Royal Holloway, University of London

Research into why car accidents happen

Research at Royal Holloway, University of London has improved road safety. It’s been used to support successful campaigns for 20mph zones and to test a different motorcycle lighting system to increase night-time safety. The psychology department at the university looked at why adults and children sometimes make errors in their everyday road judgment, despite advances in vehicle technology and road infrastructure.

Using virtual road scenes and brain imaging, researchers looked at the limitations of the perceptual systems we use to make these judgements. Key findings found that accurate judgments of oncoming vehicle speed improved during childhood, but primary school children are still not making adult-like judgements.

There also appeared to be a decline in speed judgements over the age of 75 years, which is in line with the higher incidence of junction accidents in the 75+ age group. The research also identified why it’s particularly problematic for drivers to judge the approach speed of motorcycles or bicycles, particularly with night-time lighting.

The solution will be to integrate knowledge of human perceptual limitations into all our road systems. Now, thanks to the research, local authorities are using the findings to positively impact road safety, such as reviews on speed limits in urban areas. The research is also being used in ongoing advisory input to a major car manufacturer on driver assistance systems, and was cited in a parliamentary debate that reversed cuts to road crossing patrols for children.

Further reading