Distracted Driving

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who use a cell phone every day while driving? It’s so convenient, but it’s also potentially deadly. Thousands of people across the nation will lose their lives this year to this preventable public health problem. Tens of thousands more will suffer life-altering injuries, ranging from internal organ damage to permanent paralysis. A recent AAA survey found that 97 percent of drivers indicated that texting or email on a cellphone while driving was very or extremely dangerous and nearly 80 percent indicated holding and talking on a cellphone while driving was perceived as very or extremely dangerous.  Yet, a majority of those drivers admitted to using their cellphone while driving. Why?

Most people believe that they are above-average drivers and multitaskers. However, the science says otherwise. The human brain, a single-core processor, does not multitask—it processes sequentially. Depending on the complexity of the tasks we’re attempting, our ability to keep up with multiple tasks drops due to overload. You see it on the road every day: poor lane-keeping, running red lights and stop signs, not moving when the light changes or failing to keep pace with traffic. Distraction too often manifests in a collision with another vehicle, an object, or a pedestrian. The science says that some people are literally addicted to their devices, and while most addictions are just detrimental to the user, with distracted driving, both the abuser and the innocent drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists near them are in jeopardy.

On the spectrum of distraction, talking on a cell phone, even with a handsfree device, is bad, but texting is even worse. Take your eyes off the road for more than 3 seconds, and the odds of a bad outcome go up quickly. In fact, a naturalistic driving study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or near crash by as much as 23 times. A car traveling at 55 mph goes about the length of a football field in those 3 seconds, and, let’s be honest, it takes most people far more than 3 seconds to send a text. Each extra second multiplies the danger.

Driving fast with a sport car

In 2011, we recommended that all states ban the use of personal electronic devices, for nondriving tasks, when the vehicle is in motion. Today, although most states have laws against texting and driving, two still don’t: Missouri and Montana. Why not? Those who oppose a ban in these states often argue that they don’t want yet another law interfering with their already over‑regulated lives. They insist it’s a matter of personal freedom.

We recently held a distracted driving round table in Missouri where we heard from survivor advocates, advocates, experts, and legislators on the need to enact a law to address the distracted driving problem in the state. The survivor advocates who have lost loved ones would tell you that a comprehensive distracted driving law could have prevented the life-altering tragedy they’ve endured that no one should have to experience.

Polls show that Americans typically support restrictions on device use, which is why most states have already enacted laws, but a few legislators are uneasy about passing laws that might be perceived as over‑reaching. A vocal minority believe their convenience outweighs the public’s right to safety on the road; however, no one has the right to put another person at risk. The reality is, distracted driving is no different than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They’re both intentional acts that cause crashes that can result in death and life-altering injuries to innocent people. Safety advocates tell drivers they can either drink or drive; they also should be telling drivers they can either text or drive.

Web

While states continue to debate the extent of their personal electronic device bans, you can act on your own to save a life, regardless of the law in your state. Put the phone down when your vehicle is in motion. As we work toward a future where using a cell phone while driving is as unacceptable as driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, we all have a personal responsibility to help eliminate the deadly distractions on our roadways.

Episode 28: School Bus Safety Week

This week is National School Bus Safety Week. The theme this year is “My School Bus, The Safest Form of Student Transportation.” School Bus Safety Week is a public education program hosted by the National Association of Pupil Transportation, National School Transportation Association and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, designed to promote school bus safety and to engage with parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other interested parties – to address the importance of school bus safety.

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, we talk with Kris Poland, PhD, Deputy Director, and Sheryl Harley, Highway Investigator, both in the Office of Highway Safety, about recent NTSB crash investigations involving school buses, new safety recommendations related to fire suppression systems and seat belts and why school buses are the safest form of transportation for students to travel to and from school and school-related activities.

To learn more about the NTSB investigation of the Oakland, Iowa school bus fire visit: https://www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/mr20190618.aspx

To learn more about the NTSB investigations of school bus crashes in Baltimore, Maryland and Chattanooga, Tennessee read the special investigation report available at: https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SIR1802.aspx

To view the NTSB School Bus Safety Video and to keep up-to-date on NTSB school bus and school transportation related investigations, reports, studies and presentations visit: https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/Pages/schoolbuses.aspx

 

Get the latest episode on Apple Podcasts , on Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast platform.

And find more ways to listen here: https://www.blubrry.com/behind_the_scene_ntsb/

The New Car Assessment Program

By Member Jennifer Homendy

In 2017, 37,133 people died on our nation’s roadways in preventable crashes. One way to prevent or mitigate these tragedies is by implementing proven and effective vehicle technologies, such as collision-avoidance systems. We know these systems can save lives, and our current Most Wanted List includes “Implementing Collision Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles.” We want to see these technologies installed as standard equipment on all vehicles, and we want consumers to know which systems offer the best protection when they are buying a car.

