As I was driving my children to the haircut place Wednesday morning on our city’s equivalent of the German Autobahn, I was pondering reaction times, thinking about how they diminish as we age (actually, I was smugly thinking about how quickly I was able to go from the brake to the gas as the light changed to green to get on the on-ramp to the freeway and we left the others in our wake). When we’re young, our reaction times are quick and immediate. As we age, they slowly diminish, but when do we start to notice that they’ve become slower? When do we *admit* that they’ve become slower?
While I was pondering this, what should I witness? That’s right, you guessed it, my very first crash in this fair city. I’ve lived here for 13 years so you’d think I would have seen more than this one given the crazy drivers here and our multitudes of impaired drivers, but no. I’ve happened upon them minutes after they’ve happened (including a fatal just a mere 1/2 mile from my home–it really does happen close to home, folks), but I’ve never been a witness. Fortunately, this was a low speed impact where airbags weren’t even deployed. It was interesting to watch, in a weird detached sort of way, exactly because of the reaction time. It looked to me that the person in car B who hit car A (who was actually running the red light) thought that car A was going to stop. Her reaction time to me seemed slow because it looked like she thought, “This can’t possibly be happening. Car A must surely be going to stop.” When we turned around and came back to the crash scene (I was turning at the intersection in a completely different direction, but still saw the whole thing), car A had clearly been braking hard because there was about 20-30 feet of skid marks, yet she still ran the red light. Her reaction time was quite slow to the light changing. She was elderly. Does that make a difference? The driver of car B was young, perhaps in her early 30s (that’s a youngin’ to me now, ya hear?). So her reaction time should have been faster, right?
Our reaction times are fastest when we’re teenagers and when we’re in our twenties. Just try to play a video game against someone in those age groups and you’ll quickly find out what I’m talking about. We can shift our manual transmissions so fast it’s a wonder the clutch doesn’t wear out faster than it does, we jockey for position at stoplights so we can be first out (Hey! I don’t wanna be stuck behind that minivan. [Hey bub, my minivan has more pickup than your 4-banger--beep beep!]), we turn corners so fast and so tight because we can. It’s fun being young.
We turn 30 and life catches up. We have responsibilities, families, a car that *we* paid for and want to keep looking nice. We slow down, but just a bit. Our reaction times are still quite good–the slowing down part is what we do because we don’t want the bundle of joy in the car seat to wake up. Our brains are multi-tasking, thinking about work and domestic responsibilities.
The 40s decade is where things start to slow down. Reaction times may still be quick, but vision bites the dust. I’m not quite 40 yet, but man, I have a hard time seeing at night now, especially in my van with dark tinted windows. And when I’m tired, which happens more often as you get older (oh, my aching bones!), it’s harder to focus your eyes, especially if your vision is borderline or poor in the first place.
According to AAA, the 50s is when reaction time starts to slow down. Oops, I guess we’re old now! Call the AARP! Heh, they’ve been after me for years to join them . Everything is downhill from now on. Oy! And here I was looking forward to my 50s.
Back to the crash I witnessed Wednesday, I don’t know if either driver was on a cell phone at the time or if the younger driver was checking that “last email” as she was starting to drive. That certainly could have affected the outcome. The elderly driver of car A admitted fault, I gave my statement to both the police and highway patrol (I was the only eye witness who bothered to stop, though both ladies seemed like they were going to handle it very nicely), and I just hope it all ends there. It just seemed ironic to me that I was thinking about the subject and there it was, all played out right in front of me like some modern day “Twilight Zone.”