Why We Should All Care About Helicopter Safety When Voting
As an Orlando personal injury lawyer, part of my job is staying aware of laws related to safety.
So I spent the morning reading about helicopter safety proposals by the NTSB, and Democrats in Congress (including the Helicopter Safety Act.)
I wish more people followed these issues.
If you want to hear my explanation, please watch here:
Why Helicopter Safety Might Affect YOU
You might be thinking that helicopter safety will never matter to you, because you don’t have Kobe Bryant’s bank account. And most people never ride in a helicopter. But you might find yourself needing or wanting to ride a helicopter someday. And you should be concerned either way.
First, helicopters are used often in tour rides, like in Las Vegas, over the Grand Canyon, ski or hiking slopes, or Hawaii. Since tour guide choppers have even fewer restrictions than other helicopters, I will not be “enjoying” any helicopter tours anytime soon.
But helicopters are used in other situations, more likely to impact our everyday lives, such as medevac after accidents (something that I can tell you, as a serious injury, accident & death lawyer in Florida, happens way more often than you might think — I spoke with a client yesterday who was life-flighted to a local hospital after a semi-truck accident), recovery after natural disasters (remember people standing on rooftops waiting for helicopter rescues after Hurricane Katrina?), and search and rescue operations (like if you are hiking in the Grand Canyon, lost, dying from dehydration, and can’t be found or accessed any other way, God forbid, and need helicopter rescue).
Also, medical personnel regularly fly in helicopters. Maybe someone in your family is an EMT or nurse who might someday be assigned to helicopter duty?*
Or maybe your child will grow up to be on a sports team with someone rich and famous, who happens to own a helicopter, and might be on a fateful flight, just like Kobe Bryant’s passengers were.
Helicopters have also killed and seriously injured totally innocent bystanders, on the ground.
The problem is that most people think that these admittedly rare events will never happen to them, so most people don’t care, until and unless they become a victim. Since so few people are victims, these laws do not have the groundswell of support that happens around other laws that might impact, or are perceived to impact, more people.
That “will never happen to me” mindset is very common about far too many safety laws that, taken together, affect millions and millions of people every year, sometimes to devastating effect.
As Americans, I really think we need to get much more serious about safety issues. Because of lobbying efforts of industry insiders, more and more necessary safety regulations are being watered down, not passed, or ignored, so companies can make more money. In other words, I’m concerned about safety in ALL areas of life — not only helicopters. Helicopters are just one of countless examples.
NTSB & Lawmaker Efforts To Improve Helicopter Safety
As far as helicopter safety, the NTSB has long recommended a few different helicopter safety measures, and Democratic Senators and House members have proposed related bills on these issues:
- visual recording devices in black boxes, to help NTSB investigators, after crashes, determine the cause of the crash, and, if necessary, recommend safety measures that will help avoid future crashes;
- terrain awareness devices, which Kobe Bryant’s airplane did not have, as he and the other doomed passengers on his plane flew through foggy weather, and crashed into a California hillside that was not visible due to the fog;
- crash-resistant fuel tanks (there have been horrific stories of catastrophic burn injuries caused by weathered and aging plastic “milk jugs” used as gas tanks in helicopters, which means that if the helicopter crashes, there is a HIGH chance of serious and often deadly but very avoidable burn injuries).
We all care about safety, at least theoretically. But far too many people simply do not understand that lawmakers and corporate lobbyists are killing us by a thousand cuts. Helicopters are one in a LONG line of safety-related issues in the news daily (usually because companies are finding ways to make us less safe), involving everything from your coffee maker, to vehicles on the road, to your doctor’s office, to the air we breathe, and on and on.
We absolutely MUST start voting for safety.
Many people say that “both parties take money from lobbyists,” so it really doesn’t matter who gets our vote. But the reality is that, time and again, when I am reviewing proposed safety regulations in Congress, or our state legislature (which, as an injury lawyer, is something that I do on a regular basis), they are made by Democratic Congressmen and women. That’s the case with the Helicopter Safety Act, which numerous Democratic House members and Senators proposed just last week. No Republicans joined in that proposed bill. Senator Feinstein also urged the FAA, shortly after Kobe Bryant’s crash, to require helicopter manufacturers to install and retrofit all helicopters with terrain awareness devices.
Last year, Senator Chuck Schumer called for the FAA to require black boxes in helicopters, after a fatal crash in midtown Manhattan.
The NTSB has issued numerous recommendations over the last 20 years, regarding helicopter safety, which have been totally ignored and rejected by the FAA, on the express (stated) grounds that the cost / benefit analysis favored not having them.
(Terrain awareness and warning devices would cost 35K per helicopter.)
Making matters far worse, the FAA is staffed and run by industry insiders, to the point where the Fox is most definitely guarding the chicken coop. (President Trump appointed a long-time airline industry lobbyist to head the FAA, which caused opposition among Democratic Senators during his Senate confirmation hearings, but he was ultimately approved to head the agency.)
Airline and airplane lobbyist groups have fought greater oversight from the FAA. Helicopter manufacturers also oppose greater regulation. Campaign contributions put the cherry on top, making sure that lawmakers do not make sure we are safe.
The best money-making legal scenario for any company, in any industry — and worst scenario for our safety — would be zero regulations AND immunity from lawsuits — then they can do anything they want, and you and I have no way to force them to consider safety over profits, or to take responsibility when they don’t.
Some on the far left and right claim that both parties are to blame. Admittedly, both parties are sometimes influenced by money. But, from extensive reading on safety issues over many years, and working on behalf of clients to recover money after tragic accidents leading to death and catastrophic injuries, my strong observation is that most of these safety laws are promoted by Democrats. We have a two party system that isn’t likely to change. So I believe we should support the party whose members routinely try to pass safety-related bills. This isn’t just for my clients, and potential future clients, although they matter a lot to me. I’m also concerned about the safety of my family and friends, and my own safety.
Plus, conservative justices on the United Supreme Court are the reason we have dark money in politics. Liberal justices voted against allowing this corrupt influence on our politicians. Until that changes, all politicians have to deal with the reality of election votes. But I’m still picking the side that regularly tries to make progress on safety.
*Medevac helicopters have more regulations than other helicopters. But it’s still not enough, in my opinion.
Related Reading (And Sources):
Highly recommended about the dangers of “milk jug” gas tanks in helicopters — everyone should read this
“Corrupted Oversight” — how industry lobbying led to industry oversight of the FAA
NTSB battles with the FAA — the unique dangers of touring flights & sky diving
Scary dangers to flight safety during government shutdowns
NTSB helicopter safety recommendation report (which was ignored by the FAA)
“Aviation Today” on the ineffectiveness of FAA helicopter safety measures
Democratic House Members’ Efforts To Improve Helicopter Safety
Helicopter Safety Act — Bill officially introduced by Feinstein & Sherman (both House Democrats) in June 2020