NTSB Video Series Highlights Safety Benefits of Connected-Vehicle Technology, Raises Concern about Future of V2X

By Member Michael Graham

Today, the NTSB released a four-part video series: “V2X: Preserving the Future of Connected-Vehicle Technology.” Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) is one of the most promising life-saving technologies available today. While radars and sensors are limited to line-of-sight and are often impeded by inclement weather, V2X technology uses direct communication between vehicles and with infrastructure. Additionally, V2X technology increases the safety and visibility of vulnerable road users by alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists that may be outside a driver’s or vehicle‑based sensor’s field of observation.

Despite the immense safety potential of V2X, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) recent actions threaten its basic viability. In May 2021, the FCC finalized the rulemaking to substantially reduce the available spectrum for V2X applications by 60 percent. This ruling retained only 30 MHz for transportation safety applications and invited interference from the surrounding bands from unlicensed Wi-Fi devices. Research by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) demonstrated that expected interference into the spectrum would further compromise the integrity of safety applications—rendering V2X untenable.

In this video series, I had the privilege of interviewing eight experts from government, industry, academia, and associations about the safety benefits and the maturity level of V2X technology, the reasons for its scarce deployment, and the impact of the FCC’s recent actions to limit the spectrum available for transportation safety.

I talked with some of the leading voices in the V2X space, including:

  • Debby Bezzina, Center for Connected and Automated Transportation, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute
  • Bob Kreeb, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Ken Leonard, US Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office
  • Laura Chace, ITS America
  • Scott Marler, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
  • John Hibbard, Georgia Department of Transportation
  • John Capp, General Motors
  • John Kenney, Toyota

The NTSB first issued a safety recommendation to the FCC to allocate spectrum for V2X technology in 1995, and we continue to fervently believe in the promise of V2X technology to save lives.

This series was developed as part of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List safety topic, Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles. I sincerely appreciate each of the eight guests who graciously agreed to participate in the series.

I encourage you to watch all four episodes of this series on the NTSB YouTube channel. You can learn more about the video series, including our featured guests and supporting research, on the NTSB’s V2X web page.

Remembering Air Florida Flight 90 and the Progress Towards Eliminating Airline Icing Accidents

By Jeff Marcus, Chief, NTSB Safety Recommendations Division

Forty years ago, on Jan. 13, 1982, a Boeing 737 jetliner crashed into Washington, DC’s 14th Street Bridge and plunged into the freezing Potomac River after departing National Airport during a snowstorm. The crash killed 73 of the 79 people aboard the airplane and 4 people in cars on the bridge; 4 others on the bridge were injured. A total of five passengers and a flight attendant escaped the airplane into the freezing, ice-filled Potomac River and clung to wreckage.

About 20 minutes after the crash, a National Park Service helicopter arrived. Showing remarkable flying skills, the pilot and paramedic worked so close to the water that at times the helicopter’s skids dipped beneath the surface. They managed to pull four of the survivors to shore. As a fifth survivor lost her grip on the helicopter’s lifeline, Lenny Skutnik—one of hundreds of bystanders—dove into the icy water and brought her to the riverbank.

(A U.S. Park Police helicopter pulls two people from the wreckage of an Air Florida jetliner that crashed into the Potomac River when it hit a bridge after taking off from National Airport in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 13, 1982. Photo by Charles Pereira, Associated Press)

A sixth survivor of the impact had taken the lifeline and flotation rings from the helicopter and passed them to others. When the helicopter returned for him, he was gone. The 14th Street Bridge is today named in honor of that passenger, Arland D. Williams.

NTSB investigators found that after traveling almost half a mile farther down the runway than was typical for a normal takeoff, the airplane lifted off and attained a maximum altitude of only about 350 feet before crashing into the bridge, which was less than a mile from the end of the runway. While the airplane was on its takeoff roll, the first officer remarked several times, “that don’t seem right, does it? Ah, that’s not right. That don’t seem right.” The captain did not respond.

The NTSB’s investigation identified numerous errors related to safely flying in snowy and icy conditions.

  • Though the outside temperature was well below freezing and snow was falling, the crew did not activate the engine anti-ice system that prevents sensors in the engines from freezing and giving incorrect engine power readings. Although the pilots set the engines to the correct power setting, the NTSB’s analysis showed the engines were actually operating with substantially less power than was needed.
  • After leaving the gate, the aircraft waited in a taxi line with many other aircraft for 49 minutes before reaching the takeoff runway. The pilot decided not to return to the gate for reapplication of deicing, fearing that the flight’s departure would be even further delayed. More snow and ice accumulated on the wings during that period.
  • While waiting in line to take off, the pilots decided to maneuver closely behind a DC‑9 that was taxiing just ahead of them, mistakenly believing that the heat from the DC-9’s engines would melt the snow and ice that had accumulated on flight 90’s wings. This action, which went specifically against flight-manual recommendations for an icing situation, contributed to the icing on the Air Florida jet. The exhaust gases from the DC-9 turned the snow into a slush mixture that froze on the wings and the engine.
  •  Although the crew was aware of the ice and snow on the wings, they decided to take off.

