Cognitive Psychology and Vehicle Speed

14 October 2016 - By Eugene Herbert

A seemingly small difference in vehicle speed can mean life or death for
a pedestrian or cyclist, and not just because it heightens the force of impact
in a collision. It's not just because of physics, It's also because psychology.


This is part one of a newsletter that focusses on this aspect of driving
and, more importantly so, because there are proposals to reduce speed on
certain roads – this is tabled but as yet not enacted.


Speed kills: we know this. We know that the faster a car is travelling
when it hits you, the more likely you are to be killed - because, as we
learned, Force = Mass x Acceleration see
box below.


We know that a big part of many campaigns to reduce pedestrian
fatalities has been lowering speed limits on city streets. We also know that a
posted limit of 60 km/h often translates, in practice, to traffic flowing at 70
km/h or even more.


There are some drivers who, with some degree of superiority, say that
they are good drivers, so they don't hit people and they should be allowed to
drive at 60 km/h and faster if they feel they need to. And if a pedestrian
makes an error, well, that's the pedestrian's fault.


With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility


There's clearly a thought imbalance here: in a serious accident where a
pedestrian is "at fault", one person gets a cracked windshield and
maybe a "negligence " charge, the other ends up dead or seriously
injured.


Clearly it is the drivers’ responsibility to take all the care and
necessary steps to avoid hitting pedestrians or cyclists, whether or not those
pedestrians or cyclists are in error.


"With great power comes great responsibility" - this approach
to justice that has been around for.


Consider what the human brain is capable of doing at any given moment.
Think about how much you can attend to at one time. Think about the complicated
endeavour that driving is.


When we drive, we have to attend to our own speed and use our car's
signals correctly. We have to attend to road signs and traffic lights. We have
to judge the speed and distance of other vehicles, including bicycles. We may
be navigating an unfamiliar neighbourhood. We have to listen for emergency
vehicle sirens. And we have to watch for pedestrians.


We have to take all of these pieces of information in as they occur, and
make split-second decisions about how we will respond.


Even the most practiced drivers among us do not do all these things
simultaneously. Multitasking was proven to be a
myth long ago in this journal.
We
may think we are doing several things at once, but we are actually switching very
quickly between individual tasks. Adding an unnecessary, immediately unrelated
task while we drive, can tip the balance dangerously.


Our increased understanding of human cognitive abilities, informed,
unfortunately, by carnage on the road, has led to distracted
driving laws
with large fines
attached to them, and rightly so, this weeks' tip provides additional input on
what the law has to say regarding another possible distraction while driving.


Well now that we have given drivers pause for thought let’s remember -
There is more to driving than just driving.


Till Next Time…


Eugene Herbert



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