Girl TORQUE: Crash Investigation

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

I met a crash investigator the other day. Hearing him talk, it must be a depressing job – but an interesting one. A bit like those CSI TV shows, using clues and brainpower to solve a puzzle when no-one’s alive to tell you the answer.

Divorce it from real lives and deaths, and it becomes a fascinating pursuit – could Cleudo spin off a crash-investigation variant?

But it also makes you think – a bit too much. For can you ever drive carefully enough to avoid absolutely any potential danger?

The police inspector showed a photo of a stretch of Wellington motorway, at night. Where the photographer stood was lit clearly by streetlights, and kilometer or so ahead a junction’s cluster of lights glowed brightly. Between, inky blackness. But it’s motorway – no side roads, no pavements or gardens and a dry night, quite safe to follow the posted speed limit, you’d think.

Except you can’t see a drunk in black trousers and black sweater as he ambles across the road, until you hit him – and he breaks your windscreen.

It doesn’t bear thinking about. And how would you prevent it? You probably wouldn’t see him at 50kmh either – and you’d still be likely to kill him, while yourself posing a risk for other traffic driving at the legal 100kmh.

That was a fairly easy result for the crash investigators, as is the traditional ‘skidded in the wet’ scenario. But the stumper was a head-on crash on a clear, dry day. Both cars were doing close to the open road speed limit; I’m sure you can imagine the result.

The cars had been mechanically fine, and neither driver was speeding. No problems with visibility. Mature drivers with full licences. What could have gone wrong?

This is where the Inspector and his crew start asking questions. And it seems the elderly couple had risen at 4:30am to drive several hours for the funeral of a close friend. After an emotionally-wrenching service, they’d had a full lunch, then headed back home. And half an hour from safety, at that mid-afternoon time when a snooze on the couch seems most attractive, the driver must have dozed off. It wouldn’t take more than a second or two to drift across that centre line.

I wonder if crash investigators start leading abstemious lives? Not even mounting a bicycle after a drink; driving only after a good night’s sleep, with eyesight checks every two weeks and five-point harnesses in their Commodores or Corollas. I guess no-one could live like that all the time.

But one thing we can all do, is avoid driving tired – or pull over for a nap. I’ve done it – set the phone for 15 or 20 minutes, locked the doors and leaned the seat back. Yes, it makes you a little late. But I have once dozed off at the wheel – fortunately I jerked awake in time to avoid a crash. I hope never to have such an avoidable fright again.

As they say; better late than never.

Read previous Girl TORQUE columns here.