Academic journal article Human Factors

Educational Interventions Successfully Reduce Pedestrians' Overestimates of Their Own Nighttime Visibility

Academic journal article Human Factors

Educational Interventions Successfully Reduce Pedestrians' Overestimates of Their Own Nighttime Visibility

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Nighttime collisions between vehicles and pedestrians are both common and devastating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, 2004) reported that in 2002, 4808 pedestrians were killed (11% of all traffic fatalities) and 71 000 pedestrians were injured (2.4% of all traffic injuries) in the United States alone. Despite the presumed decrease in pedestrian exposure at night, 65% of all pedestrian accidents in the year 2002 occurred at night (NHTSA). Although this might be partially explained by factors such as fatigue and alcohol consumption, systematic analyses of the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System database indicate that pedestrian fatalities increase as illumination decreases, even when other factors are held constant (Owens & Sivak, 1993, 1996). As Leibowitz, Owens, and Tyrrell (1998) pointed out, even at the relatively low speed of 40 km/h (25 mph), the total distance required to stop an automobile can be 1.2 to 5.0 times greater than the distance at which a dark-clad pedestrian can be seen under low-beam illumination.

Because many vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur in situations in which the demands on the driver exceed the capacities of human perception and performance, the problems that result from inconspicuous pedestrians interacting with traffic at night represent a significant and multifaceted challenge to traffic safety professionals (Johansson & Rumar, 1968; Leibowitz et al., 1998). The research described in this paper explores the nighttime pedestrian problem from the pedestrian's perspective and evaluates several relatively simple, low-tech, and potentially cost-effective approaches to increasing pedestrian safety at night.

That drivers have a hard time seeing pedestrians at night has been documented for decades. Allen. Hazlett, Tacker, and Graham (1970) had participants ride in the passenger seat of a car traveling 48 km/h (30 mph). Pedestrians standing on the right side of the road wore dark clothing, white clothing, or retroreflective strips around the collar and sleeves. Passengers in the cars started stopwatches when they were first able to see the pedestrians and stopped them when they passed the pedestrians. Although the participants knew they would encounter pedestrians, they detected the pedestrians at mean distances of approximately 60 m (200 feet) when the pedestrians were wearing dark clothes, and the authors calculated that drivers would have to travel below 64 km/h (40 mph) to ensure that they would be able to avoid striking a dark-clad pedestrian. Even shorter visibility estimates were obtained by Johansson and Rumar (1968), who asked 1387 participants to drive their own cars under realistic driving conditions and brake as soon as they saw a dark-clad dummy. Even though the drivers were expecting to encounter the dummy, the 50th and 10th percentiles for braking distance were only 23 and 15 m (75 and 49 feet), respectively, which led the authors to conclude that the maximum safe speed at night is 25 to 50 km/h (15.5-31.0 mph). Olson and Sivak (1983) reached a similar conclusion.

A number of researchers have documented that when pedestrians wear clothes that include retroreflective materials, their visibility is dramatically enhanced (Allen et al., 1970; Blomberg, Hale, & Preusser, 1986; Shinar, 1984). Others have shown that conspicuity is further enhanced when the retroreflective material is positioned on the major joints of the body, thus depicting biological motion (Luoma, Schumann, & Traube, 1996; Owens, Antonoff, & Francis, 1994; Wood, Tyrrell, & Carberry, in press). Although reflective clothing can dramatically increase safety, its use remains relatively infrequent and the problem remains: Until all pedestrians wear carefully positioned retroreflective material at night, some pedestrians will be difficult to recognize and drivers must assume that they may occasionally encounter inconspicuous pedestrians. …

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