SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – If you hit the gas pedal a little harder than you should sometimes, safety groups want you to pay attention to new crash safety tests because your life may depend on it.

“The biggest takeaway from this research for AAA is that seemingly small increases in your speed can have a really big impact on the severity of the crash and the likelihood you’ll be able to survive it,” said Jake Nelson, the director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA.

The AAA Foundation collaborated with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Humanetics to examine how speed affects the chances of being severely hurt in a car crash. The crash tests were conducted at 40 miles per hour but then included higher speeds of 50 and 56 miles per hour.

“The crash tests you see on TV happen at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour, that’s much slower than what we all travel on the interstates where we live,” said Nelson.

The test at 40 miles per hour showed a good amount of damage but as speeds increased so did the vehicle damage and the potential injury to the driver.

“At the highest speed of 56 miles per hour we saw that the occupant compartment was significantly compromised and there was a likelihood of injury to the facial region, the brain, the neck and to the lower leg,” said David Harkey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The tests were done because of concerns that speeds limits are increasing in most states.

“One of the factors that determines the speed of traffic on a roadway is the posted speed limit and know from research that as you increase the posted limit that travel speeds tend to move higher,” said Harkey. “And we also know from these tests that we just completed that these higher speeds can have detrimental consequences.”

Harkey said in the early 1990’s the national maximum speed limit was eliminated and many states immediately began raising posted limits on Interstates. “And over the past 25 years this policy change has resulted in 37,000 lives being lost on roads across the country,” he said.

Safety groups also say the crash tests indicate that you are not automatically safe in a newer vehicle with enhanced safety features.

One of the things we hear most often at AAA when talking to state policy makers about speed limits is that vehicles have never been safer and that roads have never been more forgiving,” said Nelson. “And while that’s true our new research shows pretty clearly that the structural integrity of vehicles today and safety advancements like seatbelts are easily and quickly overwhelmed at just small increases in speed.”

The safety groups say road design improvements, while important, cannot necessarily make up for speed.

“More than a quarter of the traffic fatalities in the U.S include speed as a contributing factor and that number has changed very little over the past decade,” said Harkey. “As we have shown in this demonstration vehicle design alone is not going to solve this problem, we also need to focus on the polices and practices that will influence the attitudes and behaviors of drivers with respect to speed.”