Motorcoach Safety: A Work in Progress

By Debbie Hersman

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a deadly motorcoach rollover accident. Last May 31, before dawn, a 59-passenger motorcoach traveling northbound on Interstate 95 near Doswell, Virginia, departed the right side of the highway and rolled over onto its roof. Four passengers were killed, 54 were injured, and the bus sustained extensive damage. The Board meets to determine the probable cause of this accident on July 31, 2012.

Next week, on June 5, the Board will meet on another deadly bus rollover accident that killed 15 passengers and injured 17 others on March 12 in New York City. While buses are among the safest forms of transportation — they carry some 750 million passengers a year — because of the large number of people onboard, when something goes wrong, more people are at risk of death or serious injury. That’s why improving motorcoach safety has been a priority for the NTSB for many years.

Furthermore, our bus investigations have regularly identified businesses that should not have been operating and who deliberately restructured their operations to shirk Federal safety regulations. Today, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that, after a year-long safety investigation and multiple bus safety task forces, it has shut down 26 bus operations for repeatedly and flagrantly violating safety rules.

With these actions, the DOT and its state partners are telling operators to put safety first or get put out of business. I commend Secretary LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Ferro for taking a strong stand for the safety of bus travelers and all motorists on our interstate highways.

The Secret to a Safer Summer Travel Season

By Debbie Hersman

Today, as we enter into the busy Memorial Day weekend I am visiting an elementary school in Northern Virginia to talk about highway safety. Did you know that as we mark the start of summer, AAA estimates that more than 34 million travelers will travel at least 50 miles from home over the Memorial Day weekend?  And, of those travelers, more than 30 million are expected to use an automobile.

Did you know that car crashes are the number one killer of children ages 1 to 12? I’m sad to say that, on average, 2 children are killed and 325 more are injured in car crashes every single day. With this in mind, it’s essential that children be properly restrained on every trip. Children should ride in an age and size appropriate child safety seat or booster seat until an adult seat belt fits them properly – at 4’9” tall. Further, all children should ride in the back seat.

Earlier this month, Arizona became the 48th state to require the use of child restraints for older children. Children riding on Arizona’s roads will be safer now that this life-saving law has been enacted. Only two states — Florida and South Dakota — have yet to bring their child restraint laws closer in line with best practices. But parents – don’t wait for a law to make the right choice. Use a child safety seat or booster seat until your child is big enough for a seat belt.

For more information on how to best restrain your children visit Parents Central. (

Motorcycle Resurgence and Highway Safety

By: Christopher Hart

Motorcycles are everywhere and the numbers are increasing. Business executives, government officials, celebrities, empty nesters, young and middle age adults, teens and couples have discovered and in some cases, are rediscovering the joys of ridings on two(and sometimes three) wheels. Some riders are commuting daily, others have become weekend riders, and as the weather gets warmer, many more will hop on their bikes and explore the open roadways.

Without a doubt, driving and riding on a motorcycle is exhilarating. Some describe it as one of the greatest expressions of freedom on the highway. Not only that, but, motorcyclists, with their stylish jackets, their leather chaps, their boots and personalized helmets, have a certain hip edge to them. Then, there are the bikes themselves. They range from high performance street racing bikes to the widely known and highly regarded vehicles. Motorcycles have become an expression of the owner.

With the Memorial Day holiday just around the corner, let’s all be reminded to put highway safety first. It is a shared responsibility – motorists traveling in cars and trucks must look out the motorcyclists. And motorcyclists must also take precautions to prevent accidents.

In 2007, the NTSB made a recommendation urging all 50 states and the District of Columbia to enact a universal helmet law requiring that all persons on a motorcycle wear a DOT compliant helmet. This safety gear is designed with a hard outer shell, an impact-attenuating liner, and a retention system to protect the structure and contents of the head in a variety of impact scenarios. Today, only 19 states and DC have a universal helmet law. Another 38 states have partial helmet laws, and three states have no helmet law at all.

History has shown that when states enforce highway laws such as speed limits, curbing impaired driving, banning the use of portable electronic devices, and requiring the use of occupant restraint systems like seat belts or child safety seats, highway accidents and injuries are reduced. Every additional state that enacts a universal helmet law will make our roadways even safer.


Until then, motorcyclists hopefully will not wait for a law. Safety starts with the individual. Before you take off on your motorcycle, do the right thing – think safety first, and put on your helmet.

Christopher A. Hart was sworn in as a Member of the NTSB on August 12, 2009 and designated by the President for a two-year term as Vice Chairman of the Board on August 18. Member Hart joined the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a Member of the NTSB.

A Commencement Top 10 with a Transportation Twist

By Debbie Hersman

There are some 4,400 colleges and universities in the United States. That means this spring there are some thousands of ceremonies for millions of undergraduate and postgraduates students as they enter the next phase of their lives.

Graduation is a big step. It’s a sign of accomplishment and completion, but it’s also the beginning, not the end, of the journey. Interestingly, the ceremony to confer degrees or grant diplomas is called “commencement.”

