Name: Michael Ancel
From: Atlanta, GA
How Aviation Risk Management Should be Applied to Driving
Standing outside in the 100-degree Atlanta weather, I was completing my pre-flight inspection before going on a local flight with my sister. Suddenly, I began to feel very dizzy and lightheaded. I knew at that moment it was not going to be safe for me to operate an airplane, and with a limited time block reserved on this rental plane I decided to pack up and go home for the day. This was certainly a disappointment, but it is something that is drilled into pilots from their first day of training. I often describe it as “looking for reasons not to fly”, rather than trying to justify that you are fit to fly. One common method pilots are taught to utilize is to walk through the acronym “IMSAFE” to evaluate themselves before flying.
Illness (is the pilot sick in any way)
Medication (any medications that may affect their ability to fly)
Stress (any unusual or new stresses)
Alcohol (legal minimums of 0.04% BAC and no alcohol within 8 hours)
Fatigue (ensure proper levels of rest and mental clarity)
Eating / emotion / everything else (often used as a catch-all for anything of concern)
With my condition falling into the “fatigue” and “everything else” category, it was good risk management and decision making to not go on that flight. However, what happened next was a large lapse in judgment. I had just decided I was incapable of operating this 2,000-pound propeller aircraft, yet I did not hesitate to walk back to my 3,000-pound car to drive home amongst busy Atlanta traffic. About two minutes into the drive, I started to feel very dizzy and had to quickly throw on my hazards and pull over before putting myself or anyone else in harm’s way. Fortunately, nothing came of this incident, and my sister was able to drive the remainder of the way home without issue. However, this was an eye-opening experience for me. Because driving is such a casual part of everyday life, I did not take the time to think about if it was safe for me to drive as I had just done so carefully before flying.
Outside of drinking and driving, I have never heard of evaluating one’s ability to drive in a manner similar to that used in aviation. While some may argue that operating an airplane has larger consequences than a car, I would disagree. If I was the sole occupant of an airplane and made a poor decision, I would likely only be harming myself. Meanwhile in a car, it is drastically more likely that you collide with another innocent person or family. The responsibility is the same if not more, so why is it treated so differently?
My proposal to increase road safety is simple: proper risk management education encouraging those to evaluate themselves before operating a car. This should include a variety of factors beyond a simple “fit to drive” evaluation. For instance, I believe I could safely operate a car after 5 hours of sleep. However, I would not try to operate a car after 5 hours of sleep in the middle of a blizzard, as that is a compounding risk and greatly increases the risk when compared to each individually. The same logic could apply to driving with a headache in my Honda CR-V versus driving with a headache in a 15-foot U-Haul that I have no experience driving. One of those I deem to be an acceptable level of risk, and the other an unacceptable level of risk.
Teaching risk management in this way is by no means a cure-all to driving incidents. As in aviation, people still will make poor decisions that lead to tragic outcomes. However, I do firmly believe that this way of thinking could save lives. There is potential for thousands of lives to be saved if people were trained to think “let me just eat this cliff bar and sit for a minute before I begin to drive” or “I just got off a 12-hour overnight shift and am too tired to drive”. Why is it that people will call an Uber after drinking, but will not think twice about driving after staying awake all night caring for a sick relative?
I hope that this way of thinking can be integrated into drivers’ education courses and promoted to the general public. At the very least, I hope I can make a difference to those reading this essay today. If we can all remember to evaluate ourselves using “IMSAFE” as a framework, we can work to reduce the number of driving related deaths across the world.