Friday, 14 May 2010

The New Thinker

Last night I went to Bonython Hall at the University of Adelaide to hear Adelaide's new Thinker in Residence, Professor Fred Wegman. He is a very well regarded road safety expert. The Thinkers in Residence website says:

Professor Fred Wegman is currently Managing Director, SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, Netherlands. The Netherlands is one of the best performing countries in terms of road safety.

He has been at the forefront of ‘safe system’ developments around the world, taking into consideration the entire system including road users, vehicles, roads and travel speeds.

Fred advises on road safety to the Dutch Ministry of Transport and Dutch Parliament, the European Commission and many countries internationally.

Professor Wegman’s areas of expertise include developing road safety strategies and implementation programs, evaluation studies on road safety, and developing road safety research programs.

His lecture was very enlightening. He already seemed quite excited about meeting representatives from the various agencies and groups interested in road safety. They were in attendance at the lecture but so were many interested people from the general public.

As I understood him, Professor Wegman's general thesis was that the key to road safety was examining every part of the system. He said that when there is an accident on the road, we often ask who or what caused it when in fact there are multiple causes. He places emphasis on the system itself and suggests we think of ways to make the system encourage people to drive in a way that minimises risks. He referred to what has been described as "nudging". There are various websites and a good book about it. There is also a related (and very good) blog about it.

Professor Wegman said that a flaw in the system is that we rely so heavily in individuals to make the right decision all the time. That is a weakness because human beings are fallible.

It was a great lecture. He will give a further lecture later in the year when he will provide his recommendations for South Australia. In the meantime, we are encouraged to follow the blog at

There were some insightful questions and, what heartened me, spontaneous applause when Professor Wegman said he had noticed the position of cyclists and planned to talk about it. Looking at the blog, already there are some really intelligent comments. I am looking forward to hearing the recommendations.

The other weekend I was in Norwood doing some shopping around the Parade. There are a couple of bike shops there including Trak Cycles. They had some cool bikes made by a company called Viva which I found out is Danish. The particularly cool one was the Velo. I also saw quite a few people, especially young women, on normal bikes in normal clothes going about their business. I also joined, at its founder's suggestion, the Adelaide Cyclists website. Highly recommended.

There is all this stuff happening that I just hadn't noticed before.

Then, on my way back from the lecture, I was crossing a road near the parklands, waiting on the central reservation for a car to pass. The driver slowed down and allowed me to cross. Courteous and awesome.

It is easy to get bogged down with the little things that worry you but it is worthwhile sometimes to take a step back and look at what is good around you. Adelaide really is a great place to live.

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