Thursday, December 15, 2011

Optimism bias–I take the risk of your optimism

Friday, 8th December 2011: One of the pleasant aspects of working from home is that you cut down on the commuting. So when I have to “commute” it can make me a little crotchety.  Now one of the things that annoys me is when you can’t park – either bike or car depending upon my mode of transport. What also annoys me and frightens me is when I am cycling and cars treat me as if I was not there – either by getting too close or not giving way at junctions and roundabouts or Toucan crossings.

So I was surprised to see that according to an article in the Daily Mail: “Talking on your mobile while driving DOESN’T increase the chances of a crash (so long as you use hands-free)”. Apparently the previous methodology used to demonstrate there is a risk was incorrect. The trouble is having read the approach used I can’t say I believe the new research either.  When I used to have to do a lot more driving for a living I twice missed the M11 turn-off from the M25 when on a hands-free conversation. Yes I know that is not statistically significant, but there are times when common sense matters.

The challenge is that the chance of an accident is relatively small, even when the driving is poor. Consequently trying to assess the risks of certain types of driving behaviour is difficult and as drivers, in one study, more than 74% believed themselves to be better than average behind the wheel. (Here is an interesting article which discusses how “More than 50 percent can be above average” – it depends upon the distribution – but really bad drivers get selected out pretty quickly in real life.

Apparently the driver perception is coloured by optimism bias. This article discusses why optimism can lead to higher-risk behaviour in drivers. Indeed nowadays there is much more focus on teaching learner drivers to check in their mirrors when braking firmly (with the exception being a real emergency) just to check the person behind won’t run into you. When I learnt to drive the presumption was that the person behind had a stronger duty to drive at a safe distance. It is a subtle distinction but I think that cycle lanes “allow” car drivers to pass more closely than Highway code rule 163 would suggest, such behaviour then becomes the norm regardless of cycle lanes.

A search for Highway Code Rule 163 throws up this post from the Croydon Cyclist. The picture is what cyclists expect and anyone who has ridden a bike will know that there are some drivers that do leave space and a worryingly large number who don’t.

As an example of a bizarre way of looking at risk – apparently Texting while driving kills 6,000 annually in the US. The risk of collision is 23 times greater when a driver is texting. This came from “10 Incredibly Bizarre Death Statistics”, which also reports that 450 people are killed annually falling out of bed.

In the UK the response to these sorts of problems seems to be one of a crackdown – a Google search for “crackdown cyclists” lights threw up over one million results. Including this one in Cambridge. Do they work or do they make Mr Grumpy of Cambridge happy. The same is apparently also the case for phone-using car drivers as “Phone fines ‘fail to deter drivers’”. Mind you the rise in phone fines might simply be the fact that the police are making it a priority.

Whilst on the subject of driver inattentiveness the Cambridge News reports the “Hunt for lorry driver who smashed through level crossing” – this is the level crossing in Ely on the A142. There is a road under the railway lines for short vehicles and a level crossing for tall vehicles. Some tall vehicles have also be known to drive into the bridge. It looks as if things will change though as the “£28m plans for Ely southern bypass wins support”. It will entail a viaduct being built which will be 550yds long and 33ft high. (Curiously the article used imperial measures, perhaps that is how roads are still built?)

This picture is from Wikipedia – under these terms. Thank you HelioSmith.

I wonder what will happen to the NCN11 cycle route will it run under the viaduct – as shown on the map. I wonder what they will do with the current level crossing/bridge. It would make sense to remove the level crossing, although that would not stop tall vehicles crashing into the bridge. There are concerns about the habitat loss as well.

So what was all this side-track about. Well despite the fact it was pretty cold, it dipped to near zero around 8am it was a sunny day, with blue skies and only a few clouds. I had to be over on the East side of town for a “meeting” at a warehouse spent doing some moving of boxes.  The great thing about Cambridge is although we might have sub-standard cycle lanes and routes when compared with the Netherlands – at least we flippin’ well have them.

It means that you have the opportunity to avoid cars with their cyclist blind spots and noise and basically enjoy much more scenic views. Some would say that “cycle lanes” are more dangerous than roads and my own experience probably supports that view. In the last 10 years I have had one serious accident when I was knocked of my bike of the. All but one of the other tumbles have been on cycle-lanes or shared paths.

One fall was a slippery wooden bridge (cycle route)  – fortunately x-rays in casualty showed there were no broken bones. Another fall was when leaving a shared path on a slightly lowered kerb to get onto the road, my wheel caught the edge and I tumbled off. I fell off my bike when trying to track stand on a byway and I was blown of my bike along Headlake Drove (road) when the wind caused me to slip into a ridge and then as I tried to get back onto the road another gust caused me to tumble.

So there you have it more accidents off-road than on-road, although the on road crash was the most serious. But the off-road accidents were because of off-road paths were not very good. With only anecdotal evidence I believe decent cycle paths would me safer than cycling on the roads.

It would seem that there is support for Mill Road to be pedestrianised more often as well. You really can have too many motor vehicles. Except Addenbrooke’s Hospital site which will require three 1,000-odd multi storey car parks over the next decade.

So here are a few pictures taken after my warehouse work, near the Newmarket Road P&R. A fine collection of elderberries. the observant might have noticed that there is a frame around the picture. Well Picasa, which I use for the bulk of my picture editing has been upgraded from 3.8 to 3.9. (Note that link is the top one and will change – here is the article on the new features in 3.9) Partly I think to build support for Google+, but there are some welcome new features as well.

Look at the blue skies and green ground, with the last few leaves on the trees.

This was an accidental picture, I didn’t even know I’d taken it until I downloaded the pictures for the day. So it got a border and a cross-processing effect as well.

I have also noticed a less welcome change in the way that my pictures on Picasa Web get served up onto my Blog. Depending upon the circumstances the pictures that are displayed will appear with different resolutions depending upon the way in which they were called. There used to be an instruction at the end of the file link, but this changed to appear just before the file name.

Depending upon how my pictures were added to the Posts – anything from the Blogger on-line editor, through to Zoundry and now Windows Live Writer (with two different mechanisms) the pictures can appear at a lower level of resolution.  Especially when found by an image search.  The default size of an image served is to have a width of 512 pixels of no width is specified.  This improves how Google serve images globally – or so they say. There are quite a few disgruntled users who have commented. Don’t you just love the cloud sometimes.

Perhaps next time they could better serve my needs by halving the speed at which all motor vehicles drive on the roads (except my car of rouse!).

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