The Butterfly effect of risk perception

Something happened last year which almost ended in a child losing his life, and the seeds of these events began 20 years ago.

It was a sunny autumn Monday morning, just on the cusp of rush hour on the outskirts of Norwich. The road on this particular day was pretty clear of traffic, and at half 8, it was a pretty normal morning.

This particular day was my first of a 3 day 1st aid training course, I’d had plenty of sleep and I’d consider myself pretty awake at this point. I had, as I’d done for the previous 3 months been listening to an audio version of revision material for my H&S exams which were booked the following month, so while my mind was on the road, my ears were firmly fixated on the radio.

The image below is a screen grab taken from the incident in question, take a mental note of the speed.

Now let’s go back to the year 2000. I was a cocky lad, just out of my teens, thought I knew it all, I’d been driving about a year and again, I thought I was some kind of special behind the wheel as most teenagers do when they get that green piece of paper. (millennials and gen x’s might need to google this!) Like most things in life nowadays, a qualification is not always proof of competency!

Nothing particularly bad has ever happened in my driving career, a few small bumps here and there, but nothing major. Though looking back as my older and slightly more educated self, I do now consider this luck and not down to any kind of skill, and I’ll come back to this point later!

So I finally got caught speeding. Not in my 2L GTI, in a van no less. 42 in a 30.

Luckily for me, and as it transpires, the child on his bike in the video clip 19 years later, I didn’t get points and a fine. Tony Blairs government had just brought in a brand-new concept in punishment for speeding offences.

The speed awareness course, good old restorative justice!

I shortly received a letter confirming a few dates to choose from, so I picked the soonest available. The venue. A fire station? At the time I thought it was an unusual place for such an event, but this makes more sense when on the night.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. We didn’t have google so I wasn’t able to research this beforehand. I must say, I thought I had a strong stomach before I went in, that night certainly changed this for me!!

Shock tactics were an understatement, far more graphic than any TV advert will allow. We were shown images of the deceased involved in RTA’s as they were known in those days. If they were occupants then some were still in the car, some had exited through windscreens. We were show pictures of body parts – real body parts, with the tags still on them, like price tags, placed on meat in the supermarket. Extremely gut wrenching and shocking stuff. But the worst was yet to come.

At the final part of the course, we were all frogmarched downstairs and out into the rear courtyard of the station and told to gather round an old Ford escort, hastily covered with a green tarpaulin. I must mention that the course did involve more than just slide shows, we were there to be educated and that’s exactly what was done throughout.

So after a few minutes of the station officer explaining the background of this sorry looking mark 4 escort. The driver had escaped with life changing injuries, but the occupant, not so.

When the tarpaulin was removed, I could only describe what I saw as what looked like watery dry mud on the inside of the glass and over the interior. This actually turned out to be the dead boys dry blood and brain matter. I’ll go no further with the details, but I’ll only say I wasn’t the same after that night.

I’m not entirely sure if these kind of tactics are allowed in the current days speed courses, but if not, they bloody should be.

Fast forward to 2006. We hear the news that my wife’s 5 year old cousin is hit by a car and killed.

My wife, Michelle, a florist does the flower arrangements for the funeral, which I helped with. Leeds united badge, a Power ranger arrangement and Disneys Nemo.

Help to make funeral flowers and go to a 5 year old childs funeral, killed on the road and tell me it doesn’t affect you. I don’t think so.

Some comfort could be sought, to think that this poor boy losing his life might well have saved countless lives in the years after this. Just because his story will have touched so many people and for some time after, a heightened awareness of speed, temporary speed checks, heightened police presence.

It is this part which resonates with my story on how I perceive hazards.

Now watch the full video here:

What can we conclude had an affect on the manner of my driving that day?

Would the outcome been different if I’d been handed a fine and points instead of RJ and not been educated on the risks of speeding. Or if my wifes 5 year old cousin had not stepped out into the road that day and been killed. Had I not been educating myself at the time with a health and safety qualification.

There are obvious other variables, such as weather, engineering/mechanical, that could have affected the outcome but I’m only concerned with the behavioural aspect of how I perceived the hazard of the boy falling into the road.

Each and every one of us is unique, we have our own lifetime of experiences to learn and develop from. Some of us might go our whole life not having a car crash-or workplace accident. Does it make you a good driver? Does it mean you are safe? Probably not, and like my younger self, I’d say lucky!

I might have had a perfect driving career up until this point and this child may not be here today.

So how do you manage a risk that is reliant on an infinite amount of variables?

There was one last thing I took away from the speed awareness course which has deep reaching parallels in Health and Safety when talking about risk is a thought experiment called ‘tullocks spike’ by a guy called Gordon Tullock. He suggested that to reduce road casualties, car manufacturers were to install a spike to the centre of the steering wheel, which would increase the probability of fatality to the driver, but by compensation, would lead to safer driving thus reducing driving fatalities and casualties.

While this example is extreme, it does highlight the fact we not only need risk, but to embrace risk in every aspect of our lives to be safe, not just work.

We all see hazards slightly differently based on our life experiences. If you’ve seen my video on my work experience in hazard perception, you will see that one hazard can easily be missed by many different people on many different occasions. Finally taking 1 person, with their own unique life experience to spot the hazard.

If there is one thing we should take away from this, we should respect everyone’s view.

We all have our own unique experiences to bring to the table and it may save a life one day.

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