Police demonstration shows how speed and distractions affect your driving

I didn't even spot the little blue plastic car when it rolled out into the middle of the road. I blew right past it at 60 km/h. Thankfully, there wasn’t a child on that toy car, and it wasn’t a real roadway.

The speed limit is the limit and other things I learned driving a cop car

Winnipeg police held a hands-on demonstration to show how speed and distractions can affect your ability to drive. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

I didn't even spot the little blue plastic car when it rolled out into the middle of the road. I blew right past it at 60 km/h.

Thankfully, there wasn't a child on that toy car, and it wasn't a real roadway.

The Winnipeg Police Service invited members of the media to take part in a hands-on demonstration on Monday to show how speed and distracted driving affects reaction times and stopping distances.

Many pylons were taken out in the process.

To begin, instructors with the WPS police vehicle operations unit had media personalities drive in a straight line at various speeds while trying to avoid a toy car that gets pushed out into the roadway.

A child's toy car is sent into the roadway during a training exercise for members of the media to learn about how speed impacts reaction time. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Pylons mark the lanes, where on a real street there could potentially be other cars or boulevards. The trick is to avoid the obstacle and come to a complete stop without hitting the pylons, or the car.

We started at about 45 km/h, or just under the speed limit for a residential street, approaching two parked vehicles on either side of the lane, which obstruct your view.  

Without warning the child's toy car is sent out into your path from either direction (they keep this part a surprise).

Each time you drive the course your speed is increased until you reach 70 km/h. Somewhere around 60 km/h, I didn't even see the plastic car come at me.

"They didn't do it," I said as I blew through the course.

"Yeah, they did do it, it came from the left," said Constable Michelle Hiebert, who was seated next to me.

"They did? I totally missed it!" I said.

Const. Michelle Hiebert (left) kept track of how many tasks I was able to complete while behind the wheel. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The exercise is meant to demonstrate just how much your peripheral vision narrows when your speed is increased. You also learn just how long it takes to come to a stop and avoid crashing into something in the process.

"The exercise itself, it really shows you just how much harder it is to get that car stopped at 70 km/h compared to 60, and just how much faster things come at you," said Const. Brian Wurm with the unit.

Wurm compared the exercise to how fast some people drive on residential streets, viewing the 50 km/h speed limit as the minimum instead of the maximum.

Wurm said at around 60 km/h, you're travelling roughly 50 feet or 15 metres per second, which is about the average size of a residential lot in the city.

"You're covering one house property every second, so if there's a child playing in the front yard two or three houses down by the time you realize that it's happening — and then the second and a half reaction time plus the stopping distance of the car — you're in an accident and [there's] bad consequences," he said.

'Just drive'

Speed isn't the only thing police say can impact your ability to react in time. Distracted driving also plays a huge role.

In the next exercise I was given four tasks I needed to complete — all while driving through a winding obstacle course, hitting speeds of 40 km/h — while I was being timed.

The first thing I had to do was take a selfie, then make a call by dialing the number into my phone, then reach for something in the glove box, and finally, read a card held up by the instructor next to me.

For each task I couldn't complete, or every pylon I hit, time was added to my score. 

The average time to make it through the course is 40 seconds. 

Const. Brian Wurm said the purpose of the closed course exercise was to drive home just how much speed and distractions can affect one's ability to drive (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Even though I felt a sense of hurry it took me a minute and a half to complete all the tasks and keep myself on the roadway. Plus I got added time because I dialed the wrong number and grazed a pylon.

The sign I had to read said "just drive," which in the end was the message police wanted to get across to drivers.

"The biggest thing is, drive. Get your mind onto the task of driving," said Wurm.

"The distractions themselves were fairly common, I think most drivers would agree that they've done something similar to that at some point while driving," he said.

"Most drivers either drove very slowly trying to complete all the tasks," Wurm said. 

"Or they try to drive at regular speed doing those tasks and then realize it just can't be done."

The limit is the limit

Police say while distracted driving laws are aimed at cell phone use behind the wheel, there are numerous ways to get distracted on the road.

"[It's] taking your mind off the task of driving, taking your eyes off the road, or taking your hand off the wheel," said Wurm.

He said everything from eating to putting on make-up or fishing for something in your purse or the backseat can also constitute a distraction.

In those cases, police can fine drivers under careless or imprudent driving laws.

Drivers entered the course with enough distance to reach speeds up to 70 km/h. Pylons mark the lanes and an obstacle is sent out into the road from behind parked vehicles on either side. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

As for speed limits, Wurm said drivers need to realize they are not suggestions.

"If' that's the speed limit, that's the limit," he said.

When road conditions become less than ideal, drivers should slow down. 

"Maybe a little bit of snow, little bit of water, maybe the lighting goes down," he said.

"The speed limit should automatically drop, but most drivers if you drive behind that person doing 50 in a 50 zone, most drivers are getting mad."

"It really is the limit, that's what we're trying to show here."

Winnipeg police held a hands-on demonstration to show how speed and distractions can affect your ability to drive. 2:26



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