I’m sure most of you have heard of the expression “couldn’t see the forest through the trees”, meaning it’s sometimes hard to see things that should be obvious. This applies to the task of driving, too. After a crash it is not uncommon for one of the involved drivers to say they never saw the other car, or the STOP sign, or the red traffic light, etc.
In one of the more recent crashes at Harwood’s Corners, the intersection of State Route 11b and county route 5 in Dickinson, a driver stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded into the intersection in front of another vehicle (a truck, as I recall). The driver said he looked but never saw the oncoming truck. He was lucky – it could have been fatal.
In a recent crash east of Malone village on Route 11 that wasn’t so fortunate, a driver that was passing another car and was involved in a head-on fatal crash said he never saw the oncoming car. We often have so much on our minds that we are thinking about other things rather than the task of driving safely.
As bad as it is for adult drivers, it is worse for children. Information from the Association for Psychological Science says getting hit by a car is among the leading causes of death for kids 5-9 years old. Children are easily distracted, and because they’re smaller, they’re more at risk of dying from their injuries. But recent studies suggest another basic reason that so many young pedestrians die from being hit by a car is that they simply don’t see cars coming toward them. London researchers have found that kids’ perceptual and attention abilities are slow to develop, making them less capable of noticing an oncoming car, let alone the vehicle’s proximity and speed.
According to the APS, in a 2010 study, psychological scientist John Wann and his colleagues at the University of London ran a laboratory simulation of regular street crossing in order to compare the perceptual skills of adults with those of children of various ages. They found a clear developmental pattern in perception of the looming vehicles. According to a report in the journal Psychological Science, the kids showed clear improvement in their acuity with age, but even the older children did not match the adults in their ability to detect an automobile’s approach. This suggests that the neural mechanisms for this skill remain undeveloped. The scientists determined that children could not reliably detect a car approaching at speeds faster than 20 miles per hour.
All of this explains some of the reasons behind traffic crashes, and also why we need to consider our children when engineering pedestrian crossings on our streets and particularly in the vicinity of schools, where more children would normally be using crosswalks. This is one of the main reasons why there are school speed limits in the vicinity of schools.
Back to drivers, the concept of “looked but did not see” can be somewhat mitigated if drivers would look both ways twice at stop signs or when exiting from a driveway or other entrance into busy streets and roads, especially if the road has a relative high speed limit. Be aware of this possibility and pay extra attention when stopping for stop signs or when passing other vehicles on two lane roads.