Saturday, 13 December 2014


The misadventures of a paid tourist in a strange land
Below is an extract from Highway America – the Adventures of a Kiwi Truck Driver, by Peter Blakeborough. Available as an eBook from Smashwords.

My alarm sounded at 3.30am on Wednesday 6th June, and a quick cup of coffee got me ready for the drive south along Route 28 to Hawthorn, Pennsylvania. Taking it slowly on the back country road, in case of tight corners or overhanging trees in the darkness, I found the shipper exactly fourteen miles from the freeway, as expected. They had some pallets loaded with food products going to Best Foods-Unilever in Little Rock, 900 miles south.

At 8.30am, I was back on Route 28 heading south, and after about an hour, Route 28 became a dual carriageway with numerous small cities along the way as it followed the Alleghany River. Then it was time to tangle with Pittsburgh and its tangle of partly finished ring roads and road works in every direction. I talked on the CB with the driver of another eighteen-wheeler who seemed to know where he was going and he invited me to follow. For thirty minutes we went this way and that dodging road works and tight corners until I was totally bamboozled and at his mercy. We went through a tunnel, crossed the Alleghany and circled the downtown district until we came to a bridge across Monongahela River. Somewhere, at a spaghetti junction, amid the babble of CB voices, I lost the other driver. A short stretch on the I-279 south brought me to the I-70 junction at Washington, Pennsylvania.
With the pitfalls of Pittsburgh falling astern, the driving got easier as the I-70 took me west onto the Great Plains and then south to Little Rock. The load was taken off at Unilever and dispatcher Cheryl Reed gave me an 1,100 mile load of L’Oreal cosmetics to go from North Little Rock to Sussex, Wisconsin, with a second drop in Dundee, Michigan.
The biggest challenge was navigating right through Chicago for the first time, while making about six stops to pay the tolls. Space is at a premium in Chicago and, as I neared O’Hare International Airport, I was surprised to see a McDonalds perched over the toll road. Further along, I saw another and took the off-ramp for a lunch with a birds-eye view of the traffic passing underneath.
Coming back through Chicago on a different freeway, after the first drop, the traffic was diverted off the freeway and onto busy suburban streets, due to road works. Inevitably, I missed a detour sign somewhere, and went down the wrong street. Things were a bit chaotic, as I realised that I could finish up in all kinds of weird or wonderful places, with a rig too big to fit. But fortunately, after a couple of miles, the car drivers seemed to think I had leprosy and gave me enough room to make a quick U-turn.
It was already dark when I started looking for a place to rest for the night near Toledo. The first three truckstops were full, and I was left with no choice other than to park on the freeway shoulder, after having driven 429 miles for the day, including two transits of the sprawling Chicago metropolis. I slept soundly all night with the traffic whizzing along close by.

