Reaction time is the speed at which we respond to stimuli. In this case, we’re going to talk about reaction time as it relates to car accidents.
When officials are recreating an accident they use a standard reaction time of 1.5 seconds in order to “accurately” depict what happened.
However, reaction time is a bit more complex than just figuring out how fast a person can perceive a threat and respond though. It depends upon a variety of factors from environment, behavior, and other distractions. For instance, if you are driving down the road giving all of your attention to your driving, then your reaction might be close to 1.5 seconds (the standard used reaction time), however, if you’re on your phone or distracted by the radio or outside stimuli, your reaction time will probably be north of 1.5 seconds.
There are a few components that make up reaction times. The first is mental processing time. This is the time that it takes a person to realize there is a threat they are going to need to react to and decide upon a response. Visualexpert.com uses the example of a driver detecting a pedestrian walking across the road directly ahead. The reaction of seeing this and the decision to hit the brakes is the mental processing time.
The second component is the movement time. Once your mind notices the threat and decides on a plan of action, it must put your body into motion. Using the example of the driver and the pedestrian, the movement time would be the amount of time it takes your brain to tell the your muscles to move your foot to the brake and apply appropriate pressure to stop in time. The Yerkes-Dodson Law says that high emotional arousal, like an emergency, speeds gross motor movements but impairs the fine detailed movements.
You see, too much anxiety can cause you to freeze up and it will impair your reaction time. For instance, when you aren’t paying attention to the road and when you finally look up, and realize a threat is incredibly close or deadly, your reaction time can take a hit due to panic.
It’s important to always give your full attention to the road. Not only because you can prevent accidents from happening by driving defensively, but also to give yourself proper reaction time when something happens that is out of your control.
We want to make sure everyone on the road is as safe as they can be. So please, give all your attention to driving, and forget the phone, radio, or any other distractions until your vehicle is stopped.