A school bus and a petrol tanker crashed at a rural cross intersection at St Germains in Victoria on 11 May 2012. There are some children with serious injuries.
The Shepparton news report (link below) says that “Kyabram police Acting Senior Sergeant Paul Nicol said police believed the bus, carrying six students from Lancaster Primary School and Kyabram P-12 College, was travelling north on Ryan Rd and the truck east on Finlay Rd when they collided at the intersection at St Germains.”
Below is an image from Google maps marked up with some arrows according to the description above.
The design problem:
The accident analysis unfortunately will probably not address the design problem because they usually focus on who breached road-user behaviour rules, rather than how these sorts of things could be reliably prevented by the actions of people separated in space and time from the accident.
This area is very flat. The roads are straight. When flat straight roads meet at 4-way cross intersections often one road has the right of way. The view from both ways however is of a clear stretch of road straight ahead.
Signs versus design cues:
Signs are a favorite solution and sometimes a good idea. Signs often tell us one thing but the the environmental cues tell us another. In fact that is often the case as we only need signs and instructions when things are not obvious. However environmental cues – the layout of the road and the surroundings – are very powerful. How many times have you pulled a door that says “push”. Next time you do that have a look at the handle. If it is a vertical bar handle then you didn’t make a mistake – the designer did! The behavioural norm is to pull that type of handle and that will dominate the action rather than the sign. This is not too much trouble with a door but the lesson on the road is the same.
On these flat cross roads, the driver is driving straight, the view is of a road straight ahead. The driver has been successfully driving straight. On approach to the intersection this pattern continues. The road looks the same. There are often trees alongside the road which obscure the distant view left and right. These intersections are a trap. Mostly when the mistake occurs, nothing happens as no one was coming the other way. However every now and then a collision occurs.
This can be readily changed with a staggered intersection. No signs are needed to tell a driver to give way at the end of a t-intersection. This way the correct behaviour is encouraged by a matching cue – instead of an opposite cue (a trap).
Much of the problem here is brought about by a heavy focus on road-user behaviour which impacts temporal features of a systems safety rather than design which impacts on the permanent aspects.
Diagram as perdescription at http://www.mmg.com.au/local-news/shepparton/kids-hurt-in-school-bus-smash-1.17988