A change of scenery was in store after picking up a load of battery materials from Royal Oak, Michigan, and heading for Maryville in the remote northwest corner of Missouri. The route was west through the Mid-West’s corn fields and wide open spaces. Fifty miles beyond Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city with 200,000 people, (everyone seemed to be out of town when I passed through) I turned south and followed the back country roads for a couple of hours. The flat roads were so empty that when I did see people they actually looked up from their activities and waved. I recall a woman hurrying with two pre-school children to the farm gate so that they could get a close look at a big truck going past. They seemed to be awe-struck, so I reached for the air horn cable and gave them a loud honk and a friendly wave.
Maryville is only a pimple on a pumpkin of a town, but it certainly had me baffled when it came to finding my way around. I realised later, that my directions for finding Eveready Batteries were for an approach from the south, while I arrived from the north. The second traffic light from the south was not the same place as the second light from the north. After driving around more or less aimlessly for half an hour, I stopped to make enquiries at the gatekeeper’s shack, at the entrance to a rather austere-looking establishment, with lots of high security fencing around it. Suddenly, I was surrounded by armed prison guards and they weren’t singing Jailhouse Rock. They must have suspected that I was on a mission to ram-raid the state penitentiary with several tons of high explosives.
After some fast talking on my part, one of the guards pointed to a large building that was visible just beyond the city limits; the Eveready factory. The forklift driver was waiting for me when I backed into the dock and within minutes the trailer was unloaded and reloaded with batteries for Fairburn, Georgia.
After circling Kansas City on the beltway the route was east through the middle of Missouri to St. Louis with a splendid view of the famous Gateway Arch rising 630 feet above the west bank of the Mississippi River.
A small green slice of western Kentucky passed under the wheels, as I travelled southeast towards Nashville. Light rain fell to smear the windscreen bugs and I turned on the wipers and engaged the washers. Suddenly, the road ahead disappeared behind a thick blend of bugs and engine oil. With my head outside the window to see where I was going I braked and pulled over to the side of the freeway. Somehow, engine oil had been placed in a container marked ‘Windshield Cleaner.’ I had a couple of standby containers on board and, after a few minutes, the system had been flushed out enough for me to continue my adventure as a paid tourist. Darkness came again and I pressed on to Chattanooga for an overnight stop, after an interesting 751 mile day.

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Monday, 8 December 2014


The romance and history of old US Route 66 still attracts sightseers

Distant travels, crossing continents, and exploring unknown territory, have captured the imagination of itchy-footed people ever since the travels of the legendary Marco Polo became known to the world in the 13th Century. People inspired by Marco’s travels included the New World discoverer, Christopher Columbus.

For many people, travel and exploration in North America holds a special place in their hearts. But, curiously, two of America’s greatest explorers, Lewis and Clark, were almost forgotten during their own lifetimes. Sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, in 1806, they returned, almost two years later, having made their way from Missouri to the Oregon Pacific Coast. Lewis and Clark, however, followed the westward route of a Native American, Moncacht-Ape, who, according to the only historian to write about him at the time, walked from Mississippi to the Atlantic, and then from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back, in the early 1700’s. If the writings of Antoin Simon Le Page du Pratze are authentic, Moncacht-Ape may have been the first person to cross the continent.
Explorers Lewis and Clark

After the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the American west opened up quickly to settlement and gave rise to the popularity of author Horace Greeley’s famous quotation, “Go west, young man.” The discovery of gold in California in 1849 turned the expansion into a rush for riches, and set California on the road to being America’s most populous state.

Initially, the rush of people was along the northern Oregon Trail. They walked, rode horses and donkeys, travelled in covered wagons and send their mail on the famous Pony Express. But then, in 1903, along came H Nelson Jackson and Sewall K Croker, and a 1903 Winton touring car named Vermont. They set out from San Francisco and reached New York 63 days later, becoming the first to motor across the continent.
H Nelson Jackson and the 1903 Winton

But before Jackson and Crocker made their historic journey, the beginnings of Route 66 had already been established along a collection of mountain-men trails through some of America’s harshest terrain. The introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T, in 1908, increased the traffic flow along the southern route from Chicago to Los Angeles, but the roads, or lack of them, were the cause of many hardship and shattered dreams. By 1917 only 2% of America’s roads had been paved.

In 1921, the Federal Aid Road Act was amended to include a US highway system, and the man of the moment was an Oklahoman, Cyrus Avery, who was charged with establishing the first national highway system. But his favourite part of the project was the road from Chicago to Los Angeles via Oklahoma. It became US Route 66.
US Route 66

Route 66 (sometimes called the Mother Road, the Will Rogers Highway and Main Street America) is America’s most famous highway. It travels two-thirds of the way across the nation, stretches 2,451 miles, and passes through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

During the 1930’s “Dustbowl” years, when the states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas were stricken by the most severe drought in recorded history, Route 66 was the highway to economic salvation for thousands of farming families, who left their land to migrate west.
An early section of Route 66 near Oatman, Arizona

But the business people who provided services along the route, mostly became prosperous on the money from travellers. US Route 66 has been glamorised many times by the world of entertainment. In 1940 it was the setting for John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, and the movie that followed. Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, and The Rolling Stones, all recorded hit songs about the highway. In the 1960’s there was a Route 66 television show.

