Thursday, March 30, 2017

We Predict the Future

When you're almost done with the day's work, sometimes you find yourself easing up a bit. Only one or two passengers remain aboard at the end of the line. Your stomach growls, anticipating a nice dinner and some relaxation afterward. You turn left and then... BAM!

Kid skateboarding down ramp... I see him, STOP, he sees bus, jumps off and board rolls directly under bus, bounces off front wheel and right back to him. We saw impending disaster at the same instant, but it escaped us both. How fortuitous.

I saw him rolling down that ramp hell-bent for leather as I turned. My son is a skateboarder, and I imagined it was him. It didn't look as if he had time to stop before rolling directly into my path, so I did. The kid even signaled me that he wanted to crawl under and grab the board. Emphatically, I held my hand out to say STOP YOU DUMBASS! The timing was perfect. Immediately after, the skateboard bounced off the front left tire and rolled back out to the kid. What a sigh of relief I exhaled. The two people on the bus, seated in the rear, missed it all. My heart missed about five beats.

On my deadhead back to the garage, my mind was awash with "what ifs?" and I couldn't believe what had happened. Even though I had the end of the line directly ahead, I remained focused enough to see everything I needed to avoid a fatal encounter.

What is safety to me? If somebody died after making contact with my bus, I would hope to look their family members in the eyes and say, "I'm sorry this happened, but I truly did everything I could to prevent this disaster."

Dad always taught me to scan around at other motorists and imagine the worst possible thing that could happen at any given moment, to have a plan in case it happened, and be ready to execute that plan. And Plan B, C and so on. That's safe driving.

Sometimes I take it too far. Driving along about 40mph on a heavily-forested road on my route one stormy Saturday, I envisioned a tree falling into the road directly ahead of me. What could I do? Veer one way and hit a still-standing tree: disaster. Steer another direction and fly 200 feet downhill into a raging river, possibly flattening an oncoming vehicle while doing so: equal doom factor. The safest thing I could do would be a controlled hard brake and hope to slow enough before impact so that any injuries would be minimal.

I see a lot of possible disasters as my 20 tons rolls along. One driver today described an incident where she had to firmly stop her bus to avoid colliding with two other motorists who weren't thinking rationally while driving. If she hadn't stopped, a collision would have surely happened. She was frustrated that they had done this, and asked what we're supposed to do in these cases. I responded: "predict what they're gonna do, and act accordingly." A newbie, she asked how to do this. The only answer is that it comes with experience. Yet, even the most senior drivers can be surprised. Vigilance is paramount, along with never being in a hurry.

The more miles we drive, many things happen. We either just hum along without thinking or scanning enough, or we diligently apply what we were trained to do in the beginning. While doing the latter, we learn predictable motorist behavior. Then other times new twists to older themes come about, and they're added to our toolbox. We adapt, learn new methods of seeing what might happen, and pray we're ready for the unknown.

Tonight I was lucky enough to have just enough experience to simply shake my head at the kid, wait for him to clear out, and continue on my way. Even luckier, the kid was able to as well.

1 comment:

  1. It makes me wonder how TM's actual Risk & Safety managers are compensated for their work in cubical at desk. Are we comparably compensated for our work on bus in field?

    In addition, the standards we are held to when an incident occurs, the preventability standard, not the causation standard, is ever looming over our every split-second decision making.

    I don't think we're paid well enough for this degree of professional competency, nor are we compensated well enough to address the physical toll our careers take on our bodies. One can only begin to understand why we have committed our blood, sweat, and tears to a lifetime of extremes. Perhaps it was all for the security of a golden year or two after our working lives are finished. Some trade off.