MWL07s_CollisionAvoidance.jpg

That’s why, in a 2015 special investigation report, we called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) 5-star rating system to include collision‑avoidance system ratings, and to post those ratings on the new-vehicle window sticker. The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) also required that crash-avoidance information be presented next to crashworthiness information on the window sticker. The NCAP 5-star rating system—which the United States pioneered in 1979— provides valuable information to consumers about crashworthiness, including protection from frontal and side impacts and vehicle rollover. This information can lead to consumers making safer choices, which will motivate manufacturers to design safer cars—it’s a win-win for consumers and for public safety! But NCAPs are most effective when they continuously raise the bar and, while NCAPs in other nations have progressed, the US NCAP has not made any significant program updates in more than a decade.

In recent years, NHTSA has sought public comments on a potential plan to update and modify the US NCAP. For example, in 2015, the agency discussed potentially updating its crashworthiness testing to add a crash-avoidance rating that would incorporate the effectiveness of multiple safety technologies and to create an overall 5-star rating that would encompass crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and pedestrian protection. The NTSB knew that it was possible to incorporate collision avoidance and other safety features into NCAP ratings because other NCAPs around the world had already done so, and we publicly supported these plans to expand the NCAP rating system. We encouraged NHTSA to move forward.

In our 2017 safety study on speeding, we called on NHTSA to consider using the NCAP to incentivize passenger vehicle manufacturers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems, and in our 2018 special investigation report on pedestrian safety, we recommended that the agency incorporate pedestrian safety systems, including pedestrian collision-avoidance systems and other more passive safety systems, into the NCAP. As of today, these recommendations remain open.

Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death and injury in the United States. We want to see more vehicles using collision-avoidance systems to save lives—but they can only save lives if people know they exist and understand how to use them. This makes the NCAP, a successful program on which car buyers already rely, the perfect avenue for increasing consumer awareness of the latest safety technology and, ultimately, making our roads safer.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the US NCAP program, let’s take advantage of the program’s success and use this moment to make it even stronger. Our nation’s road users deserve it.

 

Roundtable Discussion Yields Key Insights, Critical Actions Needed for Improving Safety of Part 135 Flight Operations in Alaska

By Chairman Robert Sumwalt

On September 6, in Anchorage, Alaska, I facilitated a first-of-a-kind roundtable of industry operators, government officials, educators, and aviation associations. Troubled by investigations into too many crashes involving Part 135 flight operations (which include air medical service, air taxi, air tours, charter, and on-demand flights) in Alaska, we called together some of the brightest experts across industry, academia, and government to help answer one question: How can we improve the safety of flight operations involving these aircraft?

We had some ideas on how to answer that question already; the issue is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. For example, we know that safety management systems (SMS), flight data monitoring (FDM), and controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) training can help ensure that operators manage their planes and pilots in the safest possible way, reducing the chances of a crash. But we wanted to hear ideas from others—specifically those flying in Alaska, where Part 135 crashes are so prevalent—and urge operators and regulators to make some of the changes we believe will help.

Between January 2008 and June 2019, we investigated 204 fatal accidents in Alaska

fatal part 135 alaska accidents
Fatal Part 135 Alaska Accidents – Accident data from January 1, 2008 to August 12, 2019

involving fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, scheduled and nonscheduled, in Part 135 operations. These accidents killed 80 people. At the roundtable, Dana Schulze, the NTSB’s Director of Aviation Safety, briefed us on the leading causes of Part 135 accidents in Alaska, reporting that nearly 80 percent of fatal accidents in Alaska are due to CFIT, loss of control in flight, midair collisions, and unintended instrument meteorological conditions.

Alaska has several challenges compared to the “lower 48,” such as unique terrain conditions, difficult weather, and congested airspace. That’s why we thought it important to talk specifically to those navigating this terrain. However, the deadly consequences of a crash are the same, regardless of where it occurs, and aviators across the country should be concerned with the issues we discussed at the roundtable.

I kicked off the roundtable of 29 experts, many of whom were operators, with a reminder that there is a business case for safety. I challenged the panel to come up with concrete solutions that we could collectively address. From the start, we agreed on one thing: the September 6 roundtable wouldn’t just be a conversation; it would be a call to action.

