Does “Moth Effect” Among Drivers Cause Fatal Accidents?

Most have heard the saying “like a moth to the flame.” Moths are attracted to light, despite the fact that that very attraction can hurt and kill them. Some traffic safety critics believe that human drivers are no more sophisticated than the moths that fly straight into their doom.

Driving at night can be especially dangerous for drivers. Some might think that daytime driving is prime time for car accidents since the traffic is much heavier, but with the night comes the dark — and the supposedly dangerous allure of bright lights.

Some traffic safety enthusiasts believe that the flashing lights are more dangerous at night because of the lack of other focal points on the roads. During the day, drivers will still see and look at lights or crashes on the side of the road, but they are safer compared to at night because they can see more points of relativity. During the day, it’s more likely that a driver is driving next to you and that you can see the lines on the road. These visible focal points make the lights on the side of the road less dangerous than they are at night.

This supposed moth effect and distracted driving in general clearly make work as a police officer, emergency responder and even construction worker dangerous. Between 2001 and 2010, more than 100 police officers have died in car accidents while working on the roads. How many of those deaths are tied to nighttime accidents is not reported.

Unlike moths, humans have the decision-making capacity to decide not to recklessly focus on what is going on on the sides of the road and drive into danger. It’s a careful balance. As drivers, we should be aware that, for example, an emergency vehicle is stopped on the side of the road. That awareness should lead to a greater focus on what we are doing behind the wheel, however, not on what an officer or driver is doing off to the side.

Flashing lights and the workers who use them for safety are not there for drivers’ visual entertainment. They are there to serve the community.

Source: Pocono Record, “Fatal attraction: ‘The moth effect’ endangers motorists, police,” Karen M. Harris, July 15, 2012

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