Bike Visibility Does Little to Change Drivers’ Dangerous Overtaking

A recent bill in the state of Wyoming would require all bicyclists to wear no less than 200 square inches “of high-visibility fluorescent orange, green or pink color clothing visible from the front and rear of the bicycle.”

PAFF_073115_ReflectiveClothingBikes_newsfeatureThough lawmakers in favor the bill argued that the new wardrobe requirements were for bicyclists’ own safety, research on driver behavior doesn’t necessarily back this up. In fact, new research is showing that “high-vis” clothing is not as effective at increasing bicycle safety as is often assumed.

A study by University of Bath psychological scientist Ian Walker finds that high-visibility clothing is unlikely to prevent the most dangerous passing behavior from drivers. Around 1–2% of overtakes were within 50 cm (about 18 inches) of the rider regardless of what he wore, implying a small proportion of motorists’ passes will always be dangerously close regardless…


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Combining Cannabis and Alcohol Amplifies Crash Risks

PAFF_072415_CombinedCannabis_newsfeatureCannabis and alcohol are the drugs most commonly detected in the systems of drivers involved in crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Decades of research has looked at the impairing effects of drinking alcohol and driving, but little research has investigated how these two drugs affect behavior behind the wheel when combined.

A team of Australian researchers, led by psychological scientist Luke Downey of Swinburne University of Technology, carried out a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment to find out how drivers react when these two drugs are combined.

The study carefully compared the potential effects of both high and low doses of alcohol and THC—the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. The findings showed that consuming alcohol and marijuana at the same time, even in small doses, hampers driving skills more than consuming either one alone does.

Two groups of 40 participants were…


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Why We Worry About Shark Attacks, Not Car Crashes

PAFF_071615_SharksCarAccidents_newsfeature“I don’t think you appreciate the gut reaction people have to these things, Martin– it’s all psychological. You yell ‘Barracuda,’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘Shark,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

—Mayor Larry Vaughn, Jaws

Our perceptions of risk don’t always match reality. Most people know that the risk of being attacked by a shark is infinitesimally small, yet our perceptions of risk don’t just depend on logically crunching the numbers.

Intense media coverage of (rare) shark attacks, as well as vivid scenes from Shark Week and movies like Jaws, stoke our fear of bloodthirsty great whites rather than more deadly, but mundane, hazards like driving without a seatbelt.

According to statistics from the International Shark Attack File, there were only 72 confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide in 2014. In…


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New Windshield Displays May Unleash an Invisible Gorilla

PAFF_070815_WindshieldGorilla_newsfeatureSeveral companies are already investing in new technology aimed at deterring distracted driving by projecting graphics from a cellphone—text messages, weather, collision warnings—directly onto a driver’s field of view on the windshield.

Proponents of this technology argue that it will increase road safety by providing drivers with useful information without having to take their eyes off the road. Rather than glancing down at a cellphone to read a text or check the map, directions and messages will appear directly in the driver’s line of sight.

But a new study from psychological scientists at the University of Toronto demonstrates that these futuristic heads-up displays may have the exact opposite outcome—the driver’s attention to the road is likely to become dangerously compromised.

Study authors Yuechuan Sun, Sijing Wu, and Ian Spence hypothesized that much like talking on a cellphone in the car makes it…


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Racial Bias Extends to the Crosswalk


Black pedestrians are at far greater risk of being fatally hit by a car than white pedestrians, according to research from the CDC. From 2000 to 2010, the pedestrian fatality rate for black and Hispanic men was twice the rate for white men, even after controlling for factors such as socioeconomic status, location, and alcohol use.

The results of a new study reveal one factor that may help explain why – the findings suggest that whether a driver yields to a pedestrian may largely depend on a pedestrian’s race.

Psychological scientists Tara Goddard and Kimberly Barsamian Kahn of Portland State University and Arlie Adkins of University of Arizona designed a realistic field study to test drivers’ behavior towards pedestrians of different races as they crossed the street at a clearly marked “zebra” crosswalk. Overall, their results revealed that drivers were far…


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