US Route 66, in later years, attracted sightseeing travellers in increasing numbers. There was so much to see along the way that it became a magnet for American and foreign visitors too. The attractions included such landmarks as the St Louis Gateway Arch, the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, and the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas. Further west the highway passes through Arizona’s Painted Desert, and close to Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The scenery varies from closer settled small towns of the Mid-west to the wide open spaces further west. All along the highway, the traveller has a string of national parks, forests, and recreation areas to visit.
A stop on historic Route 66

The highway underwent many improvements and realignments over the years. From a series of dirt tracks in the 1920’s it eventually developed into a two-lane paved highway. It twisted and turned, connecting small towns and villages, with occasional larger cities. But the traffic that made the highway famous, eventually led to its undoing. Large sections of Route 66 were replaced by multi-lane freeways, and in 1985 it was removed from the national highway system and became a National Scenic Highway. Traffic volumes declined sharply and many businesses along the route were forced to close. Some former prosperous villages became ghost towns.

However, US Route 66’s scenery and attractions are mostly still in place, and it’s a great road to take for a leisurely look at America’s past.

Travel America's highways with author 
Peter Blakeborough

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Happy reading

Sunday, 7 December 2014


On the trail of a vicious murderer and rapist
 This is a sample read from the eBook A Twist of Fate,  an action-packed crime thriller, by Peter Blakeborough

Bob Asker checked into a small lodging house near King’s Cross in Sydney, bought a newspaper and studied the work advertisements. He soon found what he was looking for. The advertisement read; Positions are available for ambitious and enthusiastic sales people 18-25. Secure your future taking our revolutionary new product to the Australian people.
He had seen similar advertisements previously and believed that he knew what the product was. Television had recently arrived and Australian life and society would never be the same again. To Asker, timing was everything as he drove to the address in the advertisement.
A stylish Cadillac parked outside the door caught Bob’s eye. He walked around it admiring its sleek features. He thought it must be the status symbol of a high-flyer wanting to make a big impression. It was a nice car but not for him. He could never have a flashy, spend-up-large high profile and until his ultimate dream was realised an ordinary Australian homespun Holden would do.

A dozen people were in the interview room when Bob entered. Several more arrived and then the interviewer in his mid-twenties appeared wearing an expensive suit, Italian shoes, Rolex watch and gold cufflinks. He explained that the large number of applicants had necessitated a mass interview, but individual interviews would be held later for applicants still interested. He spoke enthusiastically about the prospects for a good television salesman.
‘Take my own example,’ he said. ‘I came here nine months ago driving a 1938 Morris on time payment. Last month I paid cash for the brand new Caddy that’s parked out the front. If I can do it, you can do it. Tyler TV Sales will pay you six pounds for every TV placed in a home. A sales rep can work seven days a week and an average sales rep sells twenty to twenty-five sets a week and earns between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty pounds a week. Put another way that’s between thirteen and sixteen times the average wage. In America and Europe almost every home already has a television. In Australia only five per cent of homes have a television. The market here is wide open.’
The interviewer paused to look at the faces in front of him.
‘To grasp this great opportunity you will need a vehicle. It should be one that will have room for up to four TV’s like a small van. You will have the choice of providing your own or paying off one supplied by us. Finally, if you’re not afraid of hard work, if you’re honest and dependable and if you’ve got a burning ambition to succeed, then you could be the kind of man we’re looking for. We need a number of people able to start training immediately so if you fit the category I’ve just described, you should wait for a personal interview. Alright, who’s going to be first?’
Bob Asker shot his hand up quickly and the interviewer eyed him for a second or two. His next line was as well rehearsed as the spiel that preceded it.
‘Congratulations. Winners don’t procrastinate. This man is about to embark on a great career. If you don’t want to be a winner, don’t bother about a personal interview, but thanks for coming and good luck.’

