Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remember, remember the 4th of November.

Ok the saying is the 5th, but for a small group of families, and many onlookers and other parties involved. Involved in what you might ask. Well it is the colossal crash on the M5 I am talking about.
A week of so ago I started to write an entry here about how we, the public, interact with the roads, and where our responsibilities lay. From speed to awareness, quite simply if we are not willing to take on these responsibilities then we should not drive, at all.
For a long time now the training of news drivers has seemed somewhat inadequate, and the permission given to a newly qualified driver seems a little too generous at times. After learning the basics of operating a car and passing a test, we then spend the rest of our lives honing our skills, and deciding how we will drive. Speed, mannerisms, respect for others etc, this is all decided way after passing our tests.

Sadly, after passing our test, most feel confident and competent, and as soon as that belief arrives the level of concentration dwindles. Mobile phones, maps, sat navs, drinks, sandwiches... The list is endless, but either way, what is actually happening on the road we are throwing 1.5 tonnes of metal down doesn't seem to matter too much.

What I am getting at is, the average driver is far too easily distracted, chooses not to pay enough attention, and most have the 'it won't happen to me' attitude.

So back to the M5. The first I heard was on the news late Friday evening, a multiple vehicle smash, mangled wreckage and fire... Never a good piece of breaking news. As it became topic on Facebook a friend who works as a medic out that way advised me he was on scene and things were looking grim for many. For Simon to say something like that meant things were clearly bad. As the news has continued to report, the truth of what happened and the more realistic death toll are slowly coming out. At this point there are 7 dead and a number left in critical condition.

So what on earth causes an accident like this, fog, stationary traffic hit by an out of control lorry, ice maybe? Well the usual suspects were first to be blamed, following too close, to high a speed for the conditions etc. However from early on I was privy to the true suspect... Fireworks. Those being treated on scene all spoke of a huge firework display just off the motorway seemed to have caught everyone's eye... Possibly even the drivers.

As the word finally filtered through to the media, and it became their focal point to blame for the accident, the reports and interviews started, as did the debates on the radio. And suddenly the idiots start coming out of the woodwork. The mainstream interviews with witnesses just added weight to the fact that the display was still going when the crash occurred, and the more who came forwards, the more that it confirmed that fireworks were going to be the main factor.

So the idiots that I speak of, who are they? Well last night while driving I was listening to a chat show on the radio, and one particular gent seemed quite convinced that he was the voice of the masses. He described how when driving at this time of year, fireworks are 'always' going off just above the cars or the carriageways, and the automatic reaction is to lean forwards, look up and ask 'what on earth was that'. Explaining that everyone does it.

Well dear chap, if this is how easily distracted you are, may I suggest you stop driving immediately. And if you are reading this now thinking I'm being unfair, may I also suggest you too consider your ability to drive, especially at speed on motorways. Yes of course things will catch our eye from time to time, but unless you are required to take immediate action, there is really no need to start staring at things when you are travelling great distances per second.
This behaviour can be tied in to a single category, rubbernecking. We are curious by nature, no doubt about it. However we can make the final decision about what we concentrate on. Everyday on the roads, thousands of people are caught in sometimes huge traffic jams, miles of tailbacks due to an accident. Maybe a multi vehicle, or just a single vehicle, but once we see those blue flashing lights we HAVE to know what's going on. The people sitting in the tailback I speak of are NOT in the same carriageway as the accident, no, they are passing in the other direction. However they are SO intent on having a 3 second glimpse at why there are blue flashing lights, they will slow down on a live flowing motorway from 70+mph to about 20-30mph to make sure they see the misfortune for themselves for a extra second.

Once the first car has slowed, its all over. The traffic behind has to slow too, and as the average speed up to the incident drops, it is only human nature to have a look for yourself, so the speed drops and drops until people are now passing at 5-10mph. Hundreds if not thousands of motorists caught in this never ending cycle now, all passing and feeling the need to catch a glimpse. Spending sometimes upwards of an hour sitting in traffic on a motorway carriageway what has NOTHING wrong with it, no blockage, no incident, just nosey people.

Going back to an earlier entry I spoke of observers and players. These people are 99% observers. No interest in stopping to assist if they could, no, they just want to see it. Once I was driving on the A217 and joined the tail end of a small tailback. Looking up the road there was a car on its roof, another heavily damaged car, and a whole load of parked cars. The strange part was there was hardly one person out of their car. The accident had just happened, but the traffic I was sitting in was purely people just looking on to see how it would unfold. No obstruction on our side, just nosey people. Being a player I found a safe point to stop, and got started helping the injured. With the help of a lorry driver, and a few other people we got everyone assessed, emergency services mobilised, and the scene safe. As for the others, well they stayed stationary watching us work.

Rubberneckers, nosey people, observers, call them what you want, but in this situation they are a liability. Not only because lack of concentration can cause an accident, but then by the nosey behaviour of them, the roads become snarled up, emergency services struggle to get to the scene, and in the worst case scenario, there is another accident.

In one incident quite a few years back there was a large multiple vehicle crash on a motorway (following are guestimates based on recollection) With somewhere in the region of 80-90 vehicles 'involved'. The main impact area then turned into a fireball, and there was loss of life. When I refer to involved, not all cars were in the main area, and some were damaged through taking evasive action further back up the carriageway. However, my point on this story is the reaction from the other side. Rubbernecking started, and as emergency services began arriving on the affected side, a crash began on the rubberneck side. From recollection this incident ended up with something like 103 cars involved, and a higher loss of life than the initial accident they were all so keen to see.

I will wrap this bit up by saying I know we are curious by nature. Nosey about everything, and that's what helps humans develop and learn, its 'human nature'. But we are also intelligent creatures, and can decide between the right and wrong time and method of learning. To understand burning or electrocution we accept what we read, and learn from experience of others and choose not to be involved just for knowledge. We can do that too when we are driving. A firework going off, an accident at the side of the road, or even an person we are attracted walking up the road (yes the number of rear-ending accidents spikes in the summer for this reason) , choose NOT to be distracted please, and maintain responsibility for your vehicle and your actions.

Next time you see blue lights at the side of the motorway think this instead, something has happened and help is now on scene, you are not able and probably not willing to help, so look away, move on and just be grateful we have these people in vehicles with blue lights to be there when we need them.

Since I started this blog last night (5th Nov) there has been another multi vehicle crash, details are as follows...

"Six people have been injured in a crash involving 11 vehicles on the M6 motorway in Lancashire.

Police said the crash involved seven cars and four lorries and happened close to junction 29, near Leyland, south of Preston, at about 01:40 GMT."

This time thankfully a lot smaller and no loss of life. But the big question is, why does everyone drive so bloody close together! That's another story!

RIP those lost on the M5

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