Chairman addresses panel about risk management
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt talks with panelists about risk management during the September 6 roundtable on Alaska Part 135 Flight Operations

Our panelists discussed four key areas: training, risk management, technology, and infrastructure. We were pleased to see that many of their ideas related to these topics aligned with recommendations the NTSB has already issued, which are noted below. However, we welcome a discussion about any and all other potential improvement areas. Areas which the panelists agreed that they will evaluate further and perhaps pursue individually and collectively included:

Training

  • Cue-based (simulator) training has an impact on pilot decision-making and should be encouraged and required. Pilots taking CFIT training on a simulator performed significantly better on subsequent real-world flights than those who didn’t. (Note: the NTSB supports and has made recommendations to improve CFIT training for pilots).
  • To improve safety, operators must consider five safety principles: knowledgeable pilots, training, proficiency, reliable equipment, and culture.
  • The five things every operation must do are (1) realize it needs to change, (2) have a project champion, (3) create clearly defined standard operating procedures, (4) offer quality assurance systems, and (5) mentor/train employees.
  • We must do a better job of training the trainers.

As part of our training discussion, we talked about the recent closing of the Medallion Foundation, a flight safety advocacy organization in Alaska, and its impact on the industry. Medallion simulators will continue to be available to Alaska’s pilot community after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines where those simulators will be placed.

Risk Management

  • An SMS is important and worthwhile for improving safety, but it should be scalable
    Panelist Jens Hennig from GAMA with Corey Stephens FAA in background
    Panelists Jens Hennig, GAMA and Corey Stephens, FAA 

    depending on the size of the operator. Smaller operators may find it economically wise to outsource their safety assurance/FDM programs. (Note: As mentioned earlier in the blog, the NTSB has issued recommendations requiring SMS and FDM). One roundtable participant pointed out that there are 303 Part 135 operators in Alaska; of those, only eight are in the FAA’s SMS program.

  • Safety management requires the commitment of company leadership, but it’s just as important to involve pilots, mechanics, and management in the process so they recognize the value of an SMS, too.
  • An SMS should be a required prerequisite to participate in any federally funded programs, such as U.S. mail delivery and Medicare/Medicaid transport.
  • Useful data can be found in the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program. Carriers can benefit from the aggregated data collected in this information-sharing program.

Technology

  • Operators should equip their planes, either voluntarily or by requirement, with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology, and the FAA should consider helping smaller operators fund such an improvement. In Alaska, ADS-B is only required in the Class C airspace above Ted Stevens International Airport, and above 18,000 feet. We discussed the FAA requiring ADS-B in high-risk airspace, such as around the village of Bethel.
  • Pilots and air traffic controllers need more ground-based station coverage in strategic locations.
  • A terrain alert warning system (TAWS) should be an aid, not a navigational tool. There’s a tendency for some operators to inhibit their TAWS because of its low-altitude nuisance alerts; this is a hazard that needs to be mitigated. (Note: the NTSB has made recommendations in this area).
  • Technologies such as digital cockpit, 406 emergency locator transmitters, FDM equipment, and flight-following equipment look promising and should be considered.
  • When it comes to weather management, a meteorological automatic weather station isn’t authorized as a weather tool, but flight service will provide it as a supplement upon request. Satellite programs are showing promise for predicting icing and cloudy conditions.

Infrastructure

  • We need to enable more flights to operate under instrument flight rules and improve visual flight rules (VFR) operations (weather camera stations). Alaska should consider establishing a common traffic advisory frequency division across the state.
  • ADS-B can help in remote locations. Special VFRs and letters of agreement would also be helpful.
  • Federal money should be committed to improving infrastructure. For example, the FAA could establish a Capstone II program in Alaska, but very small carriers will need help with funding.
  • We need more pilot information reports to validate radar returns and polar satellites, and to fill in the gaps of weather station coverage.
  • Operators and pilots should better use air traffic control services.

We at the NTSB are committed to doing our part to improve Part 135 safety. Currently, the FAA does not apply the same requirements to Part 135 operators as it does to Part 121 commercial airlines. We believe that, regardless of the purpose of flight, one thing is for sure: all flights should be safe. But we don’t have to wait for the FAA to regulate; we know that operators can—and should—make the appropriate changes.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway and critical action suggested at the roundtable—upon which the entire group agreed—was related to the need for one group, organization, or entity to focus on flight operation safety issues in Alaska. I agree. FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson has also indicated that this concept of a “single focal point” in Alaska may be worthwhile. It looks like the time to act is now.

We greatly appreciate all the experts who came to this event and participated in our vigorous discussion. We are convinced that this roundtable will lead to life-saving improvements in Alaska that will then serve as models for the rest of the world.