Asker became a trainee salesman for two days and traded the Holden for a new Bedford van. He loaded his van with the customary four television sets and went to work.
His success as a television salesman was no surprise. He was accustomed to succeeding at most things. He knew his attributes and exploited them to the fullest – the ability to work hard, a charming personality and a shrewd head for business and negotiation. Unlike his forebears he was also gifted with exceptional luck. His luck had only deserted him once when he was arrested for a murder committed by someone else, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. But his luck returned when a freak accident gave him a split-second opportunity to choose between fate and fortune.
It may have been good luck, or a good sense of timing, that led Bob Asker into the television sales business, but he started the same week that television sales nation-wide reached a new peak. On his first day he sold four sets, three the next day and four the day after that. At the end of the first week his tally was twenty-two and he had earned almost fifteen times the national average wage. The average sales figures quoted by the interviewer were similar to those achieved by Asker in his first week, but he knew that the figure had been grossly inflated to make the opportunity look more attractive. He suspected that the true average of about one sale a day still provided a very good income.
At the end of the first month his sales reached an average of twenty-seven sales a week and he set his sights on doing even better. He was already working exceptionally long hours and he knew that from time to time he would have to take time off from TV sales and return to Griffith. He would have to change his modus operandi.
The company had trained him to knock on a door and offer a free demonstration. If the householder showed interest he would go back to the van and return with a TV. It would be plugged in and tuned and the family would be given a few minutes to watch and make a decision on purchasing it. Some people rejected the offer at the door while most others would accept the free demonstration but decline to make a purchase. There had to be a better way. He went to the warehouse to collect his quota of television sets.
‘How many sets do you think this van will hold,’ he asked the warehouse manager.
‘Don’t know. Maybe a dozen.’
‘Okay. Fill it up.’
‘What are you going to do with that many?’
‘Sell them.’
They managed to get a dozen in with room to spare. When he reached his sales territory he knocked on the first door. It was five-thirty in the afternoon.
‘Gidday, mate. What do you want?’
‘I’ve come to deliver your free TV.’
‘You’ve gotta be joking, mate. I’ve never won a bloody thing in my life.’
‘You have now, mate. It’s free – at least until I come back later to take it away,’ Bob said, turning towards the van again.
The man stood in the doorway not knowing what to expect next. When Bob returned with the TV he stepped aside to allow him through. A few minutes later with the set installed and tuned to a portable internal aerial Bob left for the next house, promising to return later. He soon had a dozen sets installed in the street. At eight o’clock he went back to the first house to find the family totally engrossed in Bob Dyer’s Pick a Box show; Australia’s highest rating television program.
The author in a flight simulator
‘Don’t take it away, mate. We’ll buy it. Jean, get the man three quid for the deposit.’
Only four TVs were returned to the warehouse that night and in the next seven days he sold over fifty sets.
His sales continued to mount and his share portfolios continued grew and expanded, but his holdings were so diverse that he was never more than a minor shareholder in any of the companies and therefore not attracting unwanted attention. At least once a week he called Janet to monitor the progress of his travel agencies.
Two months after joining Tyler Television Asker was promoted to sales manager and sent to Brisbane to open a new sales office. He asked for Brisbane because it was only a few hours’ drive from Lismore and Bryce Russell, Heather’s murderer.
After several weeks of training and supervising his new sales team Asker needed a break and drove south in his Bedford van to check on Russell. Russell’s business was growing too. He continued on to Grifith where he booked into a motel and slept for twelve hours straight.
The next day he had a meeting with Janet Reynolds, Wayne Stoughton and Eric Shand. Fransham Travel in Griffith and Fulton Travel in Wagga Wagga had both moved beyond recovery. But Asker noticed that Stoughton seemed uneasy during the meeting. Something was bothering him and Asker wanted to get to the bottom of it.
As the meeting drew to a close Asker looked directly at Stoughton.
‘Anything else, Wayne?’
He hesitated for a moment and then replied in the negative. But both Asker and Janet knew there was something else. Janet excused herself and went back to the agency.
‘Actually, there is something else,’ Stoughton volunteered. ‘It’s the company documents that we filed for you. Eric is concerned about it too. There are three shareholders and the same people are also the three directors. There’s nothing unusual about that. But the three individuals seem to have the same handwriting and I thought I’d just ask about that in case there are any questions later. They may think that someone has signed for someone else, or worse, they may think there is only one shareholder and director. I just wanted to be sure that everything is in order, Bob.’
‘Don’t concern yourself with any of that, Wayne. Everything is okay, mate.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Well, actually you’re right, Wayne, but don’t worry about it. The others are always extremely busy and they just leave things to me as chairman of directors.’
‘You really shouldn’t do that, Bob. And if you do, I shouldn’t know about it. In my profession, and the same with Eric, we can’t afford to condone anything that’s not strictly proper and ethical. You know what I mean?’
‘I do know what you mean. You’ll just have to trust me, Wayne.’
‘Okay. Let’s have a beer.’
Later he raised the matter with Janet when they had dinner together.
She thought about the predicament for a moment.
‘Wayne and Eric are two of the best friends you have in the world after your mother, me and Tom Laing. They would never do anything to betray you. I believe you should take them into your confidence.’
‘I suppose, when you put it that way, I’m betraying them by not telling them about the three identities that I use and the reason why.’
‘You could put it that way.’
‘But how do I tell them? I mean, where do I begin?’
‘From the beginning. Would you like me to be with you to confirm everything?’

