When professional and personal interests collide

A car-to-bicycle crash test

It’s been several months since I last updated this blog. A lot has happened since then.

In mid-December I picked up some race damage on my hand which made typing slow and awkward but made for a great bike racing story. Coupled with rapidly-approaching holiday commitments and consequent post-holiday catch-up at work, writing took a back seat to getting the cast off of my hand in time for my next race in mid-January (which I managed to do, salvaging respectable results in spite of being unable to ride the bike on anything but a trainer while wearing a cast until shortly before race day).

It might have made me less keen to update this blog, but it was a typical minor and inconvenient injury that comes with being an active competitor in a velocity-based sport.

A couple of weeks later I was rear-ended by a car while riding my bike to a weekend training ride with my racing team. This was a whole different situation. My injuries have been significant. It’s been four months since the collision, and my therapists cleared me to ride my bike only a couple of weeks ago.

The irony of being hit by a car, given my interest in risk and safety, isn’t lost on me. My personal and professional interests literally collided. The physical and psychological impacts of a driver’s poor decisions were severe enough that many things, including writing here, have had to take a back seat to recovery while I tried with varied success to stay on top of existing professional and family obligations. Recovery from my injuries has been a difficult and time-consuming process, and there’s a lot of work left to do. But it could have been a lot worse, and I’m thankful for that.

It’s striking how an event like this transforms an intellectual and rather abstract interest in safety, and makes it very real is an all-too-concrete sense. As someone who has spent much of his professional life dealing with the aggregate statistics of adverse events, such personal experience provides a much-needed renewed appreciation that behind health statistics lies flesh and blood, and that long after an event is recorded, long-term effects may linger.

It also underscores how traffic “accidents” are seldom genuinely accidental, as they are almost always preventable and the result of operator error. As a social scientist, what I find more interesting is trying to better understand the root cause of these failures, including the elements of “road culture” that may play a role in such incidents. Given my recent experience, I’ve spent a lot of time asking questions like:

  • What can be done to instil a greater sense of responsibility amongst all road users where safety is concerned?
  • What actions can vulnerable road users take to protect themselves through improving driver behaviour?
  • What can vulnerable road users do to help them improve their position with respect to documentation, establishment of liability, and obtaining appropriate redress following an adverse traffic incident?

Traffic collisions aren’t accidents; they are individual and system failures. Road user education initiatives, regulatory and legislative change, modification of existing road infrastructure, and application of technology are all ways that the problem can be addressed. Research and evaluation on both incidents and the initiatives designed to prevent them is needed if we wish to continue making progress on the prevention of injury on our roads.