Can you get severely hurt driving at just 5-10 mph? The truth may surprise you. Learn the reality of the relationship between severe injuries and driving speed.

Seems logical that the higher the speed, the more severe your injuries, right?

After all, you don’t hear of people flying through their windshields while driving at 5 mph, do you?

At first thought, this seems a perfectly natural conclusion to come to.

There may be some truth to this. But the reality is that no one actually precisely knows.

Case in point: a 1981 study by Callier found:

“A collision, when the offending car moves at a rate as slow as seven (7) mph can cause severe tissue damage and injury.”

The quote was actually in reference to understanding the relationship between vehicle damage and the severity of injuries in a car accident.

But clearly, you can also reasonably draw the obvious conclusion that driving slower doesn’t guarantee you won’t experience a severe injury.

And then another quote from McNab puts this further into perspective:

“…3.7 to 5 mph rear-end impact, which subjects the cervical spine to as much as 4.5 G-forces, constitutes the threshold for mild cervical strain injury.”

Truthfully, No One Understands the Relationship Between Speed and Injury Severity

Do higher speeds lead to more severe injuries in car crashes?

Speed is definitely a factor. Research backs that up. But the true relationship between speed and injury severity remains foggy.

Richards and Cuerden, researchers in the United Kingdom’s Transport Research Laboratory, found basically an ambiguous relationship. For example, they noticed clear differences among slightly, seriously, and fatally injured drivers in both frontal and side impacts.

“For car drivers in frontal impacts with a delta-v of 12–20 mph, there were drivers who were slightly, seriously and fatally injured.”

Do you understand correlation and how it relates to causation?

“Correlation,” speaking scientifically, simply means the degree of connection between two types of data observed. When you notice a change in one, you notice a change in the other.

It’s measured on a scale from -1.0 to +1.0. At +1.0, you notice a one-unit change in both factors. At +.5, you notice a 1-unit change in one factor, but then a 2-unit change in the other.

However, while correlation notes change that happens between two factors, it doesn’t mean one causes the other.

So when you talk about speed and accident severity, speed has a correlation with accident and injury severity. However, it doesn’t have a perfect 1 to 1 cause.

What could other factors be?

Things like:

  • The angle of impact
  • Construction of the vehicle
  • Age and gender of the driver
  • Whether your vehicle has an airbag
  • Time before emergency personal arrive
  • How the driver sat at the time of impact

…And sorting out all those factors and how much each impacts your injury’s severity remains an overwhelming challenge.

What Do You Do With This?

You might feel tempted to think,”So you mean I can drive 15 mph safely and in full observance of the law…and still die in a car accident?”

Well…yeah.

So the point is to do everything in your power to drive safely. When you hear others talking about not driving distracted (being on your phone, messing around with your radio), take it seriously.

If you need to do something else while in your vehicle, pull off the road and into a store’s parking lot or into the gas station. Make it somewhere where you’re almost impossible to hit.

Don’t drive in a state of fear and panic. Because, you’re more likely to make a mistake and cause a crash then.

But do remain as aware of others, and the law, as possible. And don’t drive distracted.

Do all that, and you give yourself the best chance of avoiding a severe, or even fatal, injury.