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Beating the reptilian brain at intersections
From Survival Skills, UK
A few years ago, I followed a rider who rubber-necked so hard, when he passed two scantily clad girls on the pavement, he veered off-course and almost off the road. But we were riding along a busy street with a whole bunch of junctions, some of which had waiting vehicles, including one that was edging dangerously out into his path. Did his head budge from the straight-ahead? Nope. So whilst there was nothing wrong with his basic observation system, what he used if for was hardly appropriate to a busy city street.

Last week, we talked about how speed can trap us into underestimating just how long it will take us to slow down. In urban areas, speeds are lower and stopping distances much shorter, but urban collisions have been happening for 100 years since Gottlieb Daimler first had the daft idea of sticking an internal combustion engine between two wheels! Our old friend the, 'SMIDSY' junction collision, is still the most common type of accident involving motorcycles, and far and away the most common collision between motorcycles and cars, and also the most common motorcycle crash in urban area.
Why? Year after year, accident assessments commonly report that the rider failed to react in time or reacted inappropriately. Panic reactions are something Keith Code covered over 20 years ago in his book Twist of the Wrist 2 when he described what he called 'Survival Reactions', or what we now know are the inappropriate responses of the reptilian brain to threats.
What makes the reptilian brain jump in and take over from our learned responses? It's surprise. What generates surprise? Something happening that doesn't match what we're expecting to happen. And one of the biggest triggers of surprise is someone doing something we weren't anticipating.

Slowing down is definitely a good option to guard against the risk posed by emerging vehicles, but if we're to avoid these collisions, then we need to be aware of the risk of a car emerging in the first place. And with 100 years of history, we should be able to anticipate junction accidents by now. But here, history knows well what the inexperienced, or poorly trained, rider has yet to learn, and many riders learn this hard lesson in their dying moments.
We've talked before about the need to be proactive, rather than reactive when it comes to detecting and dealing with hazards. How can we be proactive? Simple. We don't teach ourselves to wait till the car starts to emerge into our path before reacting. We should teach ourselves to react to the possibility that a car may emerge into our path. That means we should treat each and every junction where a car could intersect with our path as a hazard that may need to be dealt with.
So, first of all, we can use our observation skills to look for places vehicles may pull out (not scantily clad girls) and we should be using our ability to change our lane position to open up views into blind ground.
Secondly, having identified where a vehicle may pull out, we can look for such a vehicle, but just because we can't see one doesn't mean we should assume there's nothing there. Once again, a change of lane position can often improve our view.

