Pulling Together

Road and Air Safety: a contrast

I’d been out for a day. I had done more driving than expected and I was hungry. The car was low on petrol and I had needed to stop on the way home to get some. I wanted to get home and have something to eat. Instead I bought a bar of chocolate at the petrol station because I needed to get some shopping before I could go home.

As I reached the roundabout I saw a large van pulling off at the exit onto the other carriageway, cutting off approaching traffic. The road between myself and the van was empty, so I pulled out. A moment later a cyclist in a bright yellow jacket appeared in my headlights and I had to brake hard. The car skidded on the wet road but I kept control and stopped in time.

I watched the departing cyclist. Not only was he wearing a high-visibility jacket but his red lights were clearly on. Did he have a front light? I saw a faint sign of a white glow on the road in front of him. Evidently he did, so why had I not seen him? He had right of way and if I had hit him it would have been my fault. I was puzzled by this.

As I continued my journey I reflected on what would have happened if I had been piloting an aircraft. I would have reported the near miss to authorities, who would have investigated how this had happened with a view to eliminating the cause. The aviation industry’s no-blame culture of incident reporting is famous for enabling lessons to be learnt for public benefit. How many more people are killed or injured on the roads? How preventable would these be if there were the same kind of incident reporting and analysis contributing to driver training and road design? Of course, it would not be possible to make a detailed human analysis of every single incident, but artificial intelligence screening might flag up common or particularly dangerous cases needing solutions.

Then I wondered whether drivers would be reluctant to co-operate with such a scheme. They might worry insurance companies would use the data to identify and penalise those who reported incidents. That would punish conscientious public spirit alongside more-careless or less-skilled drivers. The database would have to be protected against potential misuse by rigorous laws and security to maintain driver confidence.

Yet, with public support, the potential to reduce the harm to real people from miscalculations or poor design on the roads would surely be justified by the reduced death and injury, and I might have answers to my questions: did I fail to look thoroughly enough, was the road layout such that some parts of it were out of sight while I was looking in the direction of the van covering the previous entry point, or did the cyclist illegally enter the roundabout by an unintended route?

At least, I would know which lesson I had to learn.

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