Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Sustainable Safety: A thorough look into each of the 5 principles. Part 5: State Awareness

OK, it's been a month since I last left off on this series. I am here to finish the job, and talk about how our human brains play a role in how safe our roads are through the Sustainable Safety principle of State Awareness. I got most of what I know about this from this document made by the SWOV.nl.

The main three things that this part focuses on is how capable you believe yourself to be, how capable you truly are, and how capable you are at adapting to things on the road, from an amber light to finding that a pedestrian is crossing in your path.

The first part, how capable you think you are at dealing with being a road user interacting with all of the things, deals with things like how you stressed you are (is there congestion, unfamiliar roads, you need to find a place to take a break and are tires, do you have a child whom you are late in picking up from, etc, ), how you think you can deal with the traffic situations, like what you believe you should do if you encounter things like a roundabout, a yield sign, an interchange ramp, etc. It also shows how you think you should behave in general. People often believe that certain dangerous things are in fact safe. Many people continue to talk on their cell phones, go 80 km/h on a 60 road (mom) in the built up area. And finally, many people get temporarily diminished in mental capability to be aware of what to do in traffic. You know these, alcohol, other drugs and medicines (that are also technically drugs) that make it harder for you to drive, cell phones and distractions in general, and a lack of rest. The latter one particularly affects truck drivers, who also happen to drive the largest vehicles. Put 2 and 2 together, and you get, 5, no just kidding, 4, or in other words, a crash (I read 1984 last week).

The second part, how capable you actually are at dealing with traffic, differs from the first in an important way. The first part is much more subjective. People have a bias towards themselves and those they trust. They believe that they are more capable than other people. We all have this bias in some way to some extent, and for you to say that you are affected by it less is actually an example. You also have less capability to even determine how capable you are if you are mentally diminished by disease, drugs, distractions, lack of rest, etc. Therefore, an objective, or at least as little subjectivity as possible, is essential. We need to objectively put as little stress on the road users too. This is one of the reasons why I support the non priority roundabouts for cyclists. You have too much to do at once. A priority crossing could be 10-20 metres away from the roundabout maybe, but not 6 and certainly not just a metre or so of curbing.

And the final part referenced in my source sheet is calibration. This probably isn't the best translation, and is probably better referred to as adaptation to challenges and situations you face. Either way, you need to be able to adapt your behavior to the changing road conditions. You need to be able to understand how to slow down, stop, change lanes, or make a turn. You need to know how to actually get off the road and into a rest area if you're tired. You also need to know how to get to the hospital if you're leg was tired, caused by a car running over it. You also need to know when to do these things as well. Even a simple lane change is more complex than you think. You need to know if you actually need to make a lane change, you need to know when it's legal, when there is a safe gap to do it with, you need to signal, make the lane change, keep your speed up and all the while, do everything else you need to do, like understand if a roundabout or traffic light is coming up (as might happen if you're making a left turn and you are currently in the outer lane of a 2*2 road), if you are keeping to the safe speed and in any case, under the legal limit.

These things can be a challenge under the best conditions, The Mythbusters shown that lane changing on a congested freeway can be quite stressful, even for well rested, non distracted and not intoxicated drivers. And because many drivers, especially after 11 PM, are tired, intoxicated and or distracted, it is even harder to make even a basic lane change. Alcolocks and tiredness sensors (like the kind that detect how often you stray out of your lane, how often you make unexpected speed ups and slow downs on an clear road, etc) can help, but there is a limit to how widespread these can be and it would take time for all cars operating on the road to have been made after a time when lane straying sensors became a part of all motor vehicles sold.

Mental capability is a huge part of how Sustainable Safety works. It's not just the bodies we have, it's also the mind we operate. I don't have a moral problem against adults drinking or getting high (on non dangerous things, please don't go around getting a few kilograms of meth to consume), having a texting chat with friends, or needing sleep, but just don't be doing these while needing your concentration, especially if you are or are about to be, a road user, and this goes for you too cyclists and pedestrians. Many crashes, especially into things like solid posts, bollards and curbs tend to happen under the influence. More than half of cyclists given a breathalyzer in Groningen at night were over the legal limit (.05%). It may or may not be legal, but the actual behavior of road users needs to be taken into account when designing roads, and this includes their capability to understand driving, cycling, walking or some other participation in traffic.

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