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Slowing down could extend drivers’ lives

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Each hour spent behind the wheel in North America represents a 20-minute loss in life expectancy based on the risk of fatal crashes, a new computer model suggests.

Each hour spent behind the wheel in North America represents a 20-minute loss in life expectancy based on the risk of fatal crashes, a new computer model suggests.

Lead investigator Dr. Donald Redelmeier of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and his colleagues say slowing down by an average of three kilometres per hour would cost drivers two to three minutes per day in trip time, but save them about four to five more hours per year in overall survival.

“What our research suggests is that old axiom haste makes waste,” Redelmeier said in an interview. “But the advantage of science is we can be much more precise about that.”

The study, published in the Feb. 1 issue of the Journal of Medical Decision Making, used U.S. driving data and computerized traffic modelling to show how slowing down slightly could save and extend lives.

The model, which took five years of computer programming time, is like those used to estimate that each cigarette smokes cuts six minutes off a smoker’s life by shortening survival, he said.

Speed risks

It’s the same type of research that insurance companies use to estimate losses based on a driver’s age at the time of a fatal crash. For example, a 30-year-old who may have lived until 70 would lose 40 “life-years.” That factor is multiplied by the number of drivers on the road.

The estimates suggest that slowing down by an average of three kilometres per hour would result in:

Three million fewer crashes causing property damage.

One million fewer crashes causing injury.

9,000 fewer deaths each year in the U.S.

The odds seem intangible, but the innovation of the research is that it brings it down to an average driver, Redelmeier said.

Programs to reduce speeds, such as photo radar, traffic-calming programs and crackdowns on speed racing can result in “huge gains even if partially effective and imperfectly run,” Redelmeier said.

But the findings show there’s no proportionate gain in safety from slowing down too much.

Given the findings, Redelmeier said he now slows down a bit, including on residential streets, because he sees the aftermath of pedestrian fatalities and injuries at his hospital from speeding.

The research did not adjust for the thrill of speeding, gasoline economics or the effects of traffic tickets, he acknowledged.

The study was funded by the Canada Research Chair in Medical Decision Sciences, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institutes of Health Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium, and the Patient Safety Service of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

© CBC News. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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