Ask six people how fast a car doing x miles per hour travels in one second and you will get six different responses. But the answer is simple math, and it can help or hurt your case. The accompanying table has the specifics, but a general rule of thumb is to multiply speed by 1.5. So a car doing 30 mph will roughly travel 45 feet per second.
First, make sure your own client’s estimates are solid - In your earliest discussions with your client about the accident, and certainly in preparation for deposition/trial, run the math with your client. Make sure their own estimates ring true.
At deposition, pin down your opponent. As an example, a Defendant makes an improper left turn across the path of your client’s approaching car on a 35 mph roadway and a collision ensues. The Defendant now contends that since he never saw your client, your client “must have come over the hill at a high rate of speed” and hit the Defendant. At deposition you ask:
Q. So you were stopped waiting to turn left?
Q. And you knew you had to yield to approaching traffic?
Q. What did you do to make sure it was safe?
A. I looked and saw no cars coming, so I went.
Q. How far down the road could you see as you sat there?
A. I could see all the way down the road to the crest of the hill and there was no one coming, so I knew it was safe. I make that same turn every day.
Q. You are familiar with that area?
A. Yes, it’s right near my house.
Q. What is that distance from where you were stopped to where you can first see a car cresting the hill?
A. It’s a least a football field.
Q. So at least 300 feet?
Q. And once you started to turn, how many seconds passed until the impact?
A. Oh it was quick, like maybe three seconds. I had just reached the middle of the intersection, and wham.
Q. You are comfortable with that estimate - One thousand one-one thousand two, one thousand three?
A. Yeah, that’s right.
Doing the math, for the Plaintiff to have covered 300 feet in about 3 seconds, he would have to have been traveling at around 70 mph. Really? On a 35 mph road? And somehow the property damage is only about $2,500? More likely, the Plaintiff was much closer to the intersection, was in plain view, was driving at the right speed, but the Defendant just failed to observe. In this way, feet per second analysis can disprove the opposing version.
To get feet per second math before a jury, request that the court take judicial notice under MRCP 5-201 and offer it as an instruction, or as a fall back, just do the math for the jury during closing argument.
Basic math calculations can be accepted via judicial notice. From experience, however, where the trial judge is trying to get the case to the jury by a certain time, you may be subject to some resistance to an 11th hour request for judicial notice. Although it’s simple math, your opponent will always contend “Your Honor, we were just handed this sheet with these different numbers, and we have no ability to confirm their accuracy. We don’t even have a calculator.” The judge may throw up his/her hands and agree, and refuse your request simply because they don’t have the time/patience to verify your numbers. So while you may be tipping your hand a bit, it might be better practice to give your feet per second table to your opponent and the court in the morning, with your voir dire, with an indication that you will be asking for judicial notice at the end of your case. The court may then force the other side to verify the accuracy of your numbers at lunch break, and take judicial notice thereafter.
REQUEST FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE
Plaintiff, by his/her undersigned counsel, pursuant to Maryland Rule of Civil Procedure 5-201, requests the court to take judicial notice of the following facts:
1. There are 5,280 feet in one mile.
2. A vehicle moving at 1 mile per hour will travel 1.4667 feet in one second. (5,280 feet per hour, divided by 60 minutes, equals 88 feet per minute. 88 feet per minute, divided by 60 seconds, equals 1.4667 feet per second.)
3. Based upon the foregoing, the following speeds in miles per hour are equal to the feet per second shown below: 1 mile per hour = 1.4667 feet per second
10 miles per hour = 14.7 feet per second
20 miles per hour = 29.3 feet per second
25 miles per hour = 36.7 feet per second
30 miles per hour = 44.0 feet per second
35 miles per hour = 51.3 feet per second
40 miles per hour = 58.7 feet per second
45 miles per hour = 66.0 feet per second
50 miles per hour = 73.3 feet per second
55 miles per hour = 80.7 feet per second
60 miles per hour = 88.0 feet per second
65 miles per hour = 95.3 feet per second
The Plaintiff further requests the court, pursuant to Rule 5- 201(g), to instruct the jury to accept as conclusive any fact judicially noticed.