Let’s Put the Sun in Jail

The readers fol­lowing the news flow on a daily basis have defi­ni­tely noticed that the­re are many sto­ries about the inc­reased num­ber of traf­fic acci­dents whe­re peo­ple have been inju­red or kil­led during the first four mont­hs this year than during the same period last year. For some rea­son, as embar­ras­sing as it might be, this reminds me of an old anec­do­te.

A man sees his friend wal­king wor­ried­ly under­neath a lan­tern in the eve­ning when it is get­ting dark and asks him whet­her he has lost somet­hing? “Yes, my wal­let. I must have hap­pe­ned somew­he­re the­re,” res­pon­ded the friend, poin­ting his fin­ger to a near­by dark alley. “If you lost your wal­let the­re then when are you loo­king for it here and not the­re whe­re you lost it?” asks the first man. “The­re is ligh­ter here to look for it,” res­pon­ded the friend and con­ti­nued his search.

Of cour­se, such tra­gic acci­dents make us concer­ned and make us to look for the answer to the ques­tion why it hap­pe­ned and what to do in order to reduce their num­ber? Unfor­tu­na­tely, in my opi­nion, peo­ple often draw conc­lu­sions that are not real­ly hel­ping. Even wor­se – wrong beha­viour is advoca­ted for and, even wor­se, third per­sons or indi­rect fac­tors are accu­sed. Even the sun would be found guilty if that was pos­sib­le.

The main rea­son of the tra­gic acci­dent that took place recent­ly at the Raa­si­ku level cros­sing was estab­lis­hed by the media with the help of ama­teur experts. They found that the rea­sons were the mis­sing level cros­sing gates. They did not pay any atten­tion to the beha­viour or rat­her wrong beha­viour of the truck dri­ver. The acci­dent was not actu­al­ly cau­sed by mis­sing level cros­sing gates or the train moving on rails but by this par­ticu­lar per­son or his tech­nical­ly faulty vehic­le. Accor­ding to Artic­le 59 (1) of the Traf­fic Act, dri­vers must par­ticu­lar­ly care­ful whi­le app­roac­hing railway level cros­sings and use dri­ving speed that would allow stop­ping the vehic­le smoot­h­ly if neces­sary.

Today it is qui­te cle­ar that the truck dri­ver vio­la­ted this regu­la­tion. The dri­ving speed cho­sen by the dri­ver for app­roac­hing the level cros­sing was inapp­rop­ria­te. How was the wrong dri­ving speed inf­luenced by mis­sing level cros­sing gates? No one tried to answer that ques­tion. The­re were no answers to that ques­tion becau­se the answer that is actu­al­ly qui­te easy to find would take away the oppor­tu­nity to discuss this topic emo­tio­nal­ly. But are emo­tions not the fac­tor that catc­hes readers’ atten­tion? I would not be sur­pri­sed if the cri­mi­nal inves­ti­ga­tion cur­rent­ly con­duc­ted by the Police and Boar­der Guard Board would find anot­her vio­la­tion – dri­ving fas­ter than allowed (i.e. more than 70 km/h). But what could we do with this fact if we alrea­dy know the guilty party – mis­sing level cros­sing gates!

The glo­bal sta­tis­tics tell us that app­roxi­ma­tely 50% of train – motor vehic­le col­li­sions hap­pen at railway level cros­sings that have level cros­sing gates! Thus, we may expect that tech­nical tools help us in reducing the num­ber of acci­dents but we can­not rely on them only. The deci­sion when and how to cross railway is always made by road user.

The recent railway acci­dents invol­ving peo­ple on bicyc­les have taken place at moder­ni­sed cros­sings that are cle­ar­ly mar­ked and whe­re peo­ple need to get through a zigzag bar­rier in order to reach them.

In the opi­nions pub­lis­hed in press was under­li­ned the mes­sa­ge that pro­bably the main rea­sons for this acci­dents to take place were head­pho­nes worn by bicyc­lists. Their atten­tion must have been dist­rac­ted by them. Again, it is not men­tio­ned that the bicyc­lists rode through the secu­rity area and cros­sed railway wit­hout get­ting off their bikes. Such action vio­la­tes Artic­le 60 (2) of the Traf­fic Act that pro­vi­des that railways can be cros­sed by vehic­le dri­vers only at desig­na­ted loca­tions. This means that a bicyc­le dri­ver may cross railway at a pedest­rian cros­sing only as a pedest­rian, pus­hing a bike on his or her side.

The earp­ho­ne and music in them were just one addi­tio­nal fac­tor that may have played an impor­tant role in dist­rac­ting atten­tion at the time of railway cros­sing.

Alt­hough we often want to see things the way we like the most, we need to admit that some laws and rules are app­lied to pre­vent us from being neg­li­gent about our lives.

Acci­dents are events that can­not be pre­ven­ted by the per­sons who suffer. The­re has been only one such tra­gic acci­dent on the Esto­nian railway lines recent­ly whe­re peo­ple who got inju­red and kil­led riding a pas­sen­ger train did not have any choice. The rest of the sta­tis­tics pub­lis­hed by the Esto­nian Tech­nical Sur­veil­lance Aut­ho­rity talks about inci­dents whe­re sad con­sequences were cau­sed by dist­rac­tion, vio­la­tion of regu­la­tion or other such rea­sons. It is hard to think this way but this chea­ting of our­sel­ves that we do will not lead us forward!

As a rule, railway com­pa­nies do not need lawyers in the inves­ti­ga­tions dea­ling with tho­se tra­gic acci­dents. They do not need to find law pro­vi­sions for pro­ving they are not guilty and stand for their rights becau­se railways as such are not dan­ge­rous!

Cros­sing railway is made dan­ge­rous by road users who put their com­fort first, con­si­de­ring it to be even more impor­tant than their safe­ty!

If our courts would allow their deci­sions to be based only on human emo­tions then we could not be tal­king about the rule of law – the one mani­pu­la­ting the best would be always right.

So it would be bet­ter if we could lea­ve emo­tions asi­de whi­le cove­ring acci­dents and sha­ped our opi­nions using pure facts – as pain­ful as it might be. Ins­tead of fin­ding who is guilty and poin­ting fin­gers we might need to talk among our­sel­ves and fol­low clo­sely what we do and how we do it. After all, we are crea­ting toget­her the futu­re whe­re we want to live safely but for that we need to find time to talk to our clo­se ones, unders­tand the risks around us and find ways to eli­mi­na­te them.

Our lives are in our own hands and it is up to us to deci­de what we want to do with them. Free­dom also means res­pon­si­bi­lity. The­re­fo­re, I find it real­ly impor­tant to supp­le­ment news sto­ries with facts that would put events in the cor­rect light, make us learn somet­hing use­ful from the acci­dents that have alrea­dy occur­red and draw right conc­lu­sions.

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Tamo Vahe­mets

Ope­ra­tion Life­sa­ver Esto­nia (OLE)
Chair­man of Mana­ge­ment Board – Acting Mana­ger

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