Monday, October 7, 2013

Situational Awareness vs. Stopping School Bus

Yet another reason why there have to be no surprises out there: if it can happen, sooner or later, it probably will. Situational awareness often trumps a possible crash because you are mentally and situationally prepared to deal with that "OMG" scenerio and dodge the bullet.

This morning, one of our school buses was heading southbound in the left lane of Diamond Drive. The left southbound lane was backed up to a crawl from left turning traffic. The driver stopped, leaving a gap at the UNM-LA entrance, possibly to let a northbound left turning motorist turn in front of him to enter the UNM-LA parking lot.  As it happened, the  right lane was free flowing at that point and I was overtaking the bus in the right lane headed towards LANL. When I saw the bus slowing at the curb cut, I intuitively braked and got up off the saddle into a crouch, slowing in case someone actually turned in front of me (a "what if" drill in action). Sure enough, the oncoming motorist was making the turn but stopped when he saw me up off the saddle of my BMW motorcycle preparing to do a hard stop (or a high jump, I suppose).

Be a student of traffic.
I'd rather learn from the bottom of Heinrich's 
triangle than from the top of it.
No harm, no foul, but we need to remember that a vehicle as huge as a school bus screens everything behind it and on its right from oncoming traffic, and screens oncoming traffic from traffic overtaking on the right. An inexperienced driver in my role, coupled with a more impatient motorist making a left turn, could have resulted in a nasty t-bone crash. I’m not saying the bus driver did anything wrong, but scenerios like this one are how “stuff happens”. Unsafe conditions are crash precursors and need to be analyzed and learned from.

It might be wiser for a large truck driver to not be the nice guy in that situation.  I know we are not supposed to block intersections, but I don’t think that law applies to parking lot entrances but I could be wrong. Having said that, its up to the rest of traffic to be thinking about situations as they develop and its up to us to be driving or riding defensively rather than blaming the other guy when that stuff which is not Shinola happens and one is being scraped off of Mr. Pavement. Rush hour is complicated on Diamond south of Orange/Sandia. This was a good example of why we all need to be on our toes and taking full responsibility for our safety.

Bottom line is this deceptively innocuous situation, with no one being the "bad guy", is the perfect setup for a crash. By considering all possible (and in this case, likely) scenerios regarding why the bus was slowing to a stop and leaving a gap in traffic, I avoided a potentially messy crash. I'm not sure what the right course would have been if the motorist continued the turn, i.e., a quick stop or to try to turn right inside the motorist. Fortunately, neither was necessary.

I thought I would bring this up for discussion. Diamond Drive south of Orange/Sandia has been the locus of a few crashes and a lot of near misses that I hear about. Those of us without air bags and crumple zones need to "compensate" with our grey matter. Please be careful out there, and keep your situational awareness hat on at all times.

Here are some "Motorist Awareness" videos on the Motorcycle Safety Foundation web site. There are more than a few parallels to motorist-bicyclist interactions as well.


Steve A said...

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