This event would not have been successful without the dedicated NTSB staff who worked tirelessly to plan and execute it, and the great participation of the panelists.

Thanks for all for the contributions!

For more details on this event, including participants and agenda, or to learn more about Part 135 safety, watch the event recording and see our event web page.

Safe Trucking is Good Business

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Trucks move the economy, and they do a superb job. One- and two-day delivery wouldn’t be possible without the nation’s truck army. But when trucks are involved in a crash, the results are often disastrous. How do we make trucking even safer?

I recently spoke to the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), which represents about

Vice Chairman NPTC Safety Conference.jpg
Vice Chairman Landsberg at the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) 2019 Safety Conference

50 percent of the truck fleets in the United States. This meeting was devoted to—what else?— safety. This group is driving hundreds of millions of miles every year so the potential for catastrophe is high.

A quick statistic from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): In 2017, there were just shy of 4,900 fatal crashes involving large trucks. That works out to about 13 crashes a day, or one every 2 hours. In almost every case, these were not accidents or unforeseen events— they were preventable crashes. Lives are lost and survivors suffer life-changing injuries. Most times, we know what happened, why it happened, and what could have prevented the crash. Why, then, don’t we see a reduction in the number of crashes?

The vast majority of trucking companies make safety their top priority; however, there are some that intentionally operate vehicles with out-of-service brakes, bad tires, too much load, or other issues, or they knowingly use drivers with poor safety records. These deliberate decisions affect the safety of everyone on the road. But even drivers at conscientious companies can crash when they suffer a lapse in judgement, become distracted, fail to get enough rest, or drive when ill or affected by prescription or over-the-counter medications. The good news is that crashes really are easily preventable.

So, how can truckers—and their employers—ensure a safe trip each time they drive?

  • Set reasonable hours of service. A tired driver is unsafe! There are many excuses as to why a driver should be allowed to run to exhaustion; all are indefensible.
  • Complete pretrip inspections. Mechanical equipment fails, usually in predictable fashion and often at the worst possible time. Checking on your rig’s tires, brakes, and other equipment before your ride is not only required, it’s critical.
  • Ensure drivers are fit for duty. Incapacitating illnesses or impairment can interfere with a driver’s ability to do the job safely. Sleep apnea is a particularly troubling problem for too many drivers.
  • Embrace automation and driver-assist technology. Full automation, despite the marketing hype, is still some distance away—maybe very far away. But speed control, adaptive braking, stability control, and advanced driver-assist safety features, such as collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning, are currently available and make a big difference in mitigating driver mistakes. As the aviation industry has embraced pilot-assisting technologies, it’s become remarkably safer; the trucking industry could learn from this willingness to use available automation tools in its operations.
  • End distraction. Cell phone use—including texting—should be prohibited, except for emergency use. Many companies make it a firing offense to use a cell phone while a vehicle is in motion. Federal regulation already prohibits call phone use in company vehicles, but companies need to ensure their internal cell phone policies make this clear to their drivers. At the same time, many companies could do a better job implementing cell phone policies and tracking drivers’ cell phone use.
  • Develop a safety management system and strong safety culture. In almost every accident or crash we investigate, there was also a management failure. The safety mindset isn’t something that’s “bolted on” after the fact, but rather, it’s something that’s embedded in a company’s, driver’s, and leadership’s DNA. Ongoing management support and accountability makes a huge difference. Owner-operators must ensure that they have safety management controls in place.
  • Verify that your drivers are being safe. Trust, but verify! Install inward- and outward-facing cameras to help assess driver performance. Review the recordings—not with the intent to punish, but with an eye toward improving driver education and training.

Good business means caring about your drivers and other drivers on the road. It’s also a value that can prove economically sound; after all, it takes only one crash to put a business out of business. In the bigger picture, a mark against one operator is a mark against the entire industry. The aviation industry recognized that trend and established the Commercial Aviation Safety Team to assess risks and evaluate safety concerns related to commercial airline operations. The trucking industry could consider doing something similar.

From what I heard after meeting with the NPTC, it’s clear that NPTC members are working hard to make their good record even better. How about you?

Episode 27: Rail Safety Week

This week is Rail Safety Week. The theme this year, “Stop Track Tragedies,” provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the need for rail safety education and calls attention to ways to stay safe near highway-rail grade crossings and railroad rights-of-way.

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, we talk with Member Jennifer Homendy and Ruben Payan, Railroad Accident Investigator, Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations, about NTSB investigations and recommendations for staying safe near the tracks, and other rail safety issues.

To learn more about Rail Safety Week visit: https://oli.org/about-us/news/rail-safety-week-2017.

