Airman’s Death, Grandfather’s Trickery Provide Vital Lessons for Holiday Travel

  • Published
  • By Col. Will Phillips
  • Air Education and Training Command Director of Safety

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- As we close out the year and head into the holidays, I’ll share a thought from a fatal mishap I read about recently. In this tragic accident, a driver lost control of a vehicle on a remote unpaved road. The vehicle rolled over, killing an Airman who was one of the passengers.

Surprisingly, none of the occupants wore seat belts. That really struck a chord with me.

I remember riding with my grandfather as a child. He was adamant that his car had a safety feature that would not allow it to operate unless everyone in it had buckled up. I know now that he had been stretching the truth, of course. But as an orthopedic surgeon who had in his lifetime watched seat belts adopted as a standard safety feature across the automotive industry, I’m sure he had his fair share of reasons for tricking us into using them. He’d likely seen first-hand the results of people choosing not to wear them. Thankfully, he instilled in his kids a habit pattern that carries on in his great-grandchildren today.

Here’s the thing … I think these Airmen probably obtained that habit pattern too. I don’t believe they routinely drove without seat belts, because I think it’s rare than anyone rides in a vehicle without seat belts these days. Instead, I’d bet something made them feel safe when, in fact, they were not. I think the large vehicle, remote location, relatively slow speeds, and short drive made them feel like they didn’t need seat belts just this once.

They were wrong.

There’s a lesson here for us as we travel home to the familiar settings where we celebrate the holidays. Don’t allow the comfort of friends and family to lull you into forgetting that the same hazards linger at the door. Drinking and driving isn’t any safer in your hometown, texting behind the wheel isn’t any safer on the roads where you grew up, and rushing to get home on too little sleep is still as fatal three miles from your parents’ house as it is at your duty location.

As you prepare to travel home or welcome family and friends to where you are now, what are some areas where you could unwittingly assume risk? Make an honest assessment and have a plan that accounts for those danger zones, enabling you to return safely and ensuring your friends and family do the same. What you do here matters every day, and we look forward to seeing you in the new year!