Is There Such a Thing as a Safe Speed?

What's the relationship between defensivedriving and legal speed limits? Is there such a thing as a safe speed? The answer is no. Thanks to a recent study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, we now have the research findings to prove it.

The Virginia Tech study tracked 100 cars in the Washington, D.C. area. What's interesting about this study is that it logged the daily experiences of real drivers in real driving situations. Instrumentation added to the cars allowed researchers to examine the causes of crashes and near crashes. At the same time, the instrumentation was so subtle that drivers quickly forgot it was there.

Each car in the study was monitored for about one year. The results tell us a great deal about defensive driving. The study found 82 collisions and crashes (with another vehicle or with a cyclist, pedestrian, or stationary object); 761 near crashes (defined as a rapid, severe maneuver that avoided a crash); and 8,295 incidents (evasive maneuvers that are not as severe as those involved in a near crash).

The study concluded that driver error was a contributing factor in more than 90% of the crashes and collisions that occurred. In 65% of all incidents and 80% of all near crashes, the driver looked away from the road ahead of him immediately before the threat materialized (defined as three seconds or less). The lesson is clear: Defensive driving means keeping your eyes on the road.

The study concluded that a major contributing factor in collisions is the driver's inattention to the road ahead of him. The study found that 18 to 20-year-olds are at the highest risk of being involved in a collision. (The study didn't include drivers under the age of 18). The study also shows that risk decreases with age: Defensive driving is a set of skills and mental habits that are acquired over the years.

The study found that the No. 1 cause of collisions was fatigue. Multitasking was the second leading cause of crashes and near crashes. The "secondary task distraction" that was involved in the greatest number of crashes, near crashes, and incidents was the use of hand-held wireless devices. Defensive driving means staying focused on the task of driving.

It's statistically safer to be around an experienced driver who is traveling ten miles over the speed limit on an interstate highway in good weather and light traffic, than to be near a distracted teenager driving home from the mall-a few miles under the speed limit, perhaps, but fiddling with a soda, munching on fries, and text messaging friends. As soon as an inattentive driver takes his eyes off the road, any speed is unsafe.

Inexperienced drivers react to hazards after they happen. Experienced drivers see potential hazards before they happen. They have time to drive out of danger because they see the danger in time.

It's always easy to know what kind of driver is ahead of you by watching how he uses his brakes. Masters of defensive driving are rarely in a situation where they have to slam on the brake. On the other hand, novices have to push on the brake as hard as they can to avoid a collision.

Be sure your teenagers learn this first lesson of defensivedriving today: No speed is safe when they take their eyes off the road.

Comments 83 comments

ricklomas profile image

ricklomas 8 years ago

I drive some horribly long distances sometimes, but the one thing that I have found is that, rather than drinking coffee at every chance possible, eating apples seems to help my alertness.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

15-20 minutes of sleep work way better for me :)

Isabella Snow profile image

Isabella Snow 8 years ago

I agree the speed alone isn't the problem, I've driven 220 (kmh) on the autobahn and not had problems. it's when people drive like maniacs.. but you already know how I feel about that. ;)

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Yeah, I know ;)

Now, it's all about definition of "maniacs". And we define it slightly differently... 

Mark McCullagh 8 years ago

Most of the time when I see someone driving too slow and impeding traffic, guess what? They are on their cell phone.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Yeah Mark, I see similar thing on the road, too, that's pretty common nowadays. Most of cell phone users are smart enough to move to the right lane over here in DC area though :)

cgull8m profile image

cgull8m 8 years ago from North Carolina

Great Hub, welcome to Hubpages, nicely said, defensive driving is the way to go, social responsibility will take care of it instead of trying to own the road and acting as if the car is their home or office defeats the purpose which leads to too many deaths.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks cgull :)

yev601 profile image

yev601 8 years ago

You really hit the spot with this hub, instead of concentrating too much on speed limits.. ( mostly talking about the US ), they should concentrate on training young drivers in "Common Sense - Basics" ( something most people lack over here ).

