Why do Accidents Happen, Really?

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    Vince Sunter

    In our personal lives accidents, are relatively rare – as in it is a long time since we or someone we know was involved in a serious or fatal accident. Even lesser accidents are not that common in our lives. But in our population they are commonplace. We have a big problem, but individually we are not all that aware of it. So lots of us are doing a pretty good job “out there”, greatly aided by technological and infrastructure advances the statistics would suggest as it turns out we are not really that good ourselves. We do have the bonus problem that 80% of us believe we are above average drivers, really!

    My observations through life is that accidents happen when three things go wrong simultaneously. Even a misalignment of a few seconds is enough for “a miss”, and it may not even look like a close call, even if it was. So be tailgating that car and there is one you are carrying around with you all the time. Add that phone ring or that need to change the radio station or that dropped bit of hamburger and you have the momentary distraction and we are into the Clint Eastwood “feeling lucky, punk” zone. Is this the moment that car backed out of its driveway or that kid’s ball went on the road? Or that pedestrian slipped or was being a bit silly? Usually, the answer is no. But when it is yes we immediately have a big situation.

    When you went to pick up that bit of dropped hamburger did you mean to kill somebody? Would you have gone out today if you knew that might happen? Obviously not, but other people do these things, not you, right? Sadly, not true. So you can bet in a simulator we will be ringing YOUR phone (that you put on the form) and there will be a kid running out in front of you, or the vehicle to your left will start to merge because they put their blinker on and you were supposed to have got out of their way (considering how extremely important they are, in their own lunchbox) so you didn’t get a chance to get out of the way / sound a warning / whatever. And here you are hurtling down the road sideways wondering if the car safety cocoon is going to do its job or some immovable object is going to squash the life out of you.

    Scenarios like that are obvious ones to work lesson plans around. Distractions from within the car, eg passengers, are another worthwhile area. But what else do we work on? How do we teach people to see the traps of fatigue, which is another big killer? Drunk suits or drug suits may be part of the experience, or a version thereof?

    I do intend to spend time in hospitals chatting to anyone that is good for it about what caused their accident, and see what can be learnt from that. I also recognise there is some really good quality research that will provide great pointers, some of which can be found in the External Reference Info page here.

    Happy to hear input from anyone on this (or any!) topic, please do chime in with your thoughts…

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