Thirdly, if we do see another vehicle, then we should be assessing how the other driver is likely to behave. What are his lines-of-sight? Can we can see the other driver? If we can the other driver, can that other driver see me?* How busy is the road, and are there gaps between cars that might invite a driver to pull out into the space occupied by the bike? Is there a matching gap in oncoming traffic that might invite the driver to pull across our path? Is the driver likely to deliberately cut it fine? What's likely to happen if the biker is travelling quicker, or slower, than the normal flow? Is the car driver likely to inadvertently misjudge the bike speed, or the 'time/distance to collision'?
Look at the car driver’s face. Does the driver appear to be impatient, confused, indecisive, inexperienced, or aggressive? Has the driver seen the bike? These are all warnings to expect the unexpected.
Which leads us neatly to the fourth point. We can watch the vehicle for movement that indicates that the driver is about to pull out. Some riders watch the car wheels, suggesting it's relatively easy to spot movement of the wheel against the body, but I prefer to watch the driver face and body language.
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Just before a driver pulls out, you'll often notice how his head movements change - rather than longer looks left and right (or a fixed stare in one direction) they'll often take a couple of quick looks both ways. This is a warning that the car driver has made his 'I'm going' decision, and whilst these looks are intended to be a double-check, in reality they tend to become just a quick glance to confirm that he's seen everything he needs to see. The big danger is that the driver's brain will fail to notice and process any information that doesn't fit the picture that the driver already has in his/her mind. During the rapid double-check, the head often swivels faster than the eyes can focus. It can be a dead give-away, literally.
The big advantage of watching the driver is that we'll get an extra second or two of warning that danger is present. It tells us that it may be time to react cautiously by reducing power, applying the brakes, sounding the horn, or changing lane position.
Anticipating a driver’s actions before the car starts moving has advantages, but also disadvantages if we over-react.  
And this is how we get around that inappropriate reaction issue - we think ahead to understand the potential for personal harm in a situation before it develops. Being ready to react appropriately the moment a potential hazard becomes an actual hazard forcing us to take evasive action takes away the surprise. It's not difficult, it's certainly not tiring because once you've tried it a few times it becomes automatic.
And if the car doesn't emerge? Bonus ball! Move on to the next junction and repeat the procedure again.
Being proactive and reactive aren't either or strategies - we can do both at the same time. This is the key to beating those 'survival reactions'. We must know when and where a potential hazard can turn into a very real hazard, and to be ready for it. It's no good knowing in theory that SMIDSYs happen, we need to understand the precise circumstances and have a plan ready to deal with them when it all goes pear-shaped. If our brain is thinking logically and rationally, we're more likely to react correctly, than if we're taken by surprise.
Fundamentally, riders have got to lose the self-defeating 'ghetto' belief that "car drivers don't look for bikers"... and to learn to accept that it's not necessarily the driver's fault, but that our very own human brain, which we share with those drivers, is the weak point. Drivers, no matter how clued-up to bikes and however careful, will make mistakes, and that when attempting to detect and predict the actions of a motorcyclist, those mistakes usually hurt us more than them and that the only solution is to put into action pro-active strategies intended to negate those errors before they happen.
Back to the rubber-necking rider. What would almost certainly have happened had a car pulled out on this rider? He'd have been taken by surprise and would have been in trouble right from the word "no!”
No surprises, fewer accidents.
Peter’s Piece
This article from Survival Skills makes a lot of sense, not just for bikers, but for all road users.
All drivers should be learning these skills from Day One in their driver training, and they should be prepared to accept that, no matter how long they have been driving, there will always be more that they can learn.
One could write an entire book about hazards at intersections, and several points immediately spring to mind, not covered above:

