There was another crash on the Pacific Motorway this morning. Traffic was backed up for a good 10 km in one direction, and 15 in the other. The longest queue was on the non-crash side. According to the media: People were slowing down to look.
I say ‘Bollocks’.
I’ve driven past a ‘fresh’ crash. It had just happened on the other side of the barrier, a bare five metres away from me. People were still getting out, looking at the bent panels, trying to come to terms with this sudden interruption to their smooth and perfect lives, or simply going into shock. Others were stopping to help, phoning, making helpful gestures at the traffic still approaching. I saw no injuries, but there might have been.
It was on the other side of the barrier – YET I STILL SLOWED DOWN.
It’s compelling. Not sure why. Novelty factor? So unusual it catches the eye. Social code? We’re compelled to help. The Road Code? We’re required to help! And of course there’s the ‘Holy-crap-that-looks-bad/how-the-fuck-did-they-manage-to-do-that?‘ factor.
So I slowed down; 100 to maybe 80; then immediately resumed. “Nothing I can do. My duty is to not block up my side too.” Already too late. the next driver had to slow down too, or hit me, and they got an eyeful too. The same compulsion took hold; the same thoughts. Maybe they dropped 20km/h too. Whatever. But the wave had started.
Within 10 to 20 seconds, that spot would be going into .. not cardiac arrest .. more like ‘arterial congestion’. Regardless of whether people want to look or not, they’re forced to slow down by this self-perpetrating wave, and if you’ve been crawling for ages you’re going to be mad-curious to see why. The Train-Wreck Effect takes everyone over.
I caused it! Not because I’m a sicko feasting upon someone else’s misfortune; not because I’m a ‘rubber-necker’ … I caused it thanks to deep primal human impulse.
Screw you, judge-y fecking media pricks!
Anyway – this blog is about the other side, where people are dying. They need medics, stat!
I’ve seen awful crashes on that motorway, far worse. We crawl .. crawl .. and finally get our answers – “Holy crap, that’s bad. Fatality-grade, I reckon. … Poor buggers.” Mortality bites my emotional arse. Somberly, we take it in turn to edge into the only remaining free lane and get past. Up to that point it is UTTERLY congested; backed up for kilometres: well past the nearest on-ramp. Finally we hear the sirens and glance in our mirrors.
An ambulance comes creeping up behind us at 1 km/h. I do my best to edge over. It’s 3-lanes wide, no shoulders, there’s no break-down lane. We have to make room, but it takes ages because before I can edge forward & turn, so does the car in front of me, and the one in front of that, and so on. Thus an ambulance at Point-A is requiring the cooperation of drivers that are literally kilometers away, via Points B, C, D, E, … X, Y Z!
In my most recent experience, the nearest hospital was literally 100m away from the crash, but the ambulance had to on-ramp some 2km back. At 100km/h it could have arrived in 1 minute, but that day it took more like 10. (I wasn’t timing it, btw.) But I was busy thinking – “Why are they sending it up the blocked side when, on the other side of the crash, there are three lanes that are almost completely empty?”
INDEED. WHY NOT? To me it is utterly logical.
“Ah; but the problem”, as you quickly point out, “is the likelihood of head-on collisions.”
But hello-o: it’s a three-lane motorway. It’s carrying, at that point, exactly one lane’s worth of traffic and even that is choked down to almost nothing. Tons of room.
Here’s how it could be done:
1) New regulations, well promoted. 2) Remote-controlled lane-signals. 3) TOTAL closure of the next-nearest off-ramp to civilian traffic. 4) Immediate system deployment, as soon as traffic control is notified. 5) Emergency vehicles are then routed ‘backwards’ up that temporary on-ramp. 6) strategic cameras. 7) Rapid responders. 8) Drones.
Now the cameras mostly exist. The worst-case stretches of road are already well-known. Radio contact already exists, as do flashing lights, sirens, and a citizen-base that is only too willing to comply as long as they know it is going to be helpful.
Lane controls: You install a string of emergency lights (green/amber/red) coupled with text-based messages, ‘RIGHT LANE ONLY! STRICTLY 60KM (RADAR ON!) EMERGENCY VEHICLES USING LEFT & CENTRE LANES’. ‘THIS EXIT IS CLOSED! EMERGENCY VEHICLES ENTERING. USE NEXT EXIT’. Whatever it takes.
The thing is – every single driver on that near-empty stretch of motorway has only just passed the crash scene. They know exactly what this is all about. Unless they have absolutely no soul, they’ll want to help.
Finally, there’s always someone at every crash who gets out of his or her car and directs traffic. Sometimes very effectively. Willingly. Unpaid. Well TRAIN MORE! Pay people to train. Give them the equipment to carry in their car. And if they’re unlucky enough to be on-the-spot and they do have to step up and keep things going, hell: PAY THEM AGAIN!
And finally, DRONES. A drone hanger every 2 km could enable central operators to launch a first-response helicopter to the scene, getting essentials there incredibly fast. Not sure what, to be honest. A camera certainly, so that experts still travelling in land-based vehicles can be briefed, even see the images and request details as they approach. Visuals will enable lane-restrictions could be decided before a officials even get there. Fire-fighting drones? Medic drones? Drones that can deliver com-sets and instruct citizens trying their best to help?
We could cut ambulance and emergency-vehicle arrival times by huge margins. Save lives. Get the road cleared faster. Everyone wins. As long as there’s a willingness to do something a bit more obvious.