What drivers on the road can learn from aircraft pilots

I am writing this article from San Diego, where a friend of our son-in-law was involved in a tragic accident only two blocks from our daughter’s home.


The friend was riding his bike on a designated bicycle lane that was separated from the Ted Williams Parkway by a steep embankment and a chain link fence. A woman, driving at a high speed, was texting when she lost control of her SUV.

Her vehicle drove off the parkway, slid up the embankment, crashed through the chain link fence, flipped over and smashed into two men riding bicycles. One was killed and the other badly injured. The driver suffered only minor injuries.

One of the points that is emphasized at flying schools all over the world is the need to “Fly Safe.” Whenever pilots climb into airplanes, they normally have the following mindset – either the weather, another aircraft, or your own airplane may soon put you in grave danger. Hence, pilots plan their trips carefully and anticipate trouble from the time they start their engines until they are safely parked on the tarmac at their final destination.


THE PILOT’S mindset can be very helpful to someone driving a vehicle of any kind.

Whenever you climb into the driver’s seat of a car, a boat, a bicycle, or an airplane, please remind yourself that someone or something may soon cause the death of everyone in your car.

Watchful anticipation can serve you well on the trip ahead. For instance, if you position your head as if it were on a swivel and constantly check for dangers in the front, on your sides or in the rear, you may be able to avoid an accident.

Let’s face facts; someone out there is driving drunk, texting, falling asleep or distracted by deep thoughts. You don’t want that distracted person to drive his or her vehicle into yours.

Here are some specific tips:


1. IF YOU OBSERVE anyone driving erratically, pull off to the side of the road and wait until that vehicle is completely out of your way. If you can get a license plate and vehicle type, call the police.


2. ALWAYS KEEP both hands on the steering wheel so if you have a tire blow out, someone hits your car or you start sliding in the rain, snow or ice, you have a better chance of maintaining control.


3. KEEP YOUR vehicle in good mechanical shape. Be sure to follow the guidelines in your owner’s manual and change oil, rotate tires, check tire wear, check all the belts, fluids, etc., at the proper mileage points.


4. AS YOU DRIVE at night, keep a close eye on the sides of the road for deer or other animals who may soon cross your path. Their eyes will usually show up as reflections from your headlights or the headlights of others.


5. AVOID HAVING tunnel vision and watching only the road ahead. This is the tendency of both young drivers and very old drivers.

6. WHEN YOU purchase your next car, get adaptive cruise control. When someone ahead who has no brake lights jumps on the brakes suddenly, your car will instantly slow down. This system works really well.


7. TURN OFF your cell phone before you start your car so you will not be tempted to answer it or to send a text message.


If you must stay in contact electronically, be sure to use a hands-free device. The best mobile phones are those that are voice-activated, so you don’t have the distraction of dialing the number by hand.

Regarding the final point, this past Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. A raging national debate has already begun.

For a variety of reasons, the next two weeks are the most dangerous 14 days of the year. Please “Drive Safe.”


(Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, U.S. Air Force retired, is the president of the board of trustees of the Augusta Museum of History and secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. As an Air Force pilot he flew more than 3,400 hours, mostly in single-seat fighter aircraft.)



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