What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?

We often hear or may even say ourselves from time to time: “Why did you crash?” “Why did you have a near miss?” “Why did you crash into me?”

“Why did you do that?”

“What made you do that?”

For all the whys and ‘probable’ certainties, we will often find ourselves coming to the conclusion that the weak link was the human…the road user…the rider or driver etc. Human error is the number one reason why road traffic collisions occur, however this does not necessarily mean that the primary or only error was that of the road user. Sometimes it is unavoidable or just an accident waiting to happen!

Surely that doesn’t make sense does it? 

E.g. If a rider loses control on a bend and crashes into a tree, then surely the human error element was that of the rider alone! Well that might be partially true, but also some other factors will be in the design of the road and display of road signs, the condition of the road surface, the posted speed limits and the condition of the road verges etc.

What will also be a factor is the ‘history’ of the rider! What have they initially learned, how have they learned and most importantly thereafter, how have they been tested? If the rider was taught bad practice from an early stage and this was never really addressed, then it was only ever a matter of time before this kind of accident happened! 

Whatever we initially learn as drivers or riders, then if we remain unchecked through periodic testing or evaluation, then inevitably we will tend to drift off centre and pick up bad habits. If the ‘system’ does not provide recurrent training or access to new information to educate existing road users, then the system is partially to blame for the deficiency that any rider or driver may have!

Whenever there is an accident, the investigation focus is usually on the driver or rider involved and is limited to provable facts. E.g The driver crossed the white line here, the rider skidded there, the witnesses stated that they were speeding, the skid marks indicate the vehicle was travelling at a certain speed, etc.

There may be further questions regarding the whys! E.g. Why did the driver cross the white line? However at an individual accident, that is essentially where the investigation stops. There will be less likely an interrogation of the system and the road infrastructure, therefore some of the elements of the accident and even the injuries sustained will not be uncovered and will not be addressed!

The only time the system might be questioned is when there is statistical increase in incidents in a particular area, which may lead law enforcement and local authorities to seek a change in the driving environment, but usually the ‘fix’ is to implement a blanket policy that will surely solve the problem…usually this being a change to the posted speed limit. 

Make people drive/ride slower, then they will not crash…hmmm, so why do people still crash at slow speeds in urban areas then? 

What I have seen in many years of responding to road traffic accidents and in particular with my interest in motorcycle accidents, is that the superficial causes for accidents repeated themselves…its the same factors over and over again.

Excessive Speed (Not necessarily high speed), misreading conditions, poor standards and practices, poor awareness & perceptions of hazards…be those developing or potential. A misunderstanding of how the body reacts to various physiological factors and a general attitude to risk avoidance!

However, what I have not seen is immediate and definitive changes to the system that places existing or new drivers and riders on our roads and provides an evolving road environment for which to travel on! Nor is there a system provided for public access to information of accident investigations, nor is there public recommendations that may help road users avoid similar situations. Apart from…”Be careful, slow down…etc”

The problem with changing systems is that it takes a real will of policy makers and road designers to change their ways of thinking and also to invest public monies in public works. 

The two main obstacles to change or to address real hidden safety issues is funding and traditional thinking. 

By continuing to follow existing design practices or training & education doctrine, then there will not be an evolving road and transport system with evolving road users, rather there will be a stagnant system with road users just coping, hoping and learning by experience!

Of course funding is claimed as one of the greatest limiting factors to change. We as road users don’t really want to pay more taxes to improve roads, but we also want our roads fixed and we want them fixed quickly.

E.g. I know of a roundabout/intersection that had cracks, potholes and ripples in the surface. There were repeated calls for it to be repaired, but it took over 5yrs for it to be repaired to an acceptable level, especially for motorcyclists. Riders would have to adopt a coping mechanism to ride in that area, but the problem was still there just waiting for the next unsuspecting rider to come unstuck!

E.g. I know of a stretch of road that was never treated with anti icing during the winter months and it would regularly have ice patches form. There were repeated accidents on this stretch of road and numerous of which I attended. I asked the local police many times at the scenes of these accidents if they could arrange for the road to be treated, but they were unwilling to make immediate arrangements. It would have to go up the chain of command and then there would be a request to the local authorities if appropriate.

I asked at the time… “What about the next accident that will surely happen soon…how can we prevent that?” 

The reply was… “They’ll just have to go slower!”

I asked… “Can’t you warn drivers that the road isn’t treated and they should be extra vigilant?”

The reply was… “I’ll see if I can get the local council to put up a sign!”

Three weeks passed before the one sign appeared only at one end of the road. A few weeks later, there was another accident…again a skid on the ice. The driver had come from the other direction and had not seen a sign, so the inevitable happened.

On this occasion, I asked again if the road cold be treated and I received a similar non committed response.

This time when I got into work, I called the local authorities directly and spoke to the department in charge. I explained who I was and what I did for a living with the air ambulance and that I had just attended another accident on this stretch of road. 

I asked if they had plans to treat or could make arrangements for the road to be treated in the future. They replied that they were not aware of this issue and the very next day they would start the treatment on that particular busy stretch of road.

Why did it take so long for the authorities to realise there was an issue and why was a reaction lethargy?…I really don’t know why! 

What’s wrong with riders and drivers who have accidents or cause near misses? Well there are many reasons and many times those involved do not realise that what they are doing is actually dangerous for themselves or other road users. I’m not talking about an acceptable risk either, I’m talking about a practice that will likely cause an accident and injury.

What’s wrong with the system? Well there are many deficiencies, but at the centre, is the system that is not self aware! It is not open to interrogation and testing, it is not asked questions when accidents occur. For this reason, roads are not changed, redesigned or planned to move with the evolving times. Training, education and testing changes very little and so the inherent issues remain…such as a more involved understanding of other road users in the road environment…e.g. drivers should learn more about motorcycle use! General communication and public information is minimal so that the real causes are kept hidden, so accidents simply repeat themselves…it’s inevitable!

So what can you do?

Well you can cope better, you can identify more clearly and recognise those situations and factors that may lead to an accident or near miss. 

You can also be a growing number of voices that questions the validity of current thinking, that lobbies local authorities and governments to change or be open to new ideas.

You can be aware, you can get involved and you can make a difference! There are many issues and much room for improvement at many levels. Some will be particular to your local area and some will be generic, some we can learn from other regions or adopt their practices and some will be new ideas, strategies and experiments that may prove successful. 

This is an evolving system…and you can be part of it!

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