Firstly, everyone knows at least one intersection that has more than its share of bad accidents, for no apparent reason. There can be numerous reasons for this, but here, I want to deal with one reason that is less obvious, but is frequently very deadly. The reason is so obscure to many people that they get caught again and again, even at the same intersections. It happens at the intersection where a minor road meets a major road on a curve. Imagine the curve in the major road continuing on to form a circle, and then imagine the centre point in the middle of the circle. In this situation, when a vehicle approaches the major road, if the centre point of the curve is on the other side of the major road, there will be a tendency for most drivers to miscalculate the speed/distance to impact equation, because of the reptilian nature of the brain.
In plain language, there is a tendency to pull out onto the curved major road without sufficient clear space between approaching vehicles. There is probably a technical term for this human failing, which road engineers are now becoming aware of. It works like this:
Imagine the vehicle on the minor road waiting at the stop sign for a gap in the traffic. The driver can see clearly that vehicles are approaching from both directions, but their extended line of travel, or trajectory, appears to take them behind the waiting vehicle, instead of in front of it. The brain does not allow for the curving path of the approaching vehicles, and the time, path and distance to the point of impact. What initially appears to be a safe manoeuvre for all drivers, can quickly turn into a tragedy as a highway-speed turning missile locks onto a turning target.
This intersection illusion kills many people every year, usually people who thought they were doing everything right. When I try to explain, possibly not very clearly, this hazard to drivers, they often dismiss it as nonsense. When this happens, I usually point out that it is a real hazard, and anyone who is unable to understand is most at risk of falling victim to it.
Secondly, a danger at intersections that is rarely acknowledged by anyone, is the hazard posed by mirrors and door posts on many vehicles, particularly large vehicles. These blind spots are usually large enough to obscure bikes, and even cars. Furthermore, a blind spot can travel in a manner and speed that can keep a small object permanently obscured all the way to impact. I first encountered this type of hazard over 50 years ago, while driving a bus. I didn’t see the boy on the bike until he appeared in front of the windscreen as I moved off from a give way sign. Fortunately, I was going so slowly that I was able to stop immediately, and no harm was done.
The list of deadly hazards at intersections is endless. Others include fogged up windows, ornaments and stickers obscuring the view, sun-strike, areas of shade, and tinted windows.
Many intersections are badly planned with drivers getting little or no warning that they are approaching an intersection, due to poor forward vision associated with the terrain or other obstructions. Sometimes signage and road marking leave a lot to be desired.
In the end, most accidents are caused by human error, but most accidents can be avoided by good training, caution, alertness, concentration and ultimately, experience. Of these, experience is the hardest to acquire, so make sure you get good training, drive cautiously, stay alert at all times, concentrate, always leave a margin for error and, if you are lucky too, in many years from now, you will have lived to be experienced also.
Don't drive!
It's safer to stay home with a good book

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Thursday, 20 November 2014


World transport ministers have a weak-knee approach to road safety

A fatal truck crash today in Pennsylvania has highlighted the weak-knee approach of governments, transport ministers and industry leaders to driver fatigue and its effect on road safety.

Semi driver, Steven Bernier, 50, of Reading, PA started work at 1:30 a.m. and fell asleep five hours later at 6:30 a.m. His 18 wheeler slammed into a line of cars waiting at a red traffic light, killing two people in separate vehicles and injuring nine others. Bernier has been charged with two counts of homicide and nine counts of aggravated assault, and other charges.

He will no doubt go to prison for a very long time and, for the authorities, everything will be forgotten and life will go on. But not for the victims or the truck driver. They, and their families, will have to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.

