Is the Moth Effect A Significant Factor in Georgia Car Accidents?


August 22, 2011

Many have heard of the moth effect that some people believe causes drivers to steer toward lights of vehicles parked on the side of the road resulting in serious Georgia car accidents. A wealth of academic research has been conducted on the “moth to the flame effect” or “moth effect.”

This phenomena also referred to as “target fixation” has been studied in the context of pilot error where pilot concentration becomes focused on a particular object or task resulting in the pilot being drawn to the object which often is a light source viewed at night. Some researchers in human factors that contribute to automobile accidents have suggested that this moth effect might be the cause of car accidents in Georgia.

It has long been suggested that the moth effect may be the cause of Georgia car accidents because drivers have a natural tendency to steer in the direction that they are looking. Because there is a natural tendency to gawk at flashing lights on the side of the road, the moth effect has been a common justification for Move Over Laws that protect emergency personnel when providing services to those on the side of the road involved in Georgia car accidents.

While the moth effect is often advanced as a justification for laws like the Georgia Move Over Law, many have suggested that it may also explain Georgia car accidents involving drunk drivers who drive toward headlights or Georgia car accidents that occur when a disabled vehicle on the side of the road has blinking hazard lights and flares behind the vehicle. Past researchers that have proposed that the moth effect explains Georgia car accidents where drivers steer into and collide with emergency vehicles with flashing lights by the side of the road. An article entitled “Is the Moth Effect Real”, which was published in the Accident Reconstruction” journal and written by Marc Green Ph.D., who studies the relationship between human factors and motor vehicle accidents, suggests that proponents of the moth effect have relied on anecdotal reports of car accidents and studies showing the tendencies of humans to be oriented to light.

Green suggests that even if the moth effect is real that it must have another factor that triggers it, such as driver fatigue or driver distractions. For example, a study published in the journal, Perceptual and Motor Skills in 1994, was the first study to provide evidence of the moth effect. The study involved telling certain drivers to notice the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle parked on the side of the road while others were given no specific instructions. Those told to notice the lights drove closer to the vehicles on the side of the road. This study provided some evidence of a moth effect but only where driver attention was also involved as another specific variable.

The article by Green postulates that the issue is really one of attention. Driver attention is a zero sum game, meaning that if a driver notices an emergency vehicle or disabled vehicle on the side of the road, the driver has less attention available to pay to obstacles in the roadway or to focus on steering. While there may be some sort of moth effect, it may not be a matter of drivers steering toward vehicles on the side of the road with flashing lights, but drivers dividing their attention between the task of driving and identifying or observing the roadside distraction.

The bottom line is that while there is disagreement about the mechanism behind the moth effect, evidence suggests that it may be a factor in some Georgia car accidents. However, the evidence also suggests that it may be a product of drunk drivers, distracted drivers or fatigued drivers dividing their attention between the emergency vehicle and the task of driving. In any event, the article clearly suggests that if one avoids driving distractions, driver fatigue and DUI there is not likely to be any moth effect to contribute to a Georgia car accident.

Our Georgia car accident lawyers consistently review and analyze the newest data and research on human factors in causing Georgia car accidents. We know that this research can be critical to successful settlement or litigation of a Georgia car accident. These studies can be used by expert witnesses both by our Georgia car accident lawyers and those employed by the insurance company for the other driver. Our Georgia car accident lawyers are committed to understanding the law and science behind Georgia car accidents so that we can provide our best efforts in your Georgia car accident claim as part of our commitment to being the best Georgia car accident lawyers.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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