Tuesday, March 25, 2008


The first I knew about it, consciously, was when I heard the sound of a tyre skidding on the road. Then I noticed the black car speeding across my path, six inches from my front wheel. For a moment, my brain struggled to make sense of the data which my senses were receiving; real-time automated incident management procedures must have been taking 100% of CPU power, leaving nothing left for system monitoring. Then the pieces fell into place; the tyre I’d heard was my own front tyre, and the whole reaction process was so automatic – like a direct connection from the optic nerve to the first and second fingers of my right hand, bypassing conscious thought altogether – it had happened before I was consciously aware that there was anything going on which demanded a reaction.

I suppose I should have been shaken, but as it was a near-miss and I’d escaped unscathed, I was more intrigued by what had apparently been going on in my mind. I had no conscious awareness whatsoever of the black car until after I’d braked; one moment I’d just pulled away as the lights turned green, the next, I’d already reacted. And without even pausing to put my feet down, I was off again. Interesting too that it was auditory information rather than visual of which I first became aware. They say that when we lose consciousness, hearing is last sense to go, and the first to return when we awake.

I should have known better – this is one of three junctions on my journey to work where traffic of all kinds routinely jumps red lights. I’ve seen so many near misses, I always check, even though I’ve got a green light. Always, that is, except today. I must be more tired than I thought. But I suppose one genuine near-miss in nearly two years of London motorcycling is par for the course. Sobering though to do the sums and realise I was only about one-thirtieth of a second from a minor collision, a quarter of a second from a more serious one. In future, I’ll make sure that always is always.

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