November last year I was caught using my mobile phone while driving. A police van drove alongside me and asked me to pull into a side lane where they spoke with me very politely and took down my details. A few weeks ago a letter arrived in the post requesting me to book a session with the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS).
As I was making my way there, I was unsure of what to expect. Would I be the only one there? How would I be treated? I am an ‘offender’ after all. Having never been in a position like that I was preparing myself for a moral lecture!
I gingerly entered the room in a hotel basement where I was asked to report. To my surprise there were at least 23 other people there. It was a well lit room with 4 round tables and six chairs around each one. There were still and sparking water bottles on each table. The audio-visual set-up was snazzy and the two traffic policemen conducting the workshop had a lovely sense of humour. They treated us like respectable human beings with respectable human frailties. They had an exploratory approach to learning and arriving at possible conclusions together. It was an interesting and thought provoking afternoon.
Here are some of the things I learnt:
- In the UK every 3 hours someone lands up in Casualty due to someone else jumping a red light.
- Speeding is still the leading cause of fatalities: 25%. (down from 75%, 30-40 years ago).
- Using mobile phones while driving kills more people on the road than drunk driving – 16% versus 15%
- 95% of fatalities on the roads are caused by human factors and 5% by general mechanical failure or ‘acts of God’ like a tree falling on top of a car.
- We are biased in one way or another: Superiority bias ‘I am a very good driver, better than most others’ and Optimistic bias ‘Car crashes only happen to other people’.
- Devices (mobiles, sat-navs and entertainment systems) and distractions (conversations) are a big part of the problem.
- Poor decision making is often due to emotions like fear, anxiety, sadness or anger.
In the world of aviation, human factors are very much talked about because when a plane crashes many lives are lost along with the pilot’s. It is now acknowledged that human errors are the main culprit in road fatalities. It is encouraging that public conversations in prevention of road deaths are taking place. 1713 people died on the roads in 2014. More than 6000 died of suicide in the same year.Isn’t it time for us to talk about the role of human factors in Suicide Prevention publicly?