Thursday, 23 September 2010

Speed camera defences are facile and unhelpful

Recently, while riding or driving, I have done the following obviously dangerous things
  • Strayed onto a white line in the pouring rain, and had the bike slip sideways in the middle of a corner.
  • Almost pulled out in front of a car because it was 2am and I had a lapse of concentration.
I have been threatened by other road users in the following ways:
  • Overtaking vehicle leaving its wheels in my lane, next to me, while looking at something else.
  • Vehicles cutting in front while driving slower than me, making me brake sharply.
  • Vehicles trying to merge into me.
  • Vehicles starting to merge in front of me while I was overtaking.
  • Vehicles creeping into road in front of me from a side street, leaving me unsure what its intentions were.
That's just what I can remember, right now.

Notice anything about all of those? Notice any uniting factors?

There were two of them:
  1. They all involved lapses of judgement, and (with one arguable exception) concentration, and;
  2. None of them involved exceeding the speed limit
And yet, the one message we have rammed down our throats is "Speed kills!", "Don't speed!", "Speeding fines are for your own good!"

The most obvious reason is, of course, that speeding is easy to police and it's a low-hanging fruit: Set up fixed cameras with radar/laser attached, set up mobile cameras and leave them, put automatic equipment in patrol cars.

It's much harder to police fatigue, much harder to police inattention (although very obvious when the inattention leads to something dangerous actually occurring), much harder to police drug and alcohol usage (just look at the effort involved in running a random breath test) and much harder to police the road rules in general, although we do have red light cameras.

I have four basic issues with the campaign against speeding:
  1. It focuses on a factor which has been identified, at various times, in various jurisdictions, as being quite a minor contributor to accidents fatal or otherwise;
  2. It is conducted in a way which is offensive to the intelligence of all road users;
  3. It obscures the far more important discussion of driving technique and skill;
  4. I do not remember any sensible discussion justifying this focus, merely scattered claims in advertising.
You could also add: I've never seen any sensible explanation for why speed limits are set the way they are, or justification that they are anything but arbitrary.

And now here we have another contribution, an opinion piece submitted to the Courier Mail from the chief executive officer of RiverCity Motorway, the organisation running the clusterfuck that is the Clem 7 tollway tunnel:

Speed cameras help keep Clem 7 on the road to safety.

When you read this article, you at first don't notice that it's anything but a news story. Then it dawns on you that it's editorialising a bit, then it gets personal, then you look down the end to notice the byline.

Online, this needed to have been flagged as a column from the very start.

The big problem with this article is illustrated right here:
For those people who don't believe speed cameras are an important road safety measure it is worth looking at the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, which opened in 1992 without speed cameras. In 1997, it became the first road in NSW to have fixed speed cameras installed.

This action was taken when it was found that 30 per cent of drivers using the tunnel exceeded the speed limit by 20km/h or more. The highest recorded speed in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was 199km/h.

After the cameras were installed, the percentage of speeding motorists fell dramatically.

Closer to home, the speed cameras inside the Clem7 are in place to safeguard the people who use the tunnel. Speed cameras are the only practical method for speed enforcement in tunnels.
I would like you to notice that at no point in those four paragraphs was there any mention of any accident, crash, injury, fatality, minor bingle, brief nudge, complaint, collision or scrape.

No logical pathway, in fact, from "For those people who don't believe speed cameras are an important safety measure" to "speed cameras inside the Clem7 are in place to safeguard the people who use the tunnel."

No mention of whether the dramatic fall in speeding in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was in any way, shape or form associated with a drop in accident rate.

Speeding is wasteful in fuel, reduces safety margins, is potentially rude and, in traffic, hazardous if you puts you at a different speed to everyone else. The faster you hit something the more damage you do, but this bald claim? I'd like to see anyone get this through an undergraduate essay in any science or otherwise research discipline.

So I have to ask: Have people become so used to seeing the proof that they assume it, and skip over the bit in the middle? Or is this just a debate that runs on unthinking consensus, ideological certainty?

If it's run on proof, then more of that needs to come out in the public debate.

At the moment, there are two factors limiting my speed: What I think is safe, and: the likelihood of getting fined and losing licence points.

And a slavish adherence to the big black numbers in the red circle doesn't seem to have anything to do with what I think is safe. Far more important to me is the behaviour of other road users, the quality of the road, how awake and focused I am, the light conditions, the atmospheric conditions, the vehicle I'm on or in, and the likelihood of somebody or something running across the road in front of me.

I have become used to people I overtook back there overtaking me here because my reading of the conditions made me slow down. I'm used to people who do 75 in the 80 zone then doing 75 in the 70 zone. I've become used to people doing 70 in the 80 zone who do 60 in the roadworks 40 zone, crowding me or trying to get past while I'm riding 2 metres from people wielding shovels.

Speeding? That's the least of the things I worry about.

At the end of this abysmal, preaching article there is this:
It is very pleasing that the vast majority of motorists are driving safely through the tunnel.
And the only evidence presented is that only .5% of motorists have collected a speeding fine.

