The National Safety Council estimates 38,300 people were killed and 4.4 million injured on U.S. roads in 2015, which saw the largest one-year percentage increase in half a century. This will make 2015 the deadliest year on U.S. roads since 2007. The number of injuries and the costs associated with traffic accidents also rose significantly, according to estimates from NSC’s statistics department. Nearly 2.3 million “serious injuries,” which the NSC defines as those requiring medical consultation, were sustained during the six-month period January through June 2015, up 30 percent when compared with the first half of 2014. In a similar upward trend, the estimated costs of these crashes—including medical expenses, wage and productivity losses and property damage—increased 24 percent, to roughly $152 billion.
All of this despite ongoing, year over year, automotive safety advances. It is safe to say that automobiles are safer today than they have ever been. (Or, are they?)
Meanwhile, commercial passenger air travel in the U.S. has not had a single death in over seven years. (All of this despite ongoing, year over year, air safety advances) It is safe to say that commercial air travel is safer today than it has ever been. Why then are we not seeing annual decreases in highway injuries and related costs like we are in air travel? Airliners are safer, automobiles are safer, what is the difference?
Turns out the FAA discovered years ago that we need to go beyond mechanical safety improvements. Research and analysis conducted by the NTSB and FAA identified several other contributing factors, such as procedures that were no longer followed, standards that were ignored over time. The FAA implemented regular training and re-exposure programs aimed at maintaining crew compliance with standards, continuous improvement, and holding skill levels.
Most of us go through drivers training when we are about fifteen years old, (pass the test) then never take another class for the rest of our lives. This contrasts greatly with acquiring a pilot’s license. Of course there is also initial training and a test, but that is where the similarity ends. Ongoing training designed to maintain compliance with standards, keep skill levels, make improvements, is required on a regular basis. (Many in the aviation community call the pilot license, a license to learn) Most pilots take this ongoing training and improvement process very seriously, and believe it to be an important key to maintaining air safety. We have established an expectation and culture in the aviation community revolving around safety, following standards and continuous improvement. It has become quite pervasive and in stark contrast to the culture on the road.
Studies also suggest that standards are not being followed when driving. It is not a failure of the initial training, it is failure to continue to comply with the standards and safe practices when it comes to distractions (texting while driving, etc.) Drivers are certified and technically competent. However they become complacent and believe they can get the same result they have in the past, safe driving, while texting.
On the road our skills erode, we become complacent and distracted. In the air, we do not. This is the big difference, and the numbers really reflect it.
The aviation industry is one of the best examples of the power and benefits of continuous improvement and the first lean principal – Create a Learning Organization. For most of us in the United States, driving a car will be the most dangerous activity we will ever engage in. It is time we recognize the most important safety component in the vehicle, the person behind the wheel, and start our own continuous improvement process?
Lean Learning Center
The Lean Learning Center was founded in 2001 to address the gaps and barriers that are holding back companies from successful and sustainable lean transformation. In addition to the advanced curriculum, the Center has developed a learning environment designed specifically for adult learning utilizing techniques that include discovery simulations, case studies, personal planning, and reflection – ultimately engaging people at a deep and personal level. We bring our unique lean understanding in creative ways to executives, managers, supervisors, change agents and front-line employees.