Ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the ground. In fact, the only species that does this, or, to change the expression a little, “looks the other way” or “turns a blind eye” are human beings. A good example is their attitude towards a solution that could save many lives thanks to a safety measure that would reduce road accidents by at least 10 %, at very little cost.
TEXT: JESÚS MONCLÚS
The ostrich is a surprising species. It is the heaviest bird on the planet: it is up to 3 meters tall and weigh more than 180 kg. Its relatively small wings do not allow it to fly, but it can run up to more than 70 km/h and it can keep going for about 30 minutes. The males take turns with the females when incubating their eggs in the nests they dig in the ground and, in fact and in a display of animal family-life balance, they do this at night, meaning that they incubate them for approximately 65% of the time (more than the females; so there you go). In addition, males in the same territory often exchange nests in case a scatterbrained male cannot find his nest and that lack of attention is fatal for those eggs (it seems that this is not the only animal species where clueless males are not the exception). Although it seems that they do indeed put their heads close to the ground, they do this so that they blend in with the bushes and go unnoticed. And, most importantly, their reputation for “burying their heads in the sand” is totally unfair; what they are actually doing is rearranging their eggs in their nests. I’m sure their predators would be very happy if, although they can run at 70 km/h, they chose to stick their heads under the ground instead.
In fact, probably the only species that actually buries its head in the sand or, to change the expression a little, “looks the other way” or “turns a blind eye” are human beings (it’s telling that there are several expressions for this attitude). And then we go and unfairly project our failings onto other species like ostriches.
Now, let’s suppose that we had at our disposal a safety measure that, for very little cost, could reduce the accident rate by at least 10%: that represents around 150 lives saved each year in Spain, about 2000 in Europe, 3400 in Brazil, 1600 in Mexico and 4000 in the USA. And let’s say we did nothing to take advantage of this and implement it as soon as possible. Wouldn’t this be ethically unacceptable?
Well, the fact is that it already exists, and one of Fundación MAPFRE’s latest proposals addresses this issue. The measure is already being implemented within the some leading companies such as, for example, ALSA, winner of one of Fundación MAPFRE’s Social Awards in the category of Best Injury Prevention Initiative, 2017. This operator’s traffic management center shows the real-time location of its nearly 5,000 buses and, most importantly at this point, any speeding over the specific limit for each lane. The aim of velocity monitoring is to prevent dangerous speeding and, if it does occur, to work with drivers to identify its causes and thus avoid its recurrence: lack of horizontal or vertical signage, occasional absent-mindedness or health conditions, difficulties or pressure to comply with timetables, and so on.
A few months ago, I was driving to the office in the center of Madrid relatively early, around 7.15 in the morning. I was traveling along a large multi-lane avenue and had activated my vehicle’s smart speed control system, so my vehicle was making sure that I did not exceed the 50 km/h speed limit. Soon I was overtaken by three vehicles, going considerably faster: the first was a cab, the second a vehicle for hire, and the third, and most surprising, a heavy goods vehicle. All of them probably had a geolocation system and their fleet manager, or traffic manager, had or could have had at their fingertips the information on how fast they were driving. Moreover, all these vehicles were operating under some kind of municipal or public permit, so that not only their direct managers but also the authorities themselves could take an interest in the conditions under which these services are being provided (as they already do, for example, when supervising the geographical coverage and distribution, of these cars, buses, and trucks) and, in particular, their safety.
The latest data available to Fundación MAPFRE, from 2020, shows that drivers exceed the speed limits during at least 10% of all driving time and that in almost 100% of all journeys the legal limits are exceeded at least once. According to data from the Directorate General of Traffic, speed is a key factor in around 25% of all fatal accidents. On the other hand, a 2016 study by Fundación MAPFRE and CESVIMAP, which is still totally valid today, indicated that if there were no speeding in Spain, around 20% of all incidents involving serious injuries and fatalities would be prevented.
If we managed to ensure that all vehicles whose speed could be monitored with the technologies already on board or available at this time without additional cost (and here we would include fleets of all types, rental vehicles, renting schemes, cabs, vehicles for hire, shared or sharing vehicles, dangerous goods transport, school and municipal buses, waste collection vehicles, etc.) took advantage of such technological opportunities, including the use of big data and artificial intelligence to help drivers not to exceed safe speed limits, we would significantly reduce the accident rate, improve traffic flow (speeding and, above all, speed differences between vehicles are some of the main underlying causes of many traffic jams), reduce fuel consumption and lower pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions as well as traffic noise, with the consequent benefit for the health of everyone.
If we do not try to succeed, we will be burying our heads in the sand, not like ostriches but like Homo sapiens, although the latter part of that name is clearly open to question.