How do you Code that?

Without trying to minimize the depth of tragedy concerning the death of a six-year-old boy when a Southwest jet slid off the runway in Chicago, (stories here, here, and here), the traffic engineer in me wonders how an investigator would code that crash?

There are the obvious codes for collisions with vehicles, deer, lamp posts, guardrail, ditches, mailboxes, etc., but with a quick check of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s coding scheme (which is in the only one I have immediately available), the only categories that might apply are “Other Object (Not Fixed)” or “Motor Vehicle in Motion – In Other Roadway.” The next obstacle would be that the vehicle at fault is the one that is used to categorize the collision, which in this case would be the aircraft striking another “Motor Vehicle in Motion – In Other Roadway.” Again, trying to convert the police report to the collision database will be a fun task for whomever gets it, I’m sure. Without specifically requesting the crash report, someone (like me) who happens to look at the collision data for that roadway would have no idea that a 100 ton aircraft caused this wreck.

Arguably, and I’m willing to be the arguer, this collision should be entirely disregarded when analyzing the traffic safety of this road section. Yes, it’s a fatality, but the circumstances are not ones which are within the bounds of the traffic engineer to solve (I’m sure the airport and airlines would object to a 20′ wall across the end of their runway). However, it would be difficult to disregard this fatality if you were merely analyzing the crash data because you would have no idea (without special knowledge) that an aircraft was involved. Fatalities get an awful lot of attention when collision analyses are conducted so this one wreck could disproportionately affect the amount and kinds of money spent on this roadway.

My Two Cents. This isn’t something earth-shaking in the traffic community, it is merely interesting. And tragic, from the point of view of the family of the deceased.

Post script: In my experience, in cases similar to this one where weather is a factor, some police officers would tend to cite the driver of the out-of-control vehicle for failure to drive safely according to conditions. I wonder if the airline pilot received one? That is done by the officer on the scene to firmly establish which driver was at fault. This incident messes with some of the nice boundaries that traffic and safety engineers are usually safely ensconsed behind.

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One Response to How do you Code that?

  1. Mike says:

    Those are some really good questions. I know that the idea of an emergency landing on a highway by commercial aircraft is not unprecedented… in such a case, would the pilot receive a citation? Or in that case, is it more of a pre-arranged (well, pre-arranged meaning a matter of minutes) road closure?

    I’ve flown into Midway a number of times, and am always shocked at how close the road is, and how relatively small the barrier is that separated roads from airport. I suppose this incident underscores that. It got me thinking, particularly having just flow into Pittsburgh’s airport in the boonies… at how many airports is a “Midway Incident” possible? That is, how many really have that narrow an approach such that a miss puts you in a residential neighborhood? Of the airports I’ve flown to enough times to notice such things, Midway is the only one I can think of, but I’m certain it’s not the only example. Of the ones with which I’m most familiar, Bradley, Albany, Pittsburgh, and DFW are pretty isolated. TF Green in Providence might be a borderline case; US 1 is pretty close.

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