Remembering Paul Babarik
Paul Babarik.

January 21, 2020.

Long-time APA member and retired Concordia University Professor Paul Babarik passed away this month, age 90. Paul was the academic expert who vouched for the APA`s research proposals for nearly a decade in the 1990s. That was a bigger commitment back then than it is today, as many APA projects involved hidden camera investigations that carried the risk of a lawsuit that could see the expert wind up in court defending our methodology. Paul never flinched. And Paul almost never charged. Some funders required a contract for services with the expert. More often than not, Paul subsequently made a contribution to the APA equal to the contract -- less a dollar "for consideration."

Paul grew up in Oshawa before WWII, where General Motors had an assembly plant until recently. Paul told me that in the 1930s workers rode to the plant on bicycles when the weather permitted. Many people didn’t have enough money to buy a car. He attended the University of Toronto in a class full of returning servicemen. After graduation, he worked at General Motors.

After leaving General Motors, Paul earned a Ph. D. in Psychology from the University of Chicago and later landed in Washington D.C. where he undertook one of the original studies that lead to the third brake light on modern automobiles. Here`s how it worked: Paul hailed a cab chosen at random and offered the driver $5 to head over to his lab for testing. His study of Washington DC cab drivers identified two distinct components of reaction time when a driver applied the brakes:

i) Recognition time (to realize that the brake lights in the car ahead are on), and

ii) Jump time (how quickly the driver applied the brake pedal)

Paul`s work demonstrated that overall reaction times vary widely between individuals and that a driver who was slow to notice a brake light but very quick to apply the pedal would be involved in a disproportionate number of "hit from behind" collisions. In those days, automobiles had just two brake lights that also doubled as turn signals. This lead to thinking about what unambiguous signal could work to reduce the variability between individuals. In the late 1960`s, tests involving four rear lights, and a third center-mounted stop lamp like the one we have now, began on Bell Telephone and U.S. government fleets.

When he returned to Canada, Paul tried to interest regulators in the concept of a third brake light, but -- not for the first time -- a Canadian researcher was ignored in his home country. Others built on the research, and in 1986 the center high-mounted stop lamp became required equipment on all new vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada. Today it`s been adopted in much of the world.

Paul was a cycling evangelist who regularly accumulated over 5,000 km a year on a bicycle and rekindled my passion for cycling. By the time we met, Paul drove Subarus and a VW Golf diesel, frugal cars for a frugal guy who loved efficient transportation. But his favourite car?

"My `55 Chevrolet Belair -- it had a new V8 engine; it was identified as an employee car when it came down the assembly line, so it received a lot of upgrades."

George Iny
Executive Director


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