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Friday, November 2, 2012

Cooperative Driving – Risk Minimization

When Hella and I are driving somewhere, the person not driving also keeps an eye on the road and makes the odd comment like ‘check speed’, ‘slow traffic ahead’, or ‘dog on the right’. This becomes particularly important when driving on a narrow mountain road on a rainy night in California, when the extra pair of eyes pointing out ‘road veering left in 100 yards’ can be really helpful. Patricia and Jonathan have perfected this kind of cooperative driving to a fine art on the highly dangerous roads that we have in Ghana.

Cooperative driving is an example of CRM (Crew Resource Management), a practice which comes from the world of aviation and which has been developed in the past few decades to help minimize the risk of aircraft accidents. Part of the idea is to make use of all available crew resources to help gather data, and bring critical information to the attention of the pilot flying. Communication among crew members is vital, and crew comments are seen as being helpful to the pilot / driver - as opposed to being critical and undermining the sensitive ego of the driver!

Driving on Ghanaian roads at night is a high-risk activity, and the driving ‘crew’ has to factor in deep potholes, ragged road edges, unlit vehicles, obstacles in the driving lane, and oncoming and overtaking vehicles where it’s not clear that they will move back into their lane on time. Other hazards include pedestrians wearing dark clothes crossing the road without warning, unlit bicyclists riding in the wrong direction, and animals on the road. When Patricia and Jonathan form the driving crew, the person not driving keeps up an almost running commentary in congested areas about the upcoming hazards. This is particularly helpful at night, when it can take the driver’s brain a few seconds to analyse the vague shadows coming up ahead, and so the help of the co-driver in digesting the complex array of sensory inputs is highly appreciated.

As the passenger in the back seat on a couple of the 2-3 hour drives back to Kpong from Accra after a long day in the city, I feel a lot safer with Patricia and Jonathan’s CRM - especially when I think of Jonathan’s son who was hit by an oncoming vehicle while driving in his lane on this very road. It was a miracle that he survived, and I hope that with CRM, the likelihood of getting into this kind of accident is a lot lower.

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