By Risk Management MagazineJanuary 17, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 17, 2019) - My commute to and from work is about as simple as I could want. I travel on rural roads, except for a 10-minute jaunt on a major highway. If I were ever to be involved in an accident, I figured the highway would be the most likely place due to the increased traffic I encounter there. Therefore, I tend to drive that stretch more cautiously. That reasoning helped contribute to a close call one lazy Sunday afternoon.
We'd just wrapped up a great day of training at the flight facility where everything had gone according to plan. As I opened my car door, I relished in the fact that this was the nicest, fastest vehicle I'd ever owned. I had made some simple aesthetic and sport modifications to it and always enjoyed the looks I got when I drove down the road. The weather was perfect, so I decided to roll down the windows and enjoy a leisurely drive home.
About five minutes into my drive, I approached a four-way intersection. I was the only vehicle on the road in my direction of travel. As I began my right turn, I noticed a sharp new Corvette approaching the intersection from my left. We would soon be traveling in the same direction. I looked at the road ahead and once again saw no other traffic on this semi-straight shot to the highway. I thought to myself, "I wonder if I can tempt the Corvette driver to blow my doors off?" My car looked and sounded fast. Surely he'd take the bait and flex some muscle at my expense.
As I completed my turn and the light turned green for the Corvette driver, I pushed my gas pedal to the floor and took off with a thundering roar. Sure enough, that's all it took for the Corvette to follow suit. We both quickly increased speed, and my adrenalin was pumping. One thing was wrong, though; he wouldn't pass me. We were on a two-lane road and he definitely had the power and space to fly past me.
I alternately glanced at the road ahead, my increasing speedometer and the Corvette in the rearview mirror, wondering why he wouldn't pass me. After all, that was my sole purpose for enticing him to race. At that moment, I remembered this road had a slight bend ahead. At an appropriate speed, it's hardly noticeable. At our speeds, however, I realized the bend would be a lot more significant. Sensing the Corvette would never pass, I lightly tapped my brakes a few times to signal to the other driver that I was slowing down. Things got sporty in an instant.
Just as I began to apply steady brake pressure to take the approaching bend, the Corvette came screaming by on the left side and swerved into my lane, dangerously close to striking my quarter panel. But what appeared to be a calculated pass -- and perhaps a snub -- quickly turned in to a driver who was out of control. The Corvette continued onto the shoulder and almost drifted into the cotton field that lined the roadside. Apparently, he was not familiar with this stretch of road and never let off his accelerator. He recovered, but just barely.
What was supposed to be a leisurely drive home turned into a near-death race that caused my entire life to flash before my eyes. I was thankful our vehicles didn't make contact, which would have meant the end for both of us. In an instant, ego and testosterone nearly ended two lives. As my adrenaline came crashing down, I thought of all of those lives that would have been affected by my taking part in such a needless stunt. While I wouldn't have caused the accident, my actions influenced the situation. It was my fault for initiating the race.
Complacency was key in this scenario. Up to that point, I had spent the entire day being safe. I completed risk assessments, briefed the safety precautions we'd observe during our flight training, returned to base successful in our mission, completed our after-action review and planned to drive my normal route home. These were things I'd done hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the past.
We're taught risk management is a cyclical process that requires constant assessing to ensure what we do in every facet of our lives is done as safely as possible. Unfortunately, some of us require a bit of negative life experience to drive that point home. I consider myself lucky that lesson wasn't written in blood.
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