None injured in small Sydney bus crash
The world’s worst headline is widely agreed to be this rip-snorter from a brief which ran some years ago in The New York Times: None dead in small earthquake in Chile.
This column might be considered a belated shot at the title.
But setting aside from its decidedly unspectacular impact, it’s a story which says something about the way we live and interact in a big city like Sydney. It goes to the kind of entrenched bullying and brinksmanship which pits complete strangers against each other in all sorts of frazzled, sometimes deadly encounters as we try to get through our day.
It’s also about the behaviour of people who, given a little bit of authority and advantage by the law, will quite often act as if they can do whatever the hell they like, to the detriment of those around them.
I saw the accident unfold with a bunch of other people last Wednesday while standing on the footpath on Liverpool St having a smoke in front of the bus shelter.
Being habitually workshy and easily distracted, but also because I worried the ensuing argument between the woman motorist and male bus driver might turn into something worse, I stuck around to watch it unfold, and along with another witness gave my details to the woman whose car was hit.
This is the statement I’m submitting as per the request by her insurance company:
“At about 3.30pm on Wednesday July 15 I witnessed a collision between a State Transit bus and a green Mazda sedan near the pedestrian crossing opposite Hyde Park on Liverpool St, between College St and Elizabeth St.
The bus was at the bus stop and the driver was trying to pull out, but the Mazda was stuck in traffic on the right-hand side of the bus, about halfway down the length of the bus, and at that time was not visible to me or other witnesses where we were standing.
We could see another car in front of the Mazda which was also stuck in traffic, and preventing the Mazda from moving out of the way of the bus.
The bus driver became agitated when the Mazda did not move and honked the driver at least five times and waved his hand demanding to be let in.
The next thing we heard was a loud crunching sound as the bus pulled out anyway and smashed into the front left-hand side of the car, busting its tyre and caving in its panel.
The car remained stationary and the bus driver continued south down Liverpool St for about 30m but, realising he had hit the car, pulled over to the left and stopped, got out, and remonstrated with the woman.
He asked me and the other witness if we had seen what happened; we replied that we had, and that we thought it was entirely his fault, and that we would give statements supporting the woman as she could not have moved her car anyway, and had done nothing to cause the accident.”
The colour story surrounding this tiny prang was the woman in the car was a young mum who had her baby son of not even 12 months in a booster seat in the back.
After the initial shock of the prang she sat in the middle of the traffic ringing her husband on her mobile, and then composed herself enough to start the car again and gingerly pull over with a burst tyre into the bus lane.
We asked her if she was OK and she started to cry, saying “Did you see that? He just drove straight into me! I have a baby in the back, he could have killed my baby!”
The bus driver, a middle-aged Aussie bloke in shorts and walk socks, was by this stage out of the bus and had lit up a smoke and was pacing around in circles shaking his head in anger.
“I’d already let one car through, am I meant to just sit there all day?”
The reaction his question received from our small throng was resolute – it would probably be better than smashing into a woman’s car, mate.
Despite his total culpability for the accident and initial, unjustified anger at the woman’s conduct, the one thing I’d say in defence of the driver is that he cooled down pretty quickly and got around to exchanging details.
He looked like an average guy who was at his wit’s end doing a job where people are sometimes rude, where he faces a constant personal battle to keep up with his timetable, where some motorists deliberately won’t let him in.
But none of that excuses a Michael Douglas-style Falling Down moment where he almost mounted the bonnet of a woman’s car in frustration.
For this was what he’d done, acting just like so many bus drivers who regard that large sticker they were given a few years ago that says “Give way when changing lanes” as carte blanche to just pull out into oncoming traffic whenever they please.
It’s a classic example of how people will behave when you give them a little bit of extra power. The very literal interpretation which drivers place on these stickers has now been born out in the crash figures – the Daily Telegraph reported this week that Sydney’s buses have been involved in 2073 crashes in 18 months, with more than half being the fault of STA drivers.
That’s almost four crashes a day, a remarkable strike rate given there’s only 1900 buses in the STA fleet.
The total bill to the taxpayers from these prangs in NSW is $1.61 million and this woman’s bingle will push the total higher.
And even when you factor in the length of time these buses spend on the roads, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that the enormously high number of prangs stems from a mindset of entitlement, all off the back of a sticker, which makes drivers think the rest of the world must stop for them, as we all scoot around this city thinking we’re busier than we really are.
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