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks yev601, I was trying to :)

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Speed is only one factor in driving, but it's a major one when it's combined with inattention, alcohol, poor weather conditions or poor visibility, or operating a vehicle while overtired. Your emphasis on defensive driving is welcome, and teenagers (and others) would be well advised to take heed.

bwsot7m profile image

bwsot7m 8 years ago from Toronto

Recently the Ontario Government passed a law that would result in an automatic 7 day licence suspension and car impound along with a $2000 – 10000 fine for going 50 km\hr over the speed limit.

I believe that this should apply in residential and main artery roads but in the highway – no way. With the improvements in vehicle technology I find it very comfortable travelling 130 km\hr [30 km\hr over the speed limit on the highway] without incident.

We all just have to remember that if we are in the leftmost lane and we see that tiny dot getting bigger in the rear view mirror; we should do the right thing and move over no matter how fast we’re going.

The other day I saw somebody on the highway, cigarette in hand hanging outside the window and talking away on their phone. How would she avoid a collision?

Angela Harris profile image

Angela Harris 8 years ago from Around the USA

I agree about the speed. I grew up in a state that required defensive driving courses for teens to get their license. I've lived all across the USA. Whenever I go back to my home state, I can really tell the difference in the drivers. And my teen daughter managed to total a vehicle going about 30 mph. Guess what? She had a friend in the car and was talking instead of paying attention. Thankfully, no one was hurt badly.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks guys :)

MayberryNC profile image

MayberryNC 8 years ago

Good info. Misha! The picture of the lady (very nice) talking on the phone and putting on her makeup is priceless. She's probably eating and reading also (not pictured).

Annalene profile image

Annalene 8 years ago from Richards bay South-Africa

On the number Misha, and very informative. Looking forward to your future hubs. Maybe some tips on hijacking, skidding in wet weather, what to do when your brakes fail.

teeray profile image

teeray 8 years ago from Canada

These are some rather scary statistics, Misha! Thank you for bringing these to our attention! Whoa - I'm gonna stay on the bus and out from behind the wheel for sure now! LOL

Take care - thx for the excellent hub!

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks guys :)

Annalene, thanks for your ideas, I will definitely look into this

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

The worst mistake that I see on the Detroit area freeways is tailgating. Shortly after I moved to Detroit I had an accident on the Ford freeway. I was following too close to the car ahead of me when the cars ahead of me slowed quickly. I was barely able to stop without hitting the car ahead, BUT the car behind me was also following too close and rear-ended me hard enough to crunch the trunk of my car. Since then I've tried to avoid following too close or to allow somebody else to follow me too close (I either move into the lane to the right or speed up.)

Another dangerous practice that is fairly common on the freeways is speeding and changing in and out of lanes. I often see what appear to be young kids doing this. And I witnessed one roll-over accident caused by this dangerous practice. Miraculously, nobody was hurt, but the car was totaled.

Last night I drove home from Ann Arbor in a sleet/snow storm, the first of the year, and saw several cars in the ditch, one facing the wrong way. Every winter new teenage drivers have to learn how to drive on snow and ice, some the hard way. However, cars today are much less inclined to skid out of control than previously.

I once almost killed myself on the Ohio turnpike near Cleveland when I fell asleep and nearly rear-ended a semi-trailer truck. I woke up just before running into the truck and somehow between braking and swerving suddenly I did a 180 and ended up on the shoulder pointing back toward Detroit.

An Ohio state policeman came along as I pulled back onto the turnpike and headed for a rest stop for a cup of coffee. He followed me into the rest stop I suppose to check to see if I'd been drinking (I hadn't--it was 10AM.) The policeman told me that falling asleep at the wheel was the greatest single cause of accidents on the Ohio Turnpike. He advised me to take a nap and then drink some coffee before going back onto the road. I had too much of an adrenaline rush for a nap, but I did take a cup of coffee with me when I pulled back onto the road. I've experienced a few other occasions when I dozed off for a couple of seconds when driving on a boring Interstate freeway. When that happens, I open a window, turn the radio up loud and pull off for a rest and/or a cup of coffee at the next rest stop.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Wow, that was an interesting story Ralph! Thanks for sharing :)

Tom Higgins profile image

Tom Higgins 8 years ago

I just realized how productive you are!

