What drivers on the road can learn from aircraft pilots

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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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david jennings
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david jennings 12/18/11 - 07:37 am
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Thank you Maj. Gen. Smith, I

Thank you Maj. Gen. Smith, I agree we all can improve our driving habits. Good driving habits take practice, thanks for the reminder.

soldout
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soldout 12/18/11 - 08:17 am
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Excellent; you can also

Excellent; you can also adjust your side mirrors where there will be no blind spots.

dichotomy
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dichotomy 12/18/11 - 11:09 am
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Everything Gen. Smith says is

Everything Gen. Smith says is true. Unfortunately your teenagers, and many supposed adults, do not think about those things when they jump in the driver's seat. My son had a bad accident when he was 16. He ran off a rural road, over corrected, skidded broad side into a big oak tree at the driver's door and wrapped the car like a horseshoe around the tree. Ripped his spleen loose, almost bled out before they could cut him out of the car, bad concussion, unconscious for 3 days, memory loss for over a month. He did recover. His mother and I were divorced. We mutually agreed to let him ride the school bus and walk for a year. We forbade him from riding with his buddies. It was hard on my ex-wife having to take him to ball practice, band practice, the library, etc. After one year I gave him a used car. When I handed him the keys I only said two sentences to him. "Son, this car is just waiting for the opportunity to kill you or someone else. Drive it that way." Ten years later he told me that those words still go through his mind every time he opens the driver's door. Sometimes making them THINK about what they are doing is better than telling them how they should be doing it.

crkgrdn
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crkgrdn 12/18/11 - 02:36 pm
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And, if you are flying and

And, if you are flying and are not paying attention you are serious trouble; you can't coast to a stop or run across the median into the wire fence.

This summer I drove from Germany, through Austria and Switzerland. When I returned I had forgotten that folks don't use turn signals and ride your bumper and pass on the right and do not heed traffic lights or stop signs. Although the speeds were higher the drivers in Europe were cautious and courteous. The behavior on roads has not always been like this, and one wonders what new behaviors are up ahead.

bailmeout4
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bailmeout4 12/18/11 - 03:27 pm
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what people don't realize is

what people don't realize is that you are really sitting in the seat of a 2 ton missile with 20 gallons of flammable liquid. Most people do not know what their vehicles are capable of and how to properly operate one. Driver's ed should be mandatory in high school. What the article said about watchful anticipation is the best advice for any young driver. I do a "mirror check" every couple of minutes to see whats going on around me.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 12/18/11 - 08:43 pm
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Two of the best lessons for

Two of the best lessons for young drivers (teens in particular), have them view a film showing the bodies of people killed in auto accidents. Lesson two; have them watch you drop a light bulb on a concrete surface, and tell them that this is what happens to their bodies when they are in an auto accident. It's impressive!

oldredneckman96
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oldredneckman96 04/17/12 - 03:05 am
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One more way to be safe is to
Unpublished

One more way to be safe is to ride bicycles facing traffic. You can see the vehicle traffic comming and respond. I would not turn my back on a four thousand pound 55mph firing squad.

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