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Risk of fatal rear-end collisions: is there more to it than attention?

In: Driving Assessment 2003: proceedings of the 2nd international driving symposium on human factors in driver assessment, training and vehicle design. Iowa City, University of Iowa, 2003, p. 239-244

Authors: John M. Sullivan, Michael J. Flannagan

Rear-end collisions predominantly occur in the daytime under clear, unobstructed viewing conditions and usually involve a lead vehicle that is stopped at the time of collision. These facts suggest that driver inattention plays a significant causal role in rear-end collisions, and mitigation efforts have therefore focused largely on development of warning technologies to alert drivers of an impending crash. However, we note that this pattern of crash data should not lead to the conclusion that drivers have special difficulty avoiding rear-end collisions in broad daylight. Nor should it be concluded that other “environmental” factors do not influence driving behavior to increase rear-end crash risk. Crash frequency is determined both by the inherent risk in the driving task and by the frequency of driver exposure to conditions in which a crash is possible. When exposure level is equated across conditions which differ in ambient light level, we find that rear-end collisions appear to be more than twice as likely in darkness than in daylight.

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