1 Apr 2017

The part of my job I hadn't thought of

I initially wanted to be a transport engineer because I wanted to solve problems by creating more efficient travel options. But having returned from a conference with the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ) Transportation Group and hearing various presentations on safety, I had a shift in mindset.

We listened to engineers, researchers, people from NZ Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport, even the police on various aspects of road safety. The one that got me most was the talk on suicide prevention; but that's a different topic altogether. Regardless, the message was clear; we can be better designers. We can encourage safer road use.
NZ Police and their perspective at IPENZ conference
As part of my job, I undertake crash analysis. This involves reading reports written by police after a reported crash. This analysis helps engineers decide on how to improve the road. The historical data backs up future design. Everything has to be written as factual as possible, there is (not supposed to be) any one-sidedness. The report should read "this is what happened". The report reads cold and impersonal. But it is far from that.

Last week I read in a report that a 6 year old girl was hit by a car reversing out of a driveway. A wheeled pedestrian, age 80, was involved in a crash. A 21 year old was hit crossing the road on their way to the airport.

The causes vary; inattentive drivers, visibility obstructed, driver under the influence of alcohol, failure to give way, road rage... As funny as road rage implies, in the end someone got hurt, if not physically then emotionally. Most crashes are preventable. Every crash is personal.

At the IPENZ conference we got shown dashcam and CCTV footage of crashes. Photos of aftermath and absolute carnage.

Preventable and personal.

The NZ Transport Agency launched a campaign in 2014 to "personalise and humanise people cycling" 1. You might've seen the cyclists with "Dad" or "Auntie" printed on their hi-vis. It reminds people that they're not just a bike to overtake.
"See the person, share the road" campaign. My friend, Michael, on the right
One of the things that caught my attention during my first ever lecture of transport engineering at uni (the lecture that changed it all) was that we can design the safest road possible, but it is still up to the driver to make decisions.

It is the engineers' job to ensure our roads are self-explaining, intuitive and forgiving.
It is the drivers' job to ensure that road rules are followed. We should leave enough time so we don't feel inclined to speed or cut in. We should figure out the route so we don't end up making dangerous turns. The text message can wait.

So I had a shift in mindset. I hadn't given much thought about safety til now, I was rapt by the other meaning of 'liveable' cities. I want everyone to be able to have options for how to travel from Point A to Point B. But most of all, I want everyone to make it to Point B.

Here's to a safe and sustainable future.



NZ Transport Agency. 'Share the Road Avertising". Retrieved from  http://www.nzta.govt.nz/safety/driving-safely/sharing-the-road/share-the-road-advertising/