Monday, March 3, 2014

Editorial: Predictability is the name of the game

In society, we have rules. Some of them are written in the form of law, others are unwritten and simply understood by all. When it comes to road use, most of the rules are well defined, whether you are behind the wheel of a car, riding atop a two-wheeled conveyance, or traversing the streets by foot. Many of the rules are intended to make it so that when our various and disparate forms of transportation meet each other out on the road, we know what to expect and how to react. Making these interactions predictable means safer roads for everyone.

So what happens when someone decides to be unpredictable? In 2009, there were 10.8 million motor vehicle accidents on our roads. That encompasses accidents between cars and just about every other possible road user imaginable. It is likely that many of those accidents were preventable had one or more of the parties involved been more predictable in their behavior. By following the laws, we allow others around us to be able to better anticipate our actions and thus operate more safely.

For example, a driver commuting to work in a large city like Washington, DC is likely to encounter other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians on even the shortest commute. If this driver behaves in a predictable manner - using their turn signals, stopping for pedestrian crosswalks, yielding to others in a roundabout - then the other road users around them know what to expect and will not only anticipate his actions, but likely respond in kind with predictable actions of their own. However, when any one road user become so engrossed in something other than being attentive to their surroundings, then it is possible for chaos to break out.

A pedestrian carelessly stepping into the road without checking for traffic, eyes looking only at the display of the smartphone in their hand, might cause a near collision because a driver is not expecting a person to suddenly appear in their path.

A cyclist failing to stop at a stop sign results in a driver slamming on his brakes and nearly causing the driver behind him to nearly cause a rear-end collision.

A driver crossing a bike path to enter a right turn lane fails to signal or to check to see if a cyclist is approaching and causes the cyclist to swerve into a traffic lane to avoid the accident.

A motorcyclist stuck in traffic decides that instead of waiting with everyone else, he is going to use the bike lane and completely disregards the bicycle traffic already in the lane.

All of these are examples of when people have failed to observe the need for predictable behavior and the outcome is almost always a little bit chaotic. As road users, we need to reform the way we think about our interactions with each other. Every action should be considered in the context of, "Will the other people around me expect me to act in this manner?" and if the answer is no, then another course of action should be pursued. This sort of thinking should be ingrained in us as a part of the education we receive to operate a bicycle or motor vehicle and would go a long way towards making our roads safer for everyone.

Tags: automotive, bicycle, driver education, motorcycle, pedestrian, safety