A while ago a visiting acquaintance with a past life in auto racing asked me to step into his high performance sports car for a “short ride around the block”. Just after pulling out of my driveway on a residential speed he accelerated to 110 km/h before he reached the traffic light just 200 metres ahead. Surprised at this unannounced action I could only conger up a quick glimpse of Princess Diana as a madman accelerated into the Paris Alma tunnel. Knowing my background in collision reconstruction and our various discussions on topics somewhat related to our backgrounds I could only suppose that this was done to make an impression, and it did. But maybe not the impression that was intended.
By now I can say my collision investigations have run into the low thousands, although I stopped counting. I can recount many investigations of “Hold my beer and what this!” moments where the result ended very badly. You become somewhat immune to the tragedies when you are dissecting the details of how a certain body part became detached, or you fail to become horrified when you are working the interior of a vehicle covered in brain matter. What can you say to an experienced race car driver who believes that a residential street is not much different than a race track?
The point is that many of us in North America have grown up in the culture of muscle cars, status, independence and personal freedom. Our grandfathers impressed our fathers and our fathers impressed us with the latest increase in power and speed developed in the back bay of the local garage. But somewhere the romance of the olden days must come to an end. You can only go so fast to the nearby variety store and once you get there, what then? You race back again? Impressive.
We hear, see and read of the continual fatalities that occur and it is said over and over: Speed kills. Well, from my experience, yes, speed kills, but there is another killer in the room: Acceleration. Acceleration is what fools so many of us because it violates our expectations. The old grandmother pulling away from a stop sign does so at a low acceleration and takes too long to cross the road. She sees a car a block away but expects that vehicle is too far away to reach her. Yet, that distant car is driven by a novice young male accelerating his muscle car from a block away and wants to let it loose for someone’s impression. Differences in these accelerations mean expectations are violated and bad things happen.
Pedestrians suffer the same. Expecting to cross in time before a vehicle reaches them they do not realize that the vehicle is accelerating to a higher speed and a bad consequence is the result.
Left turning drivers also suffer the same. A driver waits to make a left turn while studying the approaching traffic. He sees a gap in traffic and, judges he can make the left turn in safety. But the gap in the vehicles closes as the driver passing though is worried about being late for work and does not want to be stopped if the traffic light turns red, so he accelerates to a higher speed and the gap closes. The left turning driver already commits to the turn and it is too late. A bad thing happens.
So while we talk so much about speed. But we almost never talk about acceleration, the silent killer, who violates our expectations. Much like I, stepping into the muscle car of my acquaintance, and not expecting the massive acceleration that unfolded which could have resulted in my last ride.