Auto Accidents: The Coverage They Deserve

If you've been listening to the news lately (or ever, for that matter) you've been hearing about the recent crashes involving aircraft. Be it commercial jetliners, or private small aircraft, the media is always there to make a circus out of it. Let me preface this by saying any crash where people are injured or killed is a tragedy, and is certainly nothing to make light of.

My problem is that the news reports always make flying out to be the most dangerous way to get from here to there, and also seem to make it sound like pilot error - or mechanical failure - should never, ever happen. Let's apply the same rules of flying to driving a car. For those of you who claim this comparison can't be made, you're right, because driving a car is over 5 times more dangerous than flying an airplane! The NTSB could never do investigations of car crashes because there are way too many of them! Every airplane accident is investigated, even if they just roll off the end of the runway and break the nose wheel off!

Let's start with the machine itself. First, your car would have to have:

You see, in almost all cases, systems critical for engine operation are redundant. Yup, two sparkplugs in every cylinder, in case one fails or becomes fouled. Two methods of fuel delivery, in case one fails. So, first of all, we need to double up the critical elements of the motor.

Do you realize that every time a plane goes up, the pilot has done a complete pre-flight inspection? Everything from the prop to the tail to the tires. The fuel has a sample drained to test for moisture in the tank. All controls and control surfaces are checked for operation and wear. The oil is checked and the engine compartment is examined. The motor is run up, and a series of checks are made of its operational systems before the plane ever leaves the ground. Imagine a 15-minute examination of your car every time before you drove it. This applies to all aircraft, big or small.

Once a year an FAA approved mechanic has to inspect your aircraft. Yup, sometimes taking it apart to do the inspection. Every year, whether you fly it or not. It has to be given a completely clean bill of health - or air-worthiness - every year. And that's not mentioning complete engine overhauls at required intervals. Yes, depending on the plane, there's a certain TBO, or "time before overhaul." After a certain number of hours of operation, a rebuild is required. Imagine taking the Chevy in for an overhaul every 500 hours!

Let's apply the same safety regulations, and same investigations for every auto crash. We'll take the cars apart, and determine their mechanical condition at the time of the crash.

How many car drivers wound up in bad weather, but continued to drive on anyway? How about a cockpit voice recorder for cars like planes. We could then determine if our car pilot was arguing with the kids, talking on the cell phone, trying to read a map, or had the cherry fall off his cigarette into his lap, just before he slammed into that school bus full of kids.

Note that after a car crash, there is often no big investigation, no news release stating the cause of the crash. A plane crashes, and everyone is out to determine the exact cause. When a car crashes, it's just too bad. No one cares if the car was a wreck before the crash. No one determines the driver's capabilities, or the condition of the car. The news report never says "4 people were killed in a two-car accident this morning. Federal investigators have determined the driver of the Dodge Omni was talking on his cell phone, while the driver of the Ford pickup was carrying on a heated argument with his girlfriend at the time of the crash".

As a fan of flying since I was 2-years-old, and as a student pilot, I think it's time the public at large learned more about this phenomenon we call "flight." Do you realize that nearly every airplane can fly itself? It's true! Take your hands off the controls, and you'll just fly right along. With auto pilot, you'll even wind up at your destination. Try that in your car!

And, before I forget, how about another example of airplane bias: developers who build housing developments at the end of airport runways, then sell the houses. Next thing you know, the new owners try to get the airport shut down due to the noise. Let's see, the airport had been there for thirty years before the developer came along. Everyone who bought the houses knew there was an airport there. Lots of people even buy houses at a reduced price, because it's near that "noisy airport" then try to shut down the airport because it's lowering their property values! When's the last time they shut down the freeway after the housing development went up? In most cases, these airports were built a long time ago, a long way from people. It's not the airport's fault that some idiot decided to build a bunch of townhouses at the end of the runway!

There's an old realtor story, told in flying and real estate circles, that goes something like this: A couple asked the realtor how near a house they were looking at was to the airport. He replied, "They're going to shut down that airport real soon because of the noise, so you can pick up this house cheap right now, before they close the airport". They then told the realtor "I sure hope they're not closing the airport, because we just bought it!" They had just purchased the FBO (fixed base operator) business at the airport. They found a new realtor.

The next time you get in your car, remind yourself that you are five-to-seven times more likely to be involved in an accident than if you were climbing into your own Cessna, Piper, or other plane of choice. And, while you're thinking about it, be sure to visit my flying links and pictures right here on this very website!