Air Florida flight 90 was just one of numerous airframe-icing-related crashes we’ve investigated. Between 1982 and 1997, we investigated eight fatal accidents of aircraft flown by professional flight crews that encountered icing conditions. Other professionally crewed flights were among the numerous icing accidents we investigated through April 2011, when the final report on such an accident was issued. These crashes killed 265 people. Similar problems were found by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board where two accidents in 1985 and 1989 killed 280 passengers and crew.

As a result of these accidents, we’ve issued several recommendations covering a variety of topics, including the following:

  • Deicing fluid properties
  • The number of minutes after which a plane can safety take off after being deiced
  • Airport congestion and the time needed for air traffic control clearance, which can delay takeoff beyond when deicing fluid is effective
  • The importance of deicing engine instruments that are used to set the proper engine power
  • Prolonged autopilot use in icing conditions can mask developing problems with controllability until it is too late to avoid a crash
  • Icing on swept wing aircraft (including most airliners) can cause an airplane to pitch up uncontrollably, leading to a stall
  • Small amounts of ice on an airplane wing (comparable to the roughness of sandpaper) disrupt airflow and reduce the airplane wing’s ability to hold up the airplane
  • FAA certification standard revisions for airplanes approved to fly in icing conditions
  • Increasing stall speed in icing conditions

Because the NTSB identified airframe icing as a significant threat to aviation safety, it was on our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 14 years.

After researching how ice forms on airplane wings in flight, and how that ice affects airplane performance, the FAA revised the standards for airplanes certified for flight in icing conditions. Pilot training and flight procedures were improved, and more attention was paid to minimizing the time between deicing and taking off.

Although the NTSB still investigates aviation accidents involving icing, the numbers are down drastically. We have not investigated a fatal icing-related crash involving a professional flight crew since the February 16, 2005, crash of a Cessna Citation 560 in Pueblo, Colorado.

At the NTSB, we draw knowledge from tragedy to improve the safety of all. The knowledge gained from our investigations of icing accidents, such as Air Florida flight 90, identified the actions needed to improve the safety of everyone who flies.

A New Year’s Resolution We All Can Make: Prioritize Safety

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

As 2021 ends, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months and begin to set goals for the year ahead. After all, as Zig Ziglar once said, “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” So, let us all aim to improve the safety of our transportation system in 2022.

The NTSB recognizes the need for improvements in all modes of transportation–on the roads, rails, waterways, pipelines, and in the sky. Our 2021–2022 NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL), released in April this year, highlights the transportation safety improvements we believe are needed now to prevent accidents and crashes, reduce injuries, and save lives. We use the list to focus our advocacy efforts and to serve as an important call to action. We ask lawmakers, industry, advocacy, community organizations, and the traveling public to act and champion safety.

As a fellow safety advocate, I ask you to join me in a New Year’s resolution: I pledge to do my part to make transportation safer for all.

To help you take steps to accomplish this resolution, our MWL outlines actions you can take to make transportation safer:

  1. Require and Verify the Effectiveness of Safety Management Systems in all Revenue Passenger-Carrying Aviation Operations
  1. Install Crash-Resistant Recorders and Establish Flight Data Monitoring Programs
  1. Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes
  1. Protect Vulnerable Road Users through a Safe System Approach 
  1. Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving
  1. Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles
  1. Eliminate Distracted Driving
  1. Improve Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety
  1. Improve Pipeline Leak Detection and Mitigation
  1. Improve Rail Worker Safety

Achieving these improvements is possible; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on our list. The NTSB MWL includes tangible changes and solutions that will, undoubtedly, save lives. But it’s only words on a list if no action is taken. Unlike Times Square on New Year’s Eve, we cannot drop the ball on improvements to transportation safety. The clock is ticking, and the countdown has begun—we can’t afford to waste any more time. Make the resolution to do your part to make transportation safer for all!

In closing, I’d like to thank the transportation safety stakeholders, industry, lawmakers, and advocates we have worked with in 2021 and we look forward to working together in 2022 and beyond.

Drive Sober and Save Lives the Holiday Season

By Member Tom Chapman

Unlike last year when many holiday gatherings were cancelled due to the pandemic, many of us will return to visiting family and attending holiday parties this year. Some may see this as an opportunity for a 2020 do-over and may overindulge on merriment.

The holiday season is a time of increased impaired-driving crashes due to these celebrations and gatherings. The President has designated December as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, and it serves as a reminder that traffic fatalities and injuries attributed to impaired driving are 100 percent preventable.

