Why being a transport correspondent made me nervous about travelling – Alastair Dalton

Drivers passing cyclists too close are among the risks they face. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Drivers passing cyclists too close are among the risks they face. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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This might sound hilarious or even absurd considering my job, but I am increasingly fearful of certain types of travel.

Being a transport correspondent has pros and cons as far as assessing the relative risks of different ways of getting about.

On the one hand, I have come to learn what’s safer and less safe statistically among different modes.

But at the same time, writing about transport also involves reading crash investigation reports and covering horrific collisions, and becoming over-familiar with the unusual rather than the usual.

Increased anxiety may also be an aspect of ageing – I freely admit that in the distant past, I regularly drove as far above the speed limit as I thought I could get away with without being stopped.

I now religiously stick to the limit, indoctrinated by what I’ve learned through my job about the key role of speed in road safety. I now even curse those who ignore the speed limit signs and drive faster, or are impatient to get past me.

On some roads, like 30mph fenced-off dual carriageways, I silently wish for more enforcement – or what’s the point of setting that limit?

Being married and a parent also means it’s my family’s safety, as well as my own, that I could be endangering by speeding.

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But while the anxiety of driving derives from the responsibility weighing on my shoulders for myself and others in the car and on the road, my worries on other forms of transport come from not having any control.

That’s not to say I don’t have complete faith in train, tram and bus drivers, along with aircraft pilots and ferry captains – I never give it a second thought.

What gives me particular trepidation are certain aspects of flying, like the climb after take-off when the plane alters its rate of ascent slightly and appears to suddenly drop fractionally.

Landings can be as bad, particularly aboard small aircraft, and especially in strong winds. Descending through cloud isn’t fun either. One bumpy landing in Amsterdam in a jumbo jet 16 years ago still sticks in the memory.

I can also find myself worrying on some coach journeys about the antics of drivers who I have seen holding a mobile phone to their ear while barrelling down the motorway at 70mph. I hope never to see that again.

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Some taxi drivers – and Uber drivers – also make me nervous. I always wear a seat belt – why doesn’t everyone? Why doesn’t the driver recommend it, even though in some taxis they are not obliged to belt up themselves?

I get particularly annoyed by such drivers speeding, tailgating or passing cyclists too close – as I have witnessed almost daily while riding a bike.

That brings me to my choice of commuting predominantly by cycle. Some seem to think I should be most worried about getting to work that way – although the statistics say otherwise.

And with cycling, unlike most other forms of transport, at least you have the ability to reduce the relative risks. In my case, it is by choosing a route that is mainly on traffic-free paths, wearing a high-vis jacket and having bike lights on whatever the time of day.

I would even take a detour if necessary if it enabled me to avoid busy roads.

Are some of my travel fears irrational? Probably. You are far more likely to be involved in a crash on the road to the airport than on your flight, but I all too often ignore that.