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January 6, 2013

After dark, use headlights and your head

(Continued)

But I was shocked to realize I had completely missed a second pedestrian, Investigator Brendan Frost. He was dressed in dark clothes and was standing not far from the trooper wearing reflective clothing. The silver reflection from Moran’s garb had caught my eye immediately, and I wasn’t expecting another person to be in the road.

REALITY CHECK

I knew the last trial would be the most difficult and the most unsettling for me because, as the previous run had told me, I wouldn’t see Frost in his dark clothes until I was just a few dozen feet to him. 

By the time my headlights picked him up and I braked, I was only about 70 feet from him. And he was positioned almost in the middle of the road, where he should have been more visible.

I imagined what would happen if I had been driving at a normal speed on dark roads. I know I would have hit him.

“I think what most shocked me,” Rob Fountain said after he’d processed the photos and video from the project, “was (learning) that you drive faster than your headlights.”

And by the time you realize you might hit someone, it’s too late, he said.

SPEED KILLS

After the test was over, Campbell told us how the conditions of our experiment separated it from real world situations.

I was specifically looking for a pedestrian in the road, whereas most drivers aren’t on constant alert for that, so something called perception/reaction time becomes a factor in their stopping distance.

“We had regular clothes at 120 feet. You add perception/reaction and all that stuff in there, at 50 (mph projection), you’re hitting the guy in regular clothes,” Campbell told me.

At 40 mph, a vehicle will cover about 60 feet every second, he said.

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