‘Safe!’ or ‘Safe by a mile!’ … There’s a big difference

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

Imagine a baseball game where a player hits a nice line-drive single to right field. A runner who had been at second takes off for third, but then fails to pick up the third base coach’s signal to hold up at third and, instead, aggressively heads for home. The throw from right field targets the catcher like a laser, and as the runner slides into home, he is going to be “out by a mile.” But luck proves to be with the runner, and the catcher takes his eye off the perfectly thrown ball and fumbles the catch. The runner is safe at home!

Has the player done well by making it in and scoring another run? The crowd might think so, but the third base coach probably won’t. Red-faced, that coach will berate the player all the way back to the dugout for not picking up his signal when rounding the bases.

It’s easy for us to only consider the fact that the runner was safe and think the coach overreacted and should be more appreciative. However, we need to consider why the coach got so angry. While his player made it home safe, he didn’t make a good decision arriving there. The coach had a broader view of the situation and knew that while the player’s bad decision led to a good outcome, nine times out of 10 that player would have been out and hurt the team. Those aren’t good odds.

Safety kind of works like that. There’s a difference between sliding into home “Safe!” and being “Safe by a mile!” by doing something safely all along the way.

Does making it through a busy intersection safely after running a red light make running the red light a good risk decision? How about drinking and driving if you don’t have an accident or get caught? Maybe you got home perfectly safe and without hurting anyone else, but a safe outcome does not mean it was a smart decision. It just means you got lucky.

A few years back, this exact scenario unfolded for a young, successful banker. This 28-year-old man had everything going for him. But after a day of tubing down the river, which also involved some heavy drinking, the man hit another vehicle head on, killing a woman in the other vehicle. He later admitted this was not the first time he had elected to drink and drive. All the other times he got home safe without hurting anyone else. But regardless of the result, every time he made the decision to drink and drive it had been a bad choice. When his risk-taking finally, and tragically, caught up with him, a judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison, ending his promising career, as well as a long-term relationship.

There’s plenty of other people getting away with making bad choices, whether drinking and driving, texting and driving, using power tools without the appropriate personal protective gear, or flying a plane with too little sleep. They arrive home safe, until they don’t.

This upcoming weekend bumps up against the Labor Day holiday, making it, for many, the last long weekend of the summer just before school gets fully underway. It’s also one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. People try to squeeze as much fun as possible into that last summer bash or vacation. Some cut corners along the way and “cross their fingers” that it will all turn out.

This Labor Day weekend, ensure you deliberately weigh the risks of your plans as you venture out. Evaluate whether you and those around you have a solid plan, or if you’re relying on good fortune rather than sound judgment to get you through. Take five minutes to think through what could go wrong, and what you will do to mitigate that risk or respond if a mishap occurs. Whatever you do, don’t head out with the intent to “slide” back safely into home this holiday weekend. Because in the game of life, we’d rather have you “safe by a mile” than being sent straight to the dugout.