I like to compare road safety with flying safety because flying and driving started at about the same time, but they have a totally different stance on safety. In the early days of motoring speed and traffic volumes were low and accidents were few. On the other hand aviation started out badly and flying was about the most dangerous thing a human being could engage in.
The accident scene and the truck driver

A critical difference then, and now, is that flying accidents are generally less survivable than road accidents, but in spite of that aviation has achieved a safety record that should be the envy of all road users and road safety campaigners. One may ask, how did that happen? How did flying (not including private flying) become the safest mode of transport ever devised, while road safety made negligible progress?

 In a word, the answer lies in attitude. In aviation, safety comes first in every consideration. This applies not just to pilots, but to everyone involved in every aspect of aviation; aircraft designers, regulators, trainers and training, weather conditions, maintenance and servicing and repair, accident investigation and reporting. ‘She’ll be right’ has no place in the air the way it does on the roads. The aviation world understood early on that safety rules were vital for the survival pilots and passengers, and for the survival of aviation itself.

Meanwhile, for over 100 years road safety has been given little more than lip service only. On two factors alone the record is appalling. Seat belts were standard in all aircraft almost 100 years ago while few cars had seat belts prior to 1970 and many larger vehicles still don’t have them including many passenger buses. In some situations the authorities still allow unrestrained, standing passengers on public transport. That is reprehensible.

The second area where road safety is seriously lacking is with accident investigation and reporting. For at least the last 60 years all fatal flying accidents have been subject to thorough investigation by specially trained experts. They then publish a public report giving full details of the aircraft including manufacture, maintenance records, hours flown and other relevant details; the pilot including licence and type ratings, total flight time, hours on type, hours in previous three months and previous incidents; details of the flight and weather conditions, circumstances of the accident and examination of the wreckage; conclusions as to probable cause(s) and recommendations for preventing similar accidents in the future.
Continued below . . . .

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Road accident investigation by comparison is still primitive, and will do little if anything to make roads safer, and seems to focus only on the possibility of prosecutions and helping insurance companies settle claims. Indeed under existing law in most countries investigations along the lines of aircraft accident investigation would be impossible because of a lack of logbooks or data recording devices.

In aviation the emphasis is on ongoing training and education. Everyone learns to fly with a qualified instructor and undergoes regular re-checking. You can’t teach a friend or family member how to fly. Meanwhile on the roads most people do learn to drive with a friend of family member who will pass on their own bad habits and lack of professionalism and there is no re-checking or ongoing training. Instead of training and education, as in aviation, on the roads it is just a case of policing, prosecuting and punishing, and it doesn't work.
Author Peter Blakeborough

But to return to the tragedy in Pennsylvania, drivers work inhumane hours in inhumane conditions for wages that are a pittance. And all over the world governments simply don’t care. All things considered the vast majority of professional drivers are safe drivers and that can be verified by insurance statistics which show that in truck/car collisions 70% of liability rests with car drivers and only 30% with truck drivers. Truck drivers typically spend a big part of their long day avoiding collisions with cars that are being driven inappropriately. However, there has been no suggestion of another vehicle being responsible in Bernier’s case.

But I wonder what circumstances in the preceding hours and days led this professional driver to fall asleep at the wheel. He can legally be on duty and driving for 70 hours a week while frequently having his starting and finishing times altered substantially. A person working under those conditions may not even be aware that he is fatigued. Unlike an airline pilot, he does not have a co-pilot with dual controls or a rule requiring a rest period of at least the same duration as the duty period preceding it. He is not restricted to a maximum of 100 hours in a 28 day period, nor is he limited to an annual maximum of 900 hours, like the airline pilot.

The rules of the road and attitudes to safety need to change, but it is not something that one company or employer, one country can do. The changes need to be led by the United Nations, just as the International Civil Aviation Organization (an agency of the UN) has led the way with air safety.

But the sad thing is that most people will not be even remotely interested in reading posts like this. It is just too easy to think, it won’t happen to me.