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Are you kidding me? I did not publish any hub for the last month or so...

Iðunn 8 years ago

good hub, especially since so many people feel entitled to talk on cell phones while driving, tailgate and so forth. sadly, the ones who drive dangerously could care less about the rest of us who don't.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks Idunn (did I spell it correctly? :)

Well, following your ideas about being responsible for our own lives (what I share btw), we just need to take responsibility to dodge those who don't care ;)

Iðunn 8 years ago


and yes, that spelling works though many prefer the o which reads to me as louanne. doesn't bother me either way. thx for asking, though. :)

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

So, what's the right spelling? o is obviously very different from d, and I can't imagine how they can be interchangable :) I'm puzzled ...

Iðunn 8 years ago

it's supposed to be in the range of 'd' from the Norse.

LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

LdsNana-AskMormon 8 years ago from Southern California


I have a son who just recently received his license. He is my number 5... and more gray hair for me! lol

I asked my son if during his drivers-training courses, did they talk about defensive driving? He just looked at me with glazed eyes...

When I was growing up in the 70s, they pounded this into our heads. Everything you talk about here, was their cry as well. I remember the 3 second rule of checking my mirrors... to this day (knock on wood) although I am a fast driver, I continue to follow most all the rules that I learned when I was 16.

Distance between you and other cars is more important than speed.

Check my mirrors constantly.

Always slwo down in poor driving conditions.

Let the other person go first.

I now, am pounding these guides for safe driving into my teenage sons head.

As parents, all we can do, is pray that they will take us somewhat serious... and then let them go!



Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author


it sounds like pretty comprehensive basic list :) I'm sure your children are fine, cause you teach them. And what could be better than a parent taking a time to pass his/her experience to own kids? No school can compete...

usedcars profile image

usedcars 8 years ago

Great info. I'm a fan of defensive driving and car safety.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks usedcars :)

Mark Bennett profile image

Mark Bennett 8 years ago from Citizen of the Globe

This is a very intelligent Hub on the topic, Misha - the statistics are telling, aren't they?

I think the reason they focus on speeding rather than other distractions is that it is relatively easy to automate speed cameras, whereas to find people using their cell phones while driving still requires the eyes of a human being, who would have the temerity to demand a WAGE for doing so. Why pay people to write tickets when you can have cameras do it for free?

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

That proves yet again that speed limits are not about safety, they are about revenue :)

GHOST 8 years ago


Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Huh? I don't believe in hell :P

GHOST 8 years ago

No problem about your belief. Definitely there is a place for your hub in the hell. For further details contact HELL.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Is it some kind of abbreviation? You always write it in capital letters...

rmr profile image

rmr 8 years ago from Livonia, MI

That guy seems to know a lot about HELL. Perhaps he lives there. For what it's worth, I loved the hub!

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

The one I live by...intentional pun: ALWAYS GIVE EVERY OTHER DRIVER A PLACE TO GO.


I'm the one hanging back at least two car lengths from everybody else.

I don't ride the bumper of the car ahead trying to make it speed up. (And if a car riding MY bumper, I can drive a LOT slower, jerk!...and DO until they get the hint and back off or pass.)

I watch the body language of the drivers around and ahead of me. For instance, when they lean slightly to the left, they're about to pull out and pass the car in front of them.

Great hub, Misha!

oberbreckling 8 years ago

Hi Misha when we were teenagers we use to do a lot of things with one hand while we were driving hahah but I never had a problem but today its the other guy your looking out for like you said defensive driving back then never had a problem because there wasn't a lot of people driving with one hand like today all you had to do was watch your own drining and the roads are a lot more crowded today~cool~cya

Pagan Crafter profile image

Pagan Crafter 8 years ago from Over the Rainbow

What a wonderful and informative hub! I am so glad my parents taught me these same lessons when I first learned to drive--would that all were as careful and caring!

organized living profile image

organized living 8 years ago from Magnolia, AR

great advice misha.

driverslicense profile image

driverslicense 8 years ago

Great Advice.I'm not worried about my driving, it's everyone else who scares me. I often find myself driving for long hours on our highways and it's a little scary to see large trucks all over the road, or even just mid seized vehicles.

Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area Author

Based on what you are saying you should be worrying about your own driving, too. Scared driver is a dangerous driver. :)

Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

A very well written and informative hub. Thanks for reinforcing such significant pointers. I taught my daughter to drive, and she aced her test first time out. (Wish I could have said the same thing about me LOL...)

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Hi Enelle, thanks for stopping by :) If every parent pay as much attention as you do, our roads would have been much safer :)

Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

very informative hub

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks Lgali

issues veritas 7 years ago


Interesting hub, I will look at your other hub on defensive driving before commenting further.

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Hi Issues, thanks for stopping by :)

jtboswell profile image

jtboswell 7 years ago

I love this hub!! This is the best advice for drivers on the road!! I work for an car insurance company. I wish all my customer's could read this hub. I hear all kinds of stories about accidents. I have serviced claims on women putting on make up, guys reading maps while driving, speeding in bad weather conditions, unsafe cell phones usage, eating, erractically changing lanes, drivers who have been driving for hours without sleep, driving under the influence, and people just not mantaining their vehicles, (tail lights out or brakes not working correctly etc.) Drivers really need to pay attention to other drivers on the road. A vehicle is just meant for driving when its moving. When its parked you can do whatever you want in it. Millions of dollars are spent on car insurance claims. Negligent drivers are the number one cause of most fatalities. You have to drive defensively for your safety and for the other drivers'. Accidents can be prevented if everyone drives defensively. Property is replaceable but lives are not. Once again great hub...

blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 7 years ago from australia

I am going for my learners next week. I am a great driver but I worry like hell about other drivers who can't drive, and get worried my reflexes aren't going to be quick enough....

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Hi Ladies, thanks for visiting me :)

JT, yeah, I agree absolutely, the vast majority of accidents could have been prevented if people had thought what they have been doing and paid attention. Our roads would have been sooooooooo much safer...

LOL Deb, being a good driver is not about reflexes, it is about thinking and accounting for things affecting your driving, including other drivers and your reflexes. You are a smart girl, you can do it :)

hsofyan profile image

hsofyan 7 years ago from Indonesia

Many factors that can drive well and properly. Speed limit is only one of them, but there are many other omissions which may cause the accident.

Thanks for sharing, Misha..

Useful hub!

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Hey, thanks for coming Hsofyan :)

srpatterson profile image

srpatterson 7 years ago from Dublin, Ohio

I try to stay below 7 miles over the speed limit. I have passed police officers going 5-6 over the speed limit and they don't budge.

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Yeah, not more than 10 miles over served me good too - when I did not want to get in trouble for any reason. Yet this was not the point of the hub :)

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Hi Misha, I only learned to drive a few years ago. I was scared the first time I was on the road. LOL I've learned to be calm while driving as well as give the other drivers space when they want to overtake. :-) This is a wonderful hub of reminders. I go for defensive driving anytime.

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Hi Michelle,

I am so glad you stopped by. :)

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

As soon as Detroit comes up with a car that doesn't require a human driver, we'll all be safe on the roads. Until then, drive at your own risk, I say. This is all good, good info.

The other problem with young drivers, you know, is that they are invincible:-)! Good hub, MM

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Hey, I feel honored MM! Yet this car never will happen. Highly automated planes and trains still have human operators, just in case, and every now and then this case happens :)

ehern33 profile image

ehern33 7 years ago

I just joined a few days ago but this is very well done. Coming from a traffic infested city, where a 5 mile trip can take you over an hour, if you are not alert you in for trouble, PLUS, the road rage.

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks for coming Ehern, I appreciate it :)

LEWJ 7 years ago

Excellent hub.

