Pop Quiz on Dangerous Driving

It is almost time for a new school year to begin, so I’m feeling in the mood for a pop quiz.

What driver behavior is associated with the most vehicle crashes in North Carolina?

  1. Speeding
  2. Driver Distraction
  3. Alcohol Consumption


What driver behavior is associated with the most injuries resulting from vehicle crashes in North Carolina?

  1. Speeding
  2. Driver Distraction
  3. Alcohol Consumption


What driver behavior is associated with the most vehicle crash fatalities in North Carolina?

  1. Speeding
  2. Driver Distraction
  3. Alcohol Consumption

The answer to all three questions is 1. Speeding.

The NC DOT publishes traffic crash facts for the state every year. The latest report, based on 2014 data, is available here.

And the dangers associated with speeding couldn’t be more clear.

More than 33 percent of the more than 200,000 crashes in 2014 were related to vehicle speed.  Thirty-six percent of the 1,181 fatal crashes were related to vehicle speed as were 57 percent of the more than 70,000 injury crashes.

By way of comparison, alcohol was involved in 5 percent of all crashes, 31 percent of fatal crashes, and 11 percent of injury crashes. Driver distraction was involved in 22 percent of all crashes, 13 percent of fatal crashes, and 38 percent of injury crashes. (NC DOT cautions that the driver distraction numbers may not reflect the severity of the issue since driver distraction is a “self-reporting contributing circumstance.”)

The data related to crashes involving teenagers (regardless of the age of the driver) paints an even starker picture of the risks of speeding. Speed is a factor in 31 percent of crashes involving teenagers and 65 percent of teen fatalities. Alcohol, in contrast, is involved in 3 percent of such crashes and 20 percent of fatalities.

National figures on vehicle fatalities for the same time period are similar, though a higher percentage of traffic fatalities nationally (36 percent) resulted from crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers than speeding (28 percent).

Policy makers understandably spend a lot of time thinking about ways to reduce impaired driving and driver distraction. Should speeding (an offense classified as an infraction or as a Class 3 misdemeanor if the person is driving more than 15 miles per hour over the limit or more than 80 miles per hour) receive similar attention?

8 comments on “Pop Quiz on Dangerous Driving

  1. Far too simplistic IMO. You put a capable car and capable driver on a high-speed, quality road like the 540 loop from RTP to Holly Springs, or the 80mmph highway in TX from Austin to San Antonio and show me what percent of crashes under those circumstances fir your criteria. DOT says “speeding” is the #1 cause. Speeding…at night or day? Speeding….at rush hour or with low traffic volume? Speeding…….while looking at the radio? Eating a sandwich? Speeding……on bald tires or new Michelins?

    As you see, NCSHP or RPD can take out their little tool and mark the road and tell if a car was speeding at a crash scene. Those metrics DO NOT summarize potential other factors that may have been equal or more significant contributors. Incomplete reports?

    Maybe the question you should be asking is “should our elected officials go back to prioritizing our former standing as the roads capital of the US, or leave major busy roads like 77 or 95 pockmarked and way too narrow for modern auto capabilities and traffic volume?

    • I-77 is a disaster and only getting worse. The toll contract is an insane contract with a completely corrupt company who has left the road nearly impossible to drive. Very little speeding happening there. Interstate 85 through Gaston and Mecklenburg counties for at least a year, has had potholes and buckles so large that when a car hits them the front end shakes for several minutes after. Traffic prohibits speeding on those roads during rush hour yet there are numerous wrecks every day. I think the finger pointing for accidents should be aimed at NCDOT for poor design and poor performance rather than the driver on many occasions.

  2. d, Thanks for your comment. The reports answer a couple of the questions you raise.

    Time of day:

    While the vast majority of vehicle crashes (72 percent) occur between 7 a.m. and 6:59 p.m., fatal crashes are much more evenly divided over the day, with 43 percent of them occurring outside these hours.

    Type of road:

    Forty percent of fatal speeding-related crashes in NC in 2014 occurred on “Non-Interstate minor arterials.” Twenty-one percent occurred on “Non-Interstate Other Principal Arterial” roadways.

    • Everything and all that is involved can be factored. But, human error is the most probable cause. So please, realize there is wiggle room only if we allow it.

  3. Shouldn’t the inquiry also be which pool of drivers engaged in a particular risk factor has the highest percentage risk of causing crashes, injuries, or fatalities? Otherwise, why should DWI be punished more severely than speeding?

  4. So basically, 61% – the vast majority – occurred on either city streets, 2 lane highways or rural roads. I wonder what percentage specifically occurred on major 4-8 lane highways (US70 from Goldsboro to New Bern is a good example) or interstates where the speed is as high as 70mph? Obviously, the minority. So, my point that a higher speeds on a road with higher quality, design, and width of the lanes are not directly proportional by a longshot to the the number of fatal accidents on such a road. It would thus be common sense (almost certainly backed up by stats that may or may not have been published or even accounted for) that there are more fatal accidents on I95 or I77 at speed 65 or below than there are fatal accidents on US70 or I540 even at speeds above 80.

    I am fairly certain that any data in this area would show that more people could drive safely without incident at 85mph on a 6-8 modern highway, than they could drive at 65 on lesser-quality and more densely packed roads

  5. I feel sure that distracted driving is vastly under-reported and as large a risk as speeding.

  6. […] fatalities rose significantly in 2015, reversing a decades-long decline.  Take Shea’s advice and don’t speed on your way to show off your new swimwear while lounging landward of the mean high-water mark of […]