Most alcohol-related plane crashes occur at night and in worsening weather conditions

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that nighttime flying and worsening weather conditions are two key characteristics of fatal plane crashes in general aviation where alcohol consumption by the pilot was also a factor.

The Hopkins team found that most alcohol-related plane crashes, 52 percent, occurred during nighttime hours, between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. In contrast, most non-alcohol-related plane crashes, 72 percent, occurred during the day, between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Statistics also showed that 64 percent of alcohol-related crashes occurred in worsening weather conditions, such as rain or fog, which force the pilot to switch from visual flight rules to instrument flying.

The researchers hope their findings, to be published in the January issue of the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, can be used to design programs similar to those that combat drunk-driving to lower accident rates.

"Pilots should never mix alcohol consumption with flying because it can impair their ability to think about key functions in operating a plane, such as interpreting flight instruments or coping with spatial disorientation," said lead study author and medical epidemiologist Guohua Li, M.D., Dr.P.H., professor of emergency medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "While regulations currently ban drinking and flying, only major airlines have programs in place for regular testing of pilots, and no program exists for the general aviation pilot."

To better understand the circumstances of and identify specific risk factors involved in alcohol-related plane crashes, the Hopkins team studied medical records for 313 general aviation crashes fatal to the pilot from 1985 to 2000. Specifically, the researchers separated the files using a cut-off blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 20 milligrams per deciliter (0.02 percent BAC), the minimum reliably

Contact: David March
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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