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How Perceptual and Cognitive Factors
are Involved in a Car Accident:
A Case Study

By: Vanessa Dominguez & Marc Gentzler | Mentor: Dr. Andrew P. Daire

Description Of Accident

The following accident description is adapted from Gentzler (2010). Overnight the driver of Vehicle A hit Vehicle B head-on on a rural road. The driver of Vehicle A survived with no major injuries, whereas the driver of Vehicle B died instantly after impact. The driver of Vehicle A was intoxicated at the time of the accident (BAC taken almost an hour after the accident was .167). When the accident occurred, weather and road conditions were unfavorable. Fog, drizzle, and light rain were in the area. The windshield wipers of Vehicle A were on but in the slowest setting. The road was damp and the road markings and pavement were well worn. The rural road had no street lights.

Vehicle A was on the road's north side traveling west. Vehicle B was on the road's north side on the unpaved shoulder approximately a foot away from the road facing east. The driver of Vehicle B was on the wrong side of the road to deliver newspapers from the driver's side. This was easier than trying to reach over to the passenger side to deliver the newspapers. The driver's side on all US cars is on the left except on postal and certain other delivery trucks. According to the driver of Vehicle A, it appeared Vehicle B was in his lane driving towards him. Meanwhile, another car was traveling in the south lane going correctly towards the east. According to the deposition for the driver of Vehicle A, he was initially going to avoid Vehicle B by moving into the south lane. When the driver of Vehicle A perceived an oncoming car (Vehicle C) heading east in the south lane, he realized that option was unavailable. The headlights of Vehicle B were on at some point as the driver of Vehicle A clearly could see Vehicle B's headlights in a distance. During examination, however, the headlights of Vehicle B were in the off position suggesting they were off at least at the time of impact. After the accident, a witness stated the driver of Vehicle A seemed confused as to whether he or Vehicle B was in the wrong lane.

The accident reconstructionist determined Vehicle B was stationary at the time of impact. The driver of Vehicle A stated he was going approximately 60 miles per hour (the speed limit on this road is 55 mph). Due to the road's topography, it was estimated the earliest the driver of Vehicle A could have seen Vehicle B was 689 feet away. The driver of Vehicle A skidded off the road about 75 feet away from the point of collision. There were no skid marks due to the damp road, but tire tracks were found in the grass depicting the Vehicle A's track leading off the side of the road.

Perceptual and Cognitive Factors Possibly Involved in the Accident >>