Speed Limits and Crashes: Are accidents really decreasing?

Amtrak Philadelphia Accident

Amtrak’s fatal accident in Philadelphia has taken eight lives and left over 200 people injured after the train derailed during a 106mph sharp turn.

Transportation vehicles are prone to accidents due to their very nature. Most, if not all, vehicles are made of steel, hurl towards their destinations at high speeds, and rely on complex braking mechanisms to slow their momentum (your brakes don’t stop your car – they just prevent additional weight from being pushed towards the front of your vehicle). Don’t be like this guy either:



Amtrak’s May 12th accident was allegedly the train engineer’s fault for not slowing down before a turn. However, the incident had me thinking – what makes us get into accidents?

I gathered some data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics on vehicular highway accidents. I coupled this data with unemployment statistics in the U.S. and compiled the information over 20 years (1993 to 2013). The results showed that as unemployment increased, highway accidents decreased. Moreover, about 90% of this variance was explained using this data (which is pretty high). But why?

  1. If you’re unemployed, you probably don’t own a car or drive it less to save on gas and tolls.
  2. Unemployed people have less places to travel.

You’re probably thinking, “Well, duh,” but this is important because too many politicians attribute lower speed limits to a decrease in vehicular accidents and deaths. Rather, the data presented here suggests that joblessness might have something to do with it – posted speed limits don’t necessarily control how many people get into accidents. Check out the data below and tell me what you think.