Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Beep, screech, crunch, tinkle

It's a combination of sheet metal rumpling, glass tinkling and plastics shattering; the sound of a car crash is quite distinctive. It's also dramatic and fascinating and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't leap up and have a look out of the window when I heard it the other morning. Out on the main road, a taxi was mid U-turn across a dual-carriageway and a small black car had bumped into the back of it.

First rule of accidents: accuse the other guy before he tries to blame you. First rule of deciding who is really at fault: pick whoever was turning/changing lanes. In this case, the taxi was way out of line, starting from the left side of the road, turning across lane #2 to effect a U-turn is a dodgy manoeuvre requiring strict visual verification. The taxi driver looked like he'd swallowed a cigarette butt and was taking the other guy's ranting with glum acceptance.

But not so fast. I did say the horn was the first thing I heard. There's an old rule of aviation priorities: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. It highlights that no matter what the crisis,the first job is to keep the plane in the air. Next is to figure out which way to fly and only then, if you have time, do you get on the radio. Obviously, with co-pilots you have more options but it works for motoring as well. In an emergency, you should be braking and steering your way out of trouble. If you have time for beeping the horn, then you are not yet in an emergency.

I reckon the driver of the black car saw the taxi start to pull away and turn, gave it some sound as a warning, but only braked when the taxi started to block his path. A defensive driver would have given himself more options and braked earlier. The light impact of the bump indicates how avoidable it was.

The taxi driver will likely take the full rap, and he'll be well out of pocket. The LTA has just allowed taxi fares to rise slightly but driving a cab is not a path to riches. The driver will rent the cab from one of the big firms for about SG$105 per day (£35). In a 12 hour shift, he'll use $40-$50 of fuel and take about $200 in fares, thus clearing about $40-$50 cash. Have an accident and he loses the fares and has to pay for repairs. A tough break in an occupation that has so many risks with little financial upside.