It's very difficult to have any faith in the ability of any authority to manage any roads when this is the quality of their debate.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The only motivational technique you will ever need!

I believe I have found the most reliable possible method of overcoming procrastination.

Oh, the internet is full of them - planning, project-management, Gantt charts, timers long or short, quiet environments, music (but only the right sort), changes of scenery, turning off the internet, using different web browsers for work and for play, caffeine, alcohol where appropriate, abstinence from chemical aids, fitness, time of day, time of night, calculating your biorhythms, use of tools, abandoning tools, positive attitudes, mantras, self-checking...

The list goes on.

All of them, however, skirt around the edges of the greatest method of all, the one I'm employing right now to write this blog post (and the last one), a method which ties right in with human psychology:

Having something more important to do.

It's that easy.

If you're sitting down and there are several things you could be doing, and the clock's ticking on one of them, what will you actually be doing?

That's right. Not the important one. Suddenly, you will get an inspiration for a blog post that isn't actually all that important.

Suddenly you will remember the email you had to reply to, but it's just a friend and it could wait.

Suddenly you remember that in two weeks a bill will be due, so you may as well pay it now.

Suddenly you get inspiration for the next-but-one article, rather than the one the editor is actually waiting for right now.

You will do everything, in fact, except that task you know backwards, know how to do, need to get done yesterday, but haven't quite managed to build up momentum on yet.

Therefore, if you want to get something done, you have to find something more important you should be doing. The trick here, of course, is to not use techniques guaranteed to get you fired, divorced, kicked out of home or held on child neglect charges.

No. You have to be subtle about this. You have to talk yourself into the sure and certain knowledge that it is absolutely vital that you right now do the dishes because, really, they're disgusting and there are things breeding on the two cups and the bowl sitting rinsed on the draining board waiting to be washed in six hours when there are enough dishes there to justify it.

Have you swept the floors lately? Well get a move on! Don't you know your neighbours will sneer at you if those three stray dog hairs are left lurking in the corner? You filthy pig! (N.B.: No offence is meant towards any members of the pig family, who are clean, intelligent, and only have a bad reputation due to misunderstandings and poor farming conditions).

Have you taken a walk around the garden lately? You lazy slob! Get to it!

After you write another two pages, of course. Just those, then you can get some exercise. It'll be fine, really.

Motorbike accidents in the media - Part 16

Anyone want to guess if there are 16-cylinder motorbikes out there? Drop me a line if you find one.

A brief four articles today, to catch up to mid September:

We start with a rare report of a non-fatal collision, from August 27, the Courier Mail giving us Woman hurt in crash between motorbike and lorry at New Farm.

Another CM story, another tedious headline.

There is a weird atypical quotation mark in the last paragraph.

"Woman motorbike rider" is clumsy, "she collided with a truck" needs supporting evidence, and I would be interested to know who was going where, who had right of way and what the truck was doing at the time.

Not a particularly well written article, a hurriedly edited one, and overall unsatisfying.

From September 7, the CM also gives us Motorcyclist killed in car collision at Finnie, outside Toowoomba

I can only assume they have a reason for these headlines. There must be a reason.

Six paragraphs, all quite tight and concise but with one clumsy and poorly placed comma, the last paragraph an update on the yearly road toll figures.

Collision between car and bike, 30yo male rider died at scene.

The Toowoomba-Karara Rd is a bit winding, so all the usual country-road risks apply: suspect edges, casual attitude to driving, temptation to go faster than the road affords, loose or compromised surface, etc.

A concise news article, with little information but no randomly thrown quotes or assumptions, either.

From September 9, the CM also gives us Man dies in scooter crash in South Brisbane

A headline that could be improved, but at least this one isn't trying to be a paragraph unto itself.

Eight paragraphs, two different quoted sources, a bit of information and a very oddly worded intro: "A man in his early 20s has died after an accident involving a scooter". What? Was he riding it, or not? Was he a pedestrian?

Further down we are forced to assume he was riding, and appeared to have collided with a power pole.

Bizarrely, he may have been travelling with another scooter at the time. So where, pray tell, did they go? And who called the ambulance?

Most odd.

The article could have been tighter, but the comment below it is a classic - sincere, concerned, stating that the law is ridiculous because riding "these things" doesn't need a bike licence whereas young motorcyclists are restricted by tight laws.

Unfortunately, the article didn't say what type of scooter it was, and he may have had a bike licence. The laws restricting beginner riders don't guarantee good training and don't prevent you getting your hands on something quite capable of getting you in serious trouble, and without knowing a lot more about the accident there is no way of telling that any licensing or training would have made a blind bit of difference.

One more, from  September 16 and, yes, the CM again (deep breath): Motorcyclist killed after losing control of bike while overtaking on Bruce Highway at Chevallum (breath out)

I would like to point out that the RSS headline was "Biker killed while overtaking". Sigh.

Ten paragraphs and a call to send in tributes. One other odd quotation mark.

This time, a photo, showing a bike a bit sporty and with considerable rear-end, not front-end, damage, which supports the claim he lost control before hitting the truck, and a spot where I would not have been trying to overtake at all - two lanes and a corner with impaired visibility.

