• Published
  • AETC director of safety
In the spring of 1843, following a botched invasion of Mexico by a band of Texans, Mexican dictator Santa Ana ordered that 10 percent of those captured be executed. To determine which of the 176 prisoners would die, a container was filled with 159 white beans and 17 black ones.

The 17 unlucky men who drew a black bean were shot by firing squad.

In 2007, with nearly 244.2 million motor vehicles on American roads, 2,491,000 people were injured in vehicle mishaps. Statistically speaking, that means those injured departed for their destination with a 90 percent probability of arriving safely and only a 10 percent chance of tragedy. However, like the 17 doomed Texans in Mexico 164 years prior, these near-2.5 million injured men and women, in essence, drew a proverbial black bean.

So did those Texas soldiers in 1843, and the motorists driving on American highways in 2007, all have a random 10 percent chance of suffering an ill fate?

No. In both cases, variables impacted the outcome, spelling doom for some and enhancing the likelihood of a happy ending for others.

In the black bean example for instance, legend has it that in an effort to target captured officers, the Mexican commander placed the black beans on top of the white ones and made these leaders draw first. But it's said that some of the Texans uncovered this treachery. Also, one observant prisoner by the name of William "Big Foot" Wallace figured out that the black beans were slightly larger than the white ones.

While historians may never know for sure what exactly took place, legend suggests that whispers of "dig deep boys" and advice to "feel" past the black beans permeated throughout the group. Consequently, attentive Texans who heard and heeded these safety messages would have improved their chances of avoiding a firing squad.

Similar to the black bean episode more than a century and a half earlier, variables could have affected the outcome for the injured motorists as well.

Motorists who drive drunk, speed, street race, engage in road rage, don't get enough sleep or succumb to distractions, such as texting or scenery gawking, increase the likelihood that they will end up in that unwanted 10 percent who get injured in a mishap.

As a matter of fact, a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study revealed that nearly 80 percent of vehicle crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. That makes driver inattention the most common way to end up "black-beaned" on the street.

So, much like some of the Texans who found ways to increase their odds of survival, you can do the same.

The magazine you hold in your hands, much like the warning whispers of Big Foot Wallace, is blaring safety messages to you right now. Heed the warnings! Avoid risky environments! Remain attentive! Make good choices!

In other words, don't select a black bean ...