Fatal traffic accidents on New Jersey roads kill between five and six hundred people every year. National studies suggest that, in 27 percent of fatal traffic accidents, the unsafe speed of a vehicle involved constituted the principal cause of the crash. In many more crashes, unsafe speed likely plays at least a contributing role.
Every fatal traffic accident causes profound grief and suffering. When the crash happened because someone made the reckless choice to drive at an unsafe speed, 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.
Frequency of Speeding
Speeding, defined as driving too fast for road conditions or exceeding the posted speed limit, is a common practice on U.S. roads. A recent 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. 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 continue to speed as much as ever.
Speeding As a Factor in Fatal Traffic Accidents
Speeding plays a major role in fatal traffic accidents nationwide. As summarized in a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), 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.
According to the GHSA, New Jersey fares slightly better than the national average in this comparison, owing 19 percent of its fatal traffic accidents to unsafe speeds. 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, then it would seem 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.
Speeding Increases Fatality Risks
Driving too fast for conditions or exceeding the speed limit increases the risk of a fatal car accident. Here’s why.
It Makes Accidents More Likely to Happen
The faster a vehicle travels, the less time its driver has to react to road hazards, and 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.
It is simply much harder for a driver traveling at 70 miles per hour to avoid a collision with a vehicle that has suddenly stopped up ahead, or with an animal that darts out into the roadway, than it is for that same driver to avoid a crash while traveling at 45 miles per hour. Even when a speeding driver manages to avoid a collision with a road hazard, speed increases the chances of the driver losing control and crashing.
Speeding also makes it more difficult for drivers to maintain control on curved roads, for example. It also ups the odds of a sudden loss of control in wet, icy, or high-wind conditions, or on roads with gravel or sand on the pavement.
It Increases the Force of Impact in an Accident
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.
Why Drivers Speed
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, and 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.
“Everybody Does It”/Going With the Flow
For one thing, something of a herd mentality predominates on American roads. No matter the posted speed limit, drivers tend to match the speed of other vehicles (or, in many cases, feel they must exceed the speed of other vehicles). It feels uncomfortable, and even a little dangerous, travel at the posted 55 miles per hour limit while vehicles fly past going 70 miles per hour.
Having observed other drivers routinely exceeding the posted speed limit by five to 10 miles per hour, and having witnessed plenty of police officers with radar guns ignore drivers who push the envelope that way, 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.
Rush, Rush, Rush
Speeding can, of course, also accomplish a goal if a driver can pull it off without causing an accident: getting from one place to another in a shorter amount of time compared to driving at a safe speed. Not surprisingly, that desire to get somewhere quickly also 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 or pick-up on time drives us to press just a little harder on the gas pedal than we might otherwise.
Cars as Emotional Outlets
In a related sense, drivers also sometimes allow their driving behaviors to mirror their inner emotions. Stress about running late, anxiety about a personal relationship, and anger or frustration over job, family, or other life circumstances can influence all sorts of body mechanics, including how hard we grip the steering wheel and how heavily we step on the accelerator.
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, and suddenly we realize we’re doing 80 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour 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.
The Thrill of it All
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 commitment to a devil-may-care attitude about personal actions and responsibility.
Speeding Has Legal and Financial Consequences
No matter what reason (or lack of reason) a driver has for driving too fast, as a community, 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, and those caught doing it face sanctions for moving violations (such as a ticket, fine, or license suspension) and potential criminal penalties if they speed excessively or cause someone harm because of it. 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 (over and above any fines), by playing a role in making a driver legally liable for the damages speeding inflicts on accident victims. Everyone who drives owes the public a duty of care to follow traffic laws and, beyond that, to make responsible decisions behind the wheel so as not to put 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, of course, carry auto insurance that insulates them somewhat from the bulk of 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 to others will likely lose that insurance coverage and/or see auto insurance premiums skyrocket.
Carrying insurance also does 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.
How Car Accident Lawyers Help After Fatal Speeding-Related Traffic Accidents
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 only now fill by hiring someone to help.
Personal injury lawyers represent families of fatal traffic accident victims by pursuing legal action seeking compensation from the parties at fault for the crash.
Specifically, those lawyers:
Investigate fatal traffic accidents to determine their cause. In crashes that appear related to speeding, lawyers may retain forensic accident reconstruction experts to evaluate the precise speed of the vehicles at impact. They may also interview witnesses or review other evidence to determine the at-fault driver’s potential motivations for speeding. The information lawyers uncover in these investigations helps them establish legal liability.
Evaluate the harm caused by a fatal speeding-related traffic accident. Families of fatal speeding crash victims have rights under the laws of every state to seek compensation for their loved one’s wrongful death. The nature of compensation they can seek varies depending upon the state where the accident happened, but it often includes compensation for the financial losses associated with the death, funeral, and burial expenses, and sometimes the pain and suffering of either the deceased victim or of the grieving family members.
Plan an effective and efficient legal strategy for securing fair and just compensation for families of deceased accident victims, focusing on the family’s particular needs after suffering a painful, tragic loss;
Communicate with the family about that plan, answering questions with compassion and in clear, straightforward language they can understand;
Negotiate with the defense lawyers and auto insurance companies representing the at-fault speeding driver to achieve a fair financial settlement of the family’s claim, if possible; and
Litigate in court by filing a wrongful death lawsuit and, if need be, taking the case to trial if negotiation alone does not achieve the result the family needs and deserves.
Losing a loved one in a speeding-related traffic accident causes immense pain and difficulty that families of victims should not have to bear alone. Contact a caring, compassionate, knowledgeable traffic accident injury lawyer who can help you understand your legal rights to compensation during this difficult time.