Finally, we have enough eyewitness reports for a decent article - he was seen overtaking other vehicles and "braking heavily" (subjective) before losing control.

Nowhere in the article does it say he hit a truck - just in the photo caption. What the? Wasn't it most likely that impact which killed him, not tumbling along the road?

"Speeding by the motorcycle was a significant factor", Sgt Crowley said. Which seems justified, but he may have been exceeding the speed limit or may have just been overtaking in a stupid manner but inside the speed limit, or may have judged it well then hit a spot of diesel oil on the road.

Also: "was seen overtaking vehicles in the left-bound lane". Left relative to what, exactly?

We finish with some human-interest background profile stuff.

This article was decently written in a very local-paper manner, but it desperately, desperately needed more editing.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Motorbike accidents in the media - Part 15

I shouldn't need to say this, but: No, I don't know of any 15-cylinder motorbikes.

It's been three weeks since my last post - where did they go?

Before I start: I have, in the past, abused (with love) the Queensland Times for their RSS feeds, which consisted of a headline and then a description field filled with a copy of the headline. They have now fixed that, and have a proper, informative,  good RSS feed again. Well done.

Today we have four different takes on the same story - the death of an 18yo who hit a truck on the Brisbane Valley Highway west of Brisbane at 5.50am (AEST) on Friday August 27.

In purely alphabetical order we have:

From the ABC News Online: Motorcyclist killed

A pithy title, no? The article describes three separate accidents. The last one is a motorised skateboard, for extra dark-humour value.

Three paragraphs for the bike accident, with a police comment and a note that emergency crews are there and the highway is partially closed.

Nothing to say against this article - I'm guessing it was written from a traffic updates-style radio list.

From the Courier Mail: Teenage motorcyclist dead after collision with truck near Ipswich

Once again, another long CM headline.

Much more informative, concisely written, only a few instances of sentences straining at the seams to fit facts in, one misplaced comma, useful details of what the road closure diversions are, and an unattributed "Excessive speed is considered a factor in the crash."

At 5.50am the highway should have been fairly open, however the Brisbane Valley Highway is one of those two-lane country roads that winds up hill and down dale, trees up to the edges and driveways and towns popping up at random intervals, so dodging somebody else is difficult at best.

That note about speed is my only issue with this otherwise well written article: Why? Looking at the description, the fact that a truck could pull out of a driveway far enough for the bike to hit its trailer suggests that, yes, the bike was going too fast for the conditions. Possibly over a crest, possibly around a corner, possibly just being stupid.

But forgive me for not even slightly trusting an authority who says "Excessive speed is believed to be a factor" without some sort of justification, and that should be noted by the reporter and inserted in the report. "Police say the motorcyclist's inability to stop may have been due to excessive speed" would be good. Just "Yes, he was probably speeding." sounds far too much like towing the party line and jumping to easy assumptions in the face of inadequate information, and it is the job of journalists to hold authority figures honest and make them explain themselves.

Finally, from the local QT: Motorcyclist dies in crash.

The ABC said "about 6am", the CM said "about 5.50am", the QT said "about 5.45am." Um...?

Two paragraphs, which really didn't warrant the use of the word "horrific" in the lead. The second paragraph also looks like three which were joined together by poor formatting. Speaking of poor - "riding a motorcycle, which collided with a truck" is not only my pet peeve of attributing intent to that which is inanimate, but is one of the most egregiously misplaced commas I've yet seen.

I'd also be interested to know if the QT has an opinion about "a" or "an" before "horrific", but that's just a matter of interest.

A poorly written article, but I can't really quibble about the contents.

But wait, there's more!

The very next day, the QT had a proper full-length treatment: Teen dies in bike smash

This time, a definite time of 5.40am, and details including name of the rider and where he was going.

Some casual language, which looks odd but that may just be me, but some good use of the police spokesman and a nicely, classically constructed article let down a little by a couple of instances of poor subbing ("SHE told him", for example).

And, ha-ha, a direct quote from Snr Sgt McCrae: "We don't know if speed was a factor or why the truck driver didn't see him." Up yours, jumping-to-conclusions.

Unfortunately, the article says "the motorcyclist travelling south-bound". He was understood to have left his home south of the crash site and was on his way to work north of the crash site. Um, whoops?

If he was going north, towards Fernvale, but the truck had pulled out of a driveway heading towards Ipswich, which is south, then either the truck pulled across his lane into the south-bound lane, or swung all the way into the north-bound lane in order to exit its driveway. Either scenario left the rider nowhere to go around, leaving braking as the only option. Hmm...

This is otherwise a well done article, very neutral and free from editorialising or judging.

Moving on to a non-fatal collision this time, the CM gives us Woman hurt in crash between motorbike and lorry at New Farm.

Another CM story, another tedious headline.

Speaking of formatting, there is a weird atypical quotation mark in the last paragraph.

"Woman motorbike rider" is clumsy, "she collided with a truck" needs supporting evidence, and I would be interested to know who was going where, who had right of way and what the truck was doing at the time.

Not a particularly well written article, and an unsatisfying one.

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