NMA Article: Should I stay or should I go now?
From the people who brought us “drivers don’t know how many kilometers per hour they go through a work zone” comes “drivers don’t know how many kilometers per hour a train a kilometer away is moving.”
Once again, they missed the point.
I don’t need to know how fast a train is moving. I need to know how soon it will reach me. I expect people to be better at answering “how soon?” than “how fast?”, and even better than that at deciding whether they should try to beat it.
When I exit my driveway, I know traffic just rounding the curve to the left is far enough away, but traffic halfway down the straight is too close unless it’s moving slowly. I couldn’t tell you how many feet away that is. I don’t divide distance by time. I just know based on experience.
If we had to do arithmetic all the time we wouldn’t be able to drive. The mind is much better at visual analysis and pattern matching than adding two plus two.
To the part of our brain that is not good at math, a train is just another potential predator like a snake or a lion. People who couldn’t give an accurate speed could still see the train coming towards them.
Can they judge its arrive time well enough?
In my area we don’t have to. High speed railroad lines have crossing gates, and government rules make the stay-or-go decision.
Human judgment is a bigger problem in rural areas where speeds are high and road traffic too low to justify expensive safety measures.
It’s a subject worth researching in a more productive way.
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