2 to 1 in 4. Those are much better odds.
Pedestrian advocates like to say “Twenty is plenty” to illustrate that busy urban areas should never have speed limits over 20 mph. When you look at how low the fatality rate is at that speed, it’s easy to see why this is such a good idea. 93 percent of all people hit would survive a crash at 20 mph.
Pedestrian-detection systems on cars are already attempting to prevent these kinds of collisions, but they don’t work fast enough to alert drivers at very high speeds. Which is why better street design can help slow drivers down and make walkers more visible, not just with speed bumps, but with a whole range of tricks known as “traffic calming.” Eventually cars might not even be allowed to speed. When paired with a geofencing tech, you might see cars that aren’t able to drive any faster than 20 mph when many pedestrians are present. Of course by that time, cars probably won’t be driven by humans at all.
Check out the interactive chart at ProPublica