Get the latest episode on Apple Podcasts , on Google PlayStitcher, or your favorite podcast platform.

To catch up on past episodes and to find more ways to listen visit: https://www.blubrry.com/behind_the_scene_ntsb/

If you have questions about the podcast, or ideas for future topics, feel free to email us at SafetyAdvocacy@NTSB.gov

Remembering Captain Al Haynes

By Jeff Marcus, Chief, NTSB Safety Recommendations Division

This past Sunday, August 25, 2019, Captain Al Haynes died a week shy of his 88th birthday. Captain Haynes was a remarkable pilot who, 30 years ago last month, brought United Airlines flight 232 to an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, with no means of control except the ability to vary the thrust produced by the airplane’s two engines (the DC-10’s third engine had experienced an uncontained engine failure). Although 111 passengers ultimately perished in the accident, the actions of Captain Haynes and the other crewmembers saved the lives of 184 others on the flight.

The sequence of events started when the airplane’s central engine in the tail failed, sending heavy, high-speed shrapnel spraying through the rear of the airplane. The shrapnel cut all three of the airplane’s hydraulic lines and all hydraulic pressure was lost. This left no way for the pilots to control the airplane—at least, no way intentionally designed for that purpose. Hydraulic pressure was needed to move the airplane’s control surfaces and allow it to turn, climb or descend in response to pilot input, and to configure the airplane for landing by extending the flaps.

After the engine failure, the airplane started banking to the right and its nose dropped. The crew tried to stop the bank and bring the nose up, but the airplane did not respond. The only controls that worked were the throttles for the remaining two engines, one on each wing. By varying how much power each engine produced—that is, applying differential thrust—the pilots were able to stop the turn and bring the airplane level.

The plane pulled right, and slowly oscillated vertically in what is called a phugoid cycle, losing approximately 1,500 feet of altitude with each cycle. Among the passengers on the flight was Captain Dennis Fitch, a United pilot and training check airman, who came to the cockpit and offered Captain Haynes any help that he could provide. Captain Haynes welcomed Captain Fitch’s help.

Captain Fitch began to apply differential thrust, and that way, regained some control of the airplane. He was able to minimize the phugoid and gain some directional control, although the airplane could only turn to the right. The decision was made to make an emergency landing at the airport in Sioux City, Iowa.

The crew was able to use differential thrust alone to control the airplane’s direction of travel and descent, and line up the DC-10 with the runway. But, with no hydraulics, the flaps could not be extended. When the DC-10 was designed and approved, the total loss of hydraulic-powered flight controls was considered so unlikely that there was no need to develop and approve a procedure to deal with such a situation. Because flaps control both the minimum required airspeed and sink rate, however, the flight 232 crew could control neither.

Just prior to landing, the airplane was going 220 knots and descending at 1,850 feet per minute, well above the normal targets of 140 knots and a 300-feet-per-minute descent. As the plane touched down, the right wing tip hit the runway first, and the plane began to break up and catch fire, ultimately resulting in the fatalities of 111 people. For 184 others, Captain Haynes and his flight crew are credited with their improbable deliverance from an unlikely accident cause.

In our investigation of this accident, we pointed out that the interaction of the pilots, including the check airman, during the emergency showed the value of crew resource management (CRM – then known as cockpit resource management) training, which had been practiced at United Airlines for a decade. Ten years before the United flight 232 accident, we recommended that CRM training be required for all airline flight crews.

Flight simulator reenactments of the accident airplane’s flight profile carried out as part of our investigation revealed that it was virtually impossible to control all parameters simultaneously needed to land safely at a predetermined point. After observing the performance of a control group of DC-l0-qualified pilots in the simulator, we concluded that Captain Haynes’s damaged DC-10 airplane, although flyable, could not have been successfully landed on a runway after the loss of all hydraulic flight controls, and that, under the circumstances, United flight 232’s flightcrew reacted commendably and beyond reasonable expectations.

But the benefits of CRM training were clear. The flight crew, lead by Captain Haynes, used CRM to deal with a situation considered so unlikely that there were no procedures or training on how to respond. When talking about the accident later, Captain Haynes said, “If I hadn’t used CRM, if we had not let everybody put their input in, it’s a cinch we wouldn’t have made it.”

Although he always denied that he was a hero, Captain Haynes was the right man at the right time for an event considered to be so unlikely that it was virtually impossible. Thirty years after that accident, and mere days after Captain Haynes’s death, we at the NTSB remember how his CRM practice saved over half the people on United flight 232. Aviation is safer the world over thanks to Captain Haynes.

The Official Blog of the NTSB Chairman

%d bloggers like this: