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‘Is Your Life Worth Half a Second?’

BERLIN – Driving safety expert and author Herb Simon will skeptically grant it is conceivable that you can text while driving, exceed the speed limit by 10 miles per hour, or perform any of the other acts that people believe they can safely add to the number of things they can do while driving. But even in the very unlikely event that you can perform any of these things while you’re driving, Simon just has a simple reminder: It’s not only about you.

“I’m not saying you can [do these things] while you’re driving,” he said. “I’m saying that even if you could you can’t do it and account for the other drivers.”

Although he didn’t take his driver’s safety credentials too seriously when he graduated from the

University of
, over the ensuing decades, Simon has worked with some of the world’s foremost driving safety experts and become something of one in his own right. He specializes in training and approving not only novice drivers, but also low-vision and special needs drivers, helping people who might not otherwise be able to secure driving licenses become among the safest drivers on the road.

The Ocean Pines resident recently published, “Is Your Life Worth Half a Second?” a driver safety manual that focuses on driving home the notion that safe driving is as much about physics as it is about being attentive.

There are facts about they way cars travel and stop that are beyond a person’s control. Simon’s illustrative example is that a car traveling at 30 mph travels 44 feet per second and needs about 10 feet to come to a complete stop. If a car enters and intersection 10 feet away at the moment you look down at, for example, your speedometer, during that half-second delay you’ve traveled 22 feet. According to Simon eliminating half-second distractions would cut the annual accident totals in half.

Simon groups accidents into what he described as unusual events. When you’re driving you expect things to go as usual, but it is only sometimes the case that everything goes according to plan.

“Unusual events occur more often than you think,” Simon said.

The key to safe driving is to learn to see the unusual before it becomes a problem you have to deal with. Just as with speed, there are unavoidable facts about your brain and though-processes that must be recognized and accounted for.

When teaching a driver who has poor depth perception to navigate the roads safely, Simon trains them to compensate for the fact, rather than play into their difficulty. Similarly, as an unimpaired person drives they tend to make a lot of unwarranted assumptions; the compensation for which could cost them the critical half-second between having and avoiding an accident.

“Risks are always present and unless you recognize that you can’t always anticipate them,” he said.

Simon used the example of how easy it is to miss a car that is coming into your space during a lane change, even though you technically see it. Our assumption, Simon said, is that because a car is going straight it will continue to go straight, so even when we see it moving over into our lane it takes a little longer to register, because it’s so unusual.

Sometime when teaching he’ll ask a student the color of the car that’s just passed and in a teachable moment, they’ll often not have noticed that one had. Learning to pre-scan for potential risks, a process he calls selective processing is a way of re-training your brain to stop making assumptions about your driving environment and forcing it to look at the road anew.