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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


The nut behind the wheel

As the saying goes, “Safety begins by checking the nut behind the wheel.”

The phrase “pilot error” is invoked when airworthy aircrafts crash.  Pilot error is defined as a mistake, oversight, lapse in judgment, or failure to exercise due diligence by an aircraft operator during the performance of his or her duties.

 I applaud the aviation industry for its focus on operator performance, thereby applying pressure on pilots to minimize the occurrence of errors.  Automobile drivers would be well-served to follow a similar mindset.

Admittedly, potential crash landings and passenger responsibility weigh greatly on pilots’ minds, affecting their performance.  But car crashes are often lethal too, and likewise threaten lives of passengers and adjacent motorists.

So, mistakes, oversights, lapses in judgment, or failures to exercise due diligence are potentially volatile shortcomings for motor vehicle operators; their consequences just don’t get as much attention as their airborne counterparts.  Hauntingly, the National Highway Traffic Administration reports that driver error contributes to 95 percent of vehicle crashes.

When enough humans command the controls of enough airplanes, automobiles, or anything else, errors will occasionally result.  To lessen the number of subsequent mishaps, pilots, drivers and other operators must minimize mistakes.  This requires devoting full concentration to the task, seeking improvement, and learning from non-lethal errors.

The total control of a vehicle is dependent upon human behavior — behavior that is affected by attention level, skill level, state of mind and judgment of the driver — a driver who may be incapacitated by sleepiness, distraction or intoxication.

Learning from mistakes is paramount.  If you doze off, but wake up before a crash, let that experience shock you into not allowing it to ever happen again.  If you pull out onto a one-way street going the wrong way,  intentionally reprimand yourself and put a new behavior set in place to rectify that judgment flaw.  If you fail to stop at a red light, be thankful that you had no collision and strive to be more vigilant crossing intersections in the future.

The NHTSA identifies control error and judgment error, which are both essentially judgment errors.  For example, if you end up in the ditch by taking a turn too fast, you lost control.  It was poor judgment, however, that you entered the turn at a too-high rate of speed.

Some errors are obvious, while others are not.  Failing to yield at a traffic light is a clear violation, with a direct effect on your safety since other vehicles within the intersection have the right of way.  Following too closely, on the other hand, may have more of an indirect effect, where nothing bad may happen until factors ahead cause the vehicle in front of you to suddenly slow or stop.

There are plenty of driver errors to go around.  Failure to yield, tailgating, falling asleep, dangerous passing, improper turning, driving on the wrong side of the road and excessive speed are all common contenders.  But that list leaves out hundreds of others, from forgetting to turn on one’s lights to engaging in road rage, or any driving action that may cause an accident.

Strive to drive with precision, employing a devoted effort aimed at error elimination.  Adopting such an attitude will certainly mollify driver errors and the resultant loss of life.  As with common prescription medications, common, seemingly innocuous driving errors may have serious side effects.

As the saying goes, “Safety begins by checking the nut behind the wheel.”

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at