So how did several truck drivers wind up on the bridge deck of New York’s Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge just as the peak winds of Tropical Storm Isaias were passing through in early August and, as a result, overturned?
The answer? For the very same reasons that mariners often fail to seek out and correctly interpret the readily available information for the planning and execution of their voyage or they ignore, or fail to grasp the significance of, broadcast warnings of approaching or imminent danger.
In short, we are often simply lousy at accurately judging risk, even when we have access to accurate data. Second, we also exhibit laziness. We do this by expecting someone else to not only monitor the world at large on our behalf, but to also warn us of any hazards that might befall us while we generally fail to pay adequate attention. We expect others to essentially save us from ourselves. Top it all off with seeing things through rose-colored glasses: the unfounded optimism that whatever one is doing is indeed “doable” and therefore can and should be done. These tendencies can sometimes lead to poor and even catastrophic outcomes.
It’s true that the police could have closed down the bridge to prevent the accidents. Protocols do exist for just such a wind event. Apparently, however, the actionable wind-speed thresholds were just being approached as the trucks neared and rolled up the ramps onto the bridge. With the inherent lag time in implementing the closure, it was too little too late. Perhaps the protocols were insufficiently restrictive for high-profile vehicles or more on-duty police would have shut it down quicker.
Regardless, no one stopped the truck drivers from entering the danger zone. But neither did anyone force them to cross the bridge during the tropical storm. The behavioral bias was to simply do whatever was permitted, assuming that if it was permitted it must be safe and that if it weren’t safe then it wouldn’t have been allowed. These assumptions, as they often do, proved to be false.