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area Author

Thanks LEWJ :)

Mr_MC 6 years ago

I strongly agreed with Misha.

Speed Limit is about revenue since it is usually set at a lower limit rather than the Prima Facie limit (85th percentile)


Beat Your Tickets!

Know Your Rights!

Misha profile image

Misha 6 years ago from DC Area Author

Absolutely. And the funny thing is - on some local roads it is set way higher, in fact way higher than safe. Go figure...

Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 6 years ago

Very true. I just heard of an attorney wrapping his Viper around a pole because of texting. I couldn't believe it. You would think a Viper - speed had to be a factor . NOT !

Sean Leong profile image

Sean Leong 6 years ago from Malaysia

Make sense to me Misha.

I was scared to death once when I was a passenger in a standard shift car driven by a young girl who talked over her mobile phone and ate a hamburger doing 120 km/hr on a highway.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I'm all about personal responsibility, and defensive driving is part of that!

Misha profile image

Misha 6 years ago from DC Area Author

Yeah guys, we are on the same page :)

Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

I've always been chastised for saying, "I may be speeding, but I'm alert," or "when you drive like I do you HAVE to be alert."

So many times I see people brakes on, brakes on, brakes off on the highway. These are clearly distracted or panicked drivers, which I think are very dangerous.

Nice hub.

J.P. Gardie profile image

J.P. Gardie 6 years ago from Europe

Slow driving can also cause problems. When driving behind someone who drives so much slower than the speed limit allows, then it's very easy to become stressed. And stressed drivers can easily make reckless overtaking attempts.

Mark Patton 6 years ago

Here we have photo radar on our highways. This is a major issue and many accidents have been caused by people who do not realize they are about to go through the photo radar area and slam on their brakes. While photo radar has caused some people to slow down, not everybody pays attention enough and cause accidents. We should all drive more defensively.

LocalAutoRepair profile image

LocalAutoRepair 6 years ago

Nice article Misha, I love that first pic. hahaha

"but fiddling with a soda, munching on fries, and text messaging friends"...

My oldest is 14. 2 years till he starts driving. YIKES

riminiurlauber profile image

riminiurlauber 6 years ago

And I love the second picture. For the beautiful girl in it!

Misha profile image

Misha 6 years ago from DC Area Author

Sure she is. Or was - I doubt she survived ;)

Dangazzm profile image

Dangazzm 6 years ago

Defensive driving to me is locating those people (not only teenagers!) who text while driving. Which is, in my opinion, the most selfish and stupidest thing you can possibly do. If you want to kill yourself don't get me involved.

Misha profile image

Misha 6 years ago from DC Area Author

LOL This definitely is a part of it :)

hubpageswriter 6 years ago

Hi Misha. Great hub here. You are so right about that one; that no speed limit is safe when the eyes are not on the road. This is a very meaningful hub with lots of good pointers.

Misha profile image

Misha 6 years ago from DC Area Author

Hey, thanks for stopping by HW :)

Alisha2010 profile image

Alisha2010 6 years ago from Irvine, CA

Misha, great Hub. I'm putting it on my Twitter. A friend of mine saw in accident where if the woman had moved to her right lane, she would still be alive. The woman saw the accident coming from behind her, but froze and closed her eyes. Keep your eyes on the road, people!

Marsha Musselman1 profile image

Marsha Musselman1 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

Great hub. I believe there are many ways to be defensive drivers. Sometimes people are just simply thinking about what to make for supper, or who to invite to their next party or work or whatever and since we can only think of one thing at a time our focus is off our driving.

I just published a similar hub that I've been working on and thought I'd see if anyone else has written something like it already. I found your hub and I'm glad I'm able to offer additional suggestions than what you have here. I've linked your hub to my own, I'm certainly not suggesting that you do the same.

Voted up, and pinned.

Btw, can we pin and like our own hubs for facebook that is? On wordpress it has the option to share with those sites to alert your friends of new posts. I'd like to alert them to my new hubs.

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