In 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,142 people were killed in traffic crashes in which at least one driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 g/dL or higher. That number comprises 28 percent of the 36,096 traffic fatalities that year.  Also of concern, NHTSA estimated a 9 percent increase in police-reported alcohol involved crashes between 2019 and 2020.  These deaths are not abstract statistics. These were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children, friends, and other loved ones. They are people who will be deeply missed at this year’s holiday gatherings.

In addition to alcohol, there are other impairing substances, such as marijuana, other illegal drugs, and prescribed and over-the-counter medications. These can all be as dangerous as alcohol for a driver. As we continue to understand more about the extent to which drugged driving contributes to fatalities and injuries, we are certain that the prevalence of this, as well as multiple or “poly-drug” use while driving, is on the rise.

In June, NHTSA published an update on research looking at drug and alcohol prevalence in seriously and fatally injured road users before and during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The overall picture is very troubling. In general, drug and alcohol prevalence among drivers seriously injured or killed in crashes increased during the pandemic. Significant increases were reported for drivers testing positive for cannabinoids and multiple substances. These are not the trends that we want to see.

The NTSB has issued specific recommendations that, if implemented, would help prevent these deaths and injuries. They include required all-offender ignition interlocks, .05 (or lower) BAC limits, and a national drug testing standard. Our 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements includes the safety item “Prevent Alcohol- and other Drug-impaired Driving,” with these and several additional safety recommendations remaining open.

Congress recently passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which advances some of NTSB’s most important safety recommendations. For example, the new law requires the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with advanced drunk driving prevention technology within three years. I am encouraged and hopeful we’ll see this technology incorporated soon, as it could be a game-changer for alcohol-impaired driving.

By exercising personal responsibility, you can do your part to prevent impaired driving crashes during the holiday season. It’s simple. Choose drinking or driving, but not both. Have a designated driver. Call a taxi or ride-share service. These basic steps will save lives. Let’s ensure there will be many more enjoyable holiday seasons to come.

Three Key Strategies to Prevent Teen Distracted-Driving Crashes

By Bryan Delaney, NTSB Safety Advocate

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teens and, for today’s teens, distraction is a major factor in crash risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), dialing a phone number while operating a vehicle increases a teen’s risk of crash by 6 times, and texting while driving increases crash risk by 23 times.

The NTSB recognizes the importance of teen driver safety, and we’ve made numerous recommendations to prevent distracted driving and promote safe driving behaviors for these vulnerable road users. The following strategies can improve teen driver safety and reduce the risk of teen distracted-driving crashes.

Educate Teens on the Risk of Distracted Driving

Education is key to changing driving behaviors among teens. Parents should model safe driving behaviors, laying out expectations and enforcing consequences if rules are broken. Adults must remember that the driving habits they teach teens through formal education and informal instruction is only half the battle—they must also “walk the walk” by avoiding risky behaviors and teaching by example.

Teens must also set a positive example for their peers by buckling up; obeying the speed limit; avoiding distracted, drowsy, and impaired driving; and making sure their emergency information is up to date and accessible in case of a crash. Peer-to-peer education and accountability can foster a driving environment where distracted driving is unacceptable.

Ban Portable Electronic Devices While Driving

States have a role in preventing teen distracted driving. For a decade, the NTSB has recommended that states prohibit the nonemergency use of all portable electronic devices, except those designed to aid the driving task, while driving. We need a cultural shift to put human life at the center of our transportation system over perceived productivity or social engagement. Driving distracted must become as unacceptable as driving impaired by alcohol or other drugs—for both adult and teen drivers.

Establish a Comprehensive Graduated Driver License Law

All states have some form of a graduated driver license (GDL) program, but no state has a comprehensive program with all provisions to minimize driving risks for teens. As outlined below, the NTSB recommends that all states establish a comprehensive, three-phase GDL law for teen drivers to gain driving experience before obtaining a full license. The following GDL provisions can help states improve overall teen driving and reduce crashes resulting from inexperience.

  • Phase 1: Learner’s permit
    • 6-month minimum holding period (without an at-fault driver or traffic violation)
    • Supervised driver requirement with supervising driver age 21 or older
    • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
    • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level prohibited
    • Cell phone use prohibited while driving
  • Phase 2: Intermediate (provisional) license
    • 6-month minimum holding period (without an at-fault crash or traffic violation)
    • Nighttime driving restriction
    • Teen passenger restriction (up to 1 passenger)
    • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
    • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level prohibited
    • Cell phone use prohibited while driving
  • Phase 3: Full licensure
    • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
    • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level by all drivers under age 21 prohibited

Distraction is impairing. Even cognitive distraction slows your reaction time, and visual and manual distraction might make it impossible to see or avoid a hazard. All drivers—but especially teens, among whom distraction is pervasive—should keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and their phones in the glovebox.

No text, email, or notification is worth a life.

The Official Blog of the NTSB

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