Visibility in Traffic Collisions

Visibility in traffic collisions is an important consideration for issues related to causation.  Visibility is a key factor that influences the ability of a driver to perceive, identify, and react to a possible dangerous situation.

Forms used by police officers for traffic collision coding provide essential information based on observations and measurements taken shortly after an accident.  These form provide useful information about visibility that may be useful in the analysis and litigation of motor vehicle accidents.  Information about weather conditions, environmental distractions, and other factors that may influence visibility are formally included in the traffic collision form.

General information that describes the position of the driver and passengers in vehicles participating in a motor vehicle accident may provide a point of reference that assist in restrpective analysis of visibility.  The presence and type of safety equipment in assesing ocular injuries is also included in coding forms.  For example, injuries to the eye may result from deployment of airbags.  Traffic collision reports often have information that describe the presence of distractions in a driver’s environment that can impair his or her visual concentration and mental awareness.  Examples of situations that may cause visual distraction including cell phone use, attention to electronic gear such as GPS units, CD players, use of electronic equipment, reading, and attention to personal hygiene while driving.  Distractions caused by passengers, such as unruly children, may also cause visual inattention.

Weather conditions are important considerations when analyzing visibility in traffic collisions.  Traffic collision reports usually specify weather conditions at the time of an accident.  Coded entries in police reports indicate if conditions were clear, cloudy, raining, snowing, fog, and wind.  When fog is present, the degree of visibility in feet is estimated since fog and low-lying clouds can significantly impair visibility.  Fog and dimished lighting can effect contrast, the ability to distiguish colored objects from the background.  For example, the visibility of a white colored truck may be excellent on a bright day.  But in the presence of  misty fog or low clouds, a white colored truck may visibly fade into the surroundings.

Lighting conditions are documented in many types of traffic collision reports.  Collision reports usually indicate if daylight, dusk/dawn, or dark conditions existed at the time of the accident.  Reports usually have information that shows if street lights were present and if they were functional.  Lighting conditions influence visibility and when they are less than ideal.  Diminished lighting or glare from too much direct light may actually contribute to an accident.  Visibility under nighttime driving conditions, especially under heavy sleet or rain with heavy winds, are challenging situations for even highly experienced and skilled drivers.  Visibility in traffic collisions can be a significant causative factor in many motor vehicle accidents.

Specific movements of participating vehicles preceding a traffic collision may influence visibility.  For example, the direction of a turn, backing up, or other maneuvers determine the location of objects that are inside or outside the field of visual.   Vehicle movements that distract a driver from proper viewing can contribute to traffic accidents.  For example, passing another vehicle may block a driver from seeing a pedestrian entering a crosswalk from the opposite side.  Vision that becomes obscured is an example of another checklist entry that is used on Traffic Collision forms by the California Highway Patrol to indicate the presence or absence of objects that impair proper visibility.

Expert analysis is an important factor when reconstructing visibility in traffic collisions.  Checklists used for coding environmental conditions that are employed by police officers may provide essential information about visibility in traffic collisions.  Experts often rely on objective information from traffic collision reports to determine issues related to causation and injury.

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