Pilots have a term that they call situational awareness. It means taking the available information and using it to keep track of where you are at all times, among other things. As long as it can be used, the more information the better.
Now let’s switch gears and apply this concept to driving. Think of a large semi-type tractor-trailer. One of those that has two trailers, as long as the law allows. If that truck is going the speed limit, let’s say on any given 35 mph road, think about how long it takes to go through a traffic light.
If the truck enters an intersection on a green light that quickly turns yellow, it will pretty much use up that entire yellow caution light by the time the end of the second trailer makes it through.
Now suppose a small sports car is following the truck and doesn’t see the yellow light until the last second. Being short gives it the worst angle to see the light above the intersection. Sure, you can say the driver of the sports car should slam on the brakes and hope it doesn’t get rear-ended, or he can do what many people would opt to do and continue to follow the truck.
Now let’s say a tall 4×4 pickup has been waiting to turn left in the same intersection and is just waiting for the tractor-trailer to get by. The driver can see the light changing, but if he doesn’t see the short sports car over the hood of his truck, you can imagine the scene. Not pretty.
There is little doubt that the sports car contributed to a likely accident here by choosing to enter the intersection on a yellow light. While that may be true, we can either deal with reality or we can justify everything by theory that may or may not work in the real world.
My wife and I moved here a couple of years ago from a state that had not just a single overhead stop light like the vast majority of ones in the state of Washington, but one on either side of the intersection as well. So, at virtually every single intersection in the state, drivers had not one but three lights to tell them the status of what was going on in front of a semi.
My choice was either move back to that state to have better intersection lighting or write a letter to the editor to try and improve the situation. It’s easier to write the letter.
With communities beginning to install cameras at intersections to catch people running red lights, it seems to be the time to stand up and say something. Instead of installing cameras, they should be installing more lights. This will – tah, dah – improve drivers’ situational awareness. You knew it had to be in here somewhere.
Randy Moore of Arlington is a commercial test pilot that is based at Paine Field and works for a company that builds avionics that, among other things, helps pilots improve their situational awareness. Maybe more importantly, he’s been riding motorcycles for 35 years and doesn’t want you to hit him.