Plain Continuation Bias

In The Last Mile, April 20225 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMay 3, 2022

One of the better things about the pandemic is that it has given me the chance to do a lot of reading (or rereading in my case), and I have been reminded of a phenomenon called Plan Continuation Bias (PCB). PCB applies when, after a person or business has set out a plan, they continue with that plan no matter what happens, even if the evidence before them suggests they are wrong. History is littered with examples of this. Bonaparte had a plan to conquer Russia and continued with his plan despite the evidence that he was on a fool’s errand; Hitler did the same during World War II.

PCB is often present in aircraft crashes. The January 2020 death of Los Angles Lakers basketball superstar Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash was attributed to the pilot becoming fixated on achieving his plan, getting his passengers to their destination, and not reacting to the changing flying environment around him. He was an experienced pilot who had flown the route often and was familiar with the vagaries of the weather in the area.

We can see PCB developing in the government’s announcement of zero road deaths by 2050. It is a jail ministers have set and will be their focus for the future. They will do whatever they can to work towards this, including lowering speed limits and increasing fines for traffic-related offences. When these do not work, they will develop more crazy and draconian ideas. They won’t revisit their plan.

In a way, the divorce between the three industry associations late last year and the rebranding of the Road Transport Forum could also be an example of PCB – somebody decided on a plan and continued with it despite the evidence suggesting it was wrong. The result of this is that we no longer have a single entity representing the industry at a time when unification is paramount.

Plain Continuation Bias is a close cousin to another phenomenon, the Abilene Paradox. This holds that a group of people will often make a decision that, as individuals, they know are stupid. We can all relate to this. Perhaps the Abilene Paradox is driving some of the decisions coming out of our current government?

Image: NZTA

Last Mile Snippets

Despite Transmission Gully opening at the end of March, it was reported earlier that much of the surface has had to be dug up and re-laid because water was coming through the chip seal.

On 10 February, Australasian Transport News (ATN) reported that a heavy-truck repair company had been fined A$210,000 (about $226,000) because its staff had failed to conduct accurate testing and inspection of a trailer coupling, resulting in the trailer becoming detached from the prime mover, directly contributing to the deaths of three people. The court held that had the company staff undertaken more accurate testing and inspection of the coupling during a recent routine service, the wear and tear in the coupling would have been obvious.

In a Stuff opinion piece on 5 February, Anna Fifield asks the question, “When did our public service get so arrogant?” and gives several examples to illustrate her point, including an almost complete refusal of government departments and agencies to allow journalists to speak to subject matter experts. This writer can relate to this and the increasing difficulty of getting information from the government and its agencies. Even questions put under the Official Information Act are delayed or receive very broad answers – and it’s getting worse. Perhaps Maxwell Smart’s 1960s ‘Cone of Silence’ is alive and well and was not fantasy after all?