There’s been much written both in the press and social media of late concerning an accident involving a young motorcyclist, Harry Dunn, who was killed by a car driven on the wrong side of the road in Northamptonshire (UK) on August 27th.
Much of the vitriol has been fired at the car driver, Anne Sacoolas, an American who had only been in the UK a few weeks. While initially cooperating with police she then fled back to America. I for one can’t blame her.
When did we stop being human? Why have we allowed ourselves to become as cold and digitized as the computers we use every day? In binary language everything is reduced to one(1) or zero(0). We are allowing our brains to do likewise. ‘For’, or, ‘Against’; ‘One’, or, ‘Zero’: the formula is simple, as soon as an issue arises we choose a side, one or zero, and pursue our cause with blind conviction, never pausing for a moment to consider the implications, or human aspect. We regard people as though they are computers. We don’t expect our digitized machines to ever be in error, so when human fallibility creeps into our lives we ignore it utterly in our arrogant condemnations .
The human brain is an amazing organ but it’s fallible, and never more so than when it has been trained for years to follow one certain pattern of behavior and is then suddenly expected to do the opposite.
No-one knows this better than I do. After driving buses, lorries, and cars for fifty years on the left in the UK I moved to the United States. I knew I had to drive on the right and found it quite easy to adjust. Too easy! While my conscious brain was in control I was fine, but after a while complacency sets in and, as happens with those who drive a lot, the subconscious begins to take over. At first it’s still guided to some extent by the conscious, but as our thoughts begin to drift to other matters we rely more and more on the subconscious, learned, patterns in the brain to control our driving.
On more than one occasion I suddenly found myself where I didn’t want to be – on the wrong side of the road. Once, while driving a school bus, I pulled out of a car park, turned right onto the road, and without realising drove happily for a few hundred yards on the left-hand side until an approaching car instantly made me realise my error. I swerved quickly back to the right and no harm was done.
It can work both ways. After fifteen years in America and four years in France, where they also drive on the right, I took a trip back to the UK. My brain had had time to learn that now I always drove on the right. One morning, while leaving the hotel where I’d stayed, I needed to turn left onto a quite busy road. The hotel was situated on a bend and my attention was focused on ensuring no traffic was approaching. The road was clear, so I drove out and across – onto the right-hand side. As I did so a car came around the bend directly towards me. I narrowly avoided an accident only by swerving back to the left side just in time to avoid a collision, while the other driver braked violently.
I was fortunate. The drivers of those oncoming vehicles were also fortunate. They could have ended up like poor Harry Dunn, and all because the human brain doesn’t work like a computer. Sometimes it will tell you to do what you’ve done all your life, without it being aware you need to do the opposite.
Their were two victims in that tragic accident on August 27th in Northamptonshire. Anne Sacoolas was the victim of her own brain, just like Harry Dunn. She wasn’t deliberately driving on the wrong side of the road. Her brain was telling her it was the correct side. It was only when Harry Dunn’s motorcycle appeared in front of her that realization dawned, but by then it was too late.
Fleeing back to her home country was a wrong decision, but perfectly understandable given her trauma. The fact she was in an alien country not given to welcoming foreigners probably tipped her decision.
None of this is intended to take away from the suffering of Harry Dunn’s parents. I lost a dearly loved sister to a fatal accident in London some years ago, and a son in similar circumstances just two years after that. I feel the suffering of the Dunn’s and that of Anne Sacoolas.
You should, too. Anne Sacoolas never meant to kill anyone. Those moments when her subconscious brain told her she was on the correct side of the road will haunt her for the rest of her life.
The Oxford dictionary defines an ‘accident as’: “An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.”
“Unexpectedly and unintentionally,” is the relevant phrase.
Human beings are not computers. They make mistakes. Their brains send the wrong messages. Sometimes people die as a result. Harry Dunn was one of the unfortunates.
As they say, there but for the grace of God go – you?