Shedding light on a nighttime pedestrian impact

A pedestrian is hit by a pickup truck on a dark highway. Could the driver have stopped?

The Event:

A 59-year-old driver was heading home from work around midnight in the right lane on a dark stretch of highway. Suddenly, a pedestrian jumped over the barrier separating oncoming traffic and ran across the highway. The driver braked hard, leaving 38 meters of skid marks. However, they were unable to avoid impact with the pedestrian who sustained significant injury. MEA Forensic was retained on the part of the driver to assess speed and avoidance opportunities.

Our Analysis:

Using skid marks left by the truck, we confirmed the driver’s statement that she had initially been traveling at the posted 90 km/h. There was a slight deviation in the skid marks which indicated a point of impact and showed that braking began at least 21 meters prior to impact. Was it possible for braking to have started earlier?

Our human factors expert visited the scene to assess the available lighting and estimated the reflectivity of the pedestrian’s clothing by measuring similar fabrics. With this data, we were able to assess the contrast presented by the pedestrian against the dark background and determine how far away an average 59-year-old driver could have seen the pedestrian. Experimental data in the scientific literature confirmed this result. This analysis indicated that the driver had likely detected the encroaching pedestrian as soon as possible and reacted quickly. It also confirmed the driver’s statement that they had their high-beam headlights engaged. That was the only way they could have seen the pedestrian from so far away under the circumstances.

Our expert prepared a report critical of another engineer’s analysis of visibility and avoidance opportunities and testified in court to support his opinions. In the Reasons for Judgement, the judge indicated that where he had to rely on expert evidence, he placed greater weight on our expert’s opinions.

The Results:

Ultimately, the trial Judge concluded that the pedestrian was 100% responsible for the accident and that there was insufficient warning or time for the driver to avoid colliding with the pedestrian.

MEA’s analysis, in this case, was based on data collected at the scene, a review of the scientific literature, and techniques developed through our research programs. This approach can be applied to any nighttime collision, though the outcome is dependent on the specific layout of the incident scene and collision circumstances.

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