Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Matter of inches

Last weekend I came within inches and milliseconds of killing someone. I was driving to Sligo and somewhere around Boyle, on the last good stretch of road, I saw a person stopped with a bicycle in the hard shoulder at a junction. Having already passed several groups out cycling in the good weather along the route I guessed that he was part of another set of fundraisers or keep fit enthusiasts. He was well in to the side and the road was wide so I determined that we were no threat to each other.

However, as we got close to the junction (maybe 30m) a young teenager on a bicycle came flying out of a side road heading straight across the N4. I slammed on the brakes leaving a long skid mark along the main road. Luckily the ABS worked fine and I was able to turn towards the hard shoulder. As we passed each other, I was probably still travelling at 80km/h. At that speed, had he traveled 1m less across the road we would have collided and he would be dead. Luckily for him we missed and there was nothing coming the other direction so he lived to tell the tale. I pulled in and stopped, spent five minutes shaking with a huge adrenaline rush and then drove very cautiously for the remaining 20 minutes of the journey.

From my point of view it reinforced several rules of driving
  • Always keep an eye on side roads - if I had just been watching the main carriageway he'd have been flung over my bonnet.
  • Always keep a good distance between you and other vehicles - there was about 40m between me and the car behind so she had plenty of time to react to my immediate braking.
  • Don't drive when tired or after drinking - with slower reaction times I would have spent today at a funeral in Co Roscommon and possibly be facing a court appearance
  • Don't drive a banger - good brakes and functioning ABS were key to the kid's survival

This hasn't put me off driving or made me a more timid driver. I enjoy being on the open road too much. But it does make me wonder a little bit more about road design, especially where minor roads enter a major through route at right angles. Depending on access requirements, a slight curve in the minor road to align it with the major route would avoid direct access to the main carriageway and the runaway bicycle would have ended up either on an embankment or else belting up the hard shoulder. Of course, were cost not an issue, all inter-urban routes should only have grade separated junctions but that's in the realms of fantasy for the foreseeable future.

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