Last week, I had the privilege to speak to the 2012 graduates of the George Mason University School of Public Policy. Many of those 350 individuals are pursuing a career in public service, of course I commended them for their choice since I believe that serving the public is a noble profession. I also shared some life lessons that I have picked up along the way. As you would expect, some of those lessons have a transportation safety focus, such as “choices matter” (avoiding substance-impaired driving) and “get sleep” (recognizing the risks of fatigue).

Here’s a link to the speech. [] Let me know what you think and share with us your number one life lesson.

Teen driving Safety: A Global Message

Over the past weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak to a great group of teenagers. I heard their stories, visited a high school and interacted with the teenagers at the NTSB’s Youth Open House and Transportation Educational Day to kick off Global Youth Traffic Safety Month.

Highway fatalities are still the number one killer of our teenagers. Every life is precious, therefore, every event is an opportunity to empower the youth to take the message of teen driving safety to their peers. During my travels and speaking engagements to several groups, it is the youth who have been stepping up and spreading the word about safe driving. They are the best advocates for this issue because teens are a crucial piece of the puzzle.

We know that the NTSB alone cannot curb the bad habit of distracted driving or ensure teen driver safety. A collaborative effort is required—with all of us working together. Events like the NTSB’s Youth Open House and Transportation Educational Day, and working with organization like The National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS) and the CloseUp Foundation, NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Tayler Malsam, and actor Bryton James from the television series, “The Young and the Restless,” is a step in the right direction toward empowering teenagers and changing the safety culture of our nation.

Parents and guardians also have a role. As a parent, I know that the law provides critical guidance in areas like highway safety. But we don’t have to wait for a law to help our teenagers. My advice, parent-to-parent, is to start your teen driver out slowly. Gradually increase the complexity of the driving. Practice in all conditions. Once your teen has a license, restrict the number of passengers who can be in the car, and enforce the night-time restriction. Parents and guardians, most importantly: model good driving. Your behavior is the most powerful instructor, because our teens learn from what they see.

As we celebrate Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, it’s time to ask what it will take to move from awareness to action. The NTSB does not want another decade of tragic crashes, investigations, and recommendations. We need to determine what we can do now—individually and collectively—to reduce the deadly risks of teen driving. Many of you have already begun the work; this month share the message of safety with another teenager, organize your own peer group and continue to spread the word. “NO TEXT, NO UPDATE, IS WORTH A HUMAN LIFE.” Saving lives is NTSB’s number one priority. It will take all of us working together to achieve that goal.

NTSB Recognizes Public Service Week

Public Service Recognition WeekBy Debbie Hersman

This week is Public Service Recognition Week. Sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, there have been a number of events this week that recognize the everyday achievements of our Federal civilian employees. This morning, the Partnership announced its nominations for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals finalists. One of the nominees is our own James Cash, our chief technical advisor in the office of research and engineering was announced as a nominee for the Career Achievement Medal Finalist.

This particular award recognizes a Federal employee for significant accomplishments throughout a lifetime of achievement in public service. Jim is being recognized for his almost 30 years of service. Most notably, for his work with extracting information from airplane cockpit voice recorders and other recording devices to determine the cause of major transportation accidents. In citing his work this morning, the Partnership particularly focused on Jim’s work in analyzing the cockpit voice recorder in the TWA Flight 800 investigation that helped our investigators reach the conclusion that an explosion in the center fuel tank was the cause of this disaster. Here is a link to the full description of Jim’s achievements and why he has been nominated for this prestigious award:

In his letter recognizing Public Service Recognition Week, President Obama wrote: “Each day, our country benefits from the efforts of dedicated Federal, state, and local government employees who do their jobs with pride and passion. So many of these men and women work tirelessly on behalf of their fellow citizens to confront the challenges impacting our communities and our Nation.” That is certainly true of our NTSB staff.

As I said at our employee awards ceremony, it is moments like these, when we pause to reflect on the accomplishments of our colleagues, that I truly appreciate the opportunity to work with you every day to promote improvements in transportation safety.

An Ounce of Prevention

By Debbie Hersman

Over the last 10 years the NTSB has launched go teams to investigate 10 pipeline and storage tank accidents. Our most recent investigation was of the September 2010 rupture in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. In that accident we cited Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s lax approach to pipeline safety and the inadequate oversight of two government agencies in the probable cause of the most devastating pipeline accident in a decade.

We are currently completing our investigation of the July 2010 pipeline accident and the resulting oil spill in Marshall, Michigan.

Pipelines are ubiquitous. There are 2.5 million miles of pipeline in our nation. They run throughout the country and throughout our communities to provide energy to our homes and businesses. Because pipelines are usually underground, most people don’t even know they exist, much less where they are located.

Here’s a website where you can find more information about pipelines and on this website you can check out the location of the pipelines in your county.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports that one-third of all pipeline accidents are caused by someone digging and hitting a pipeline by mistake, which can be fatal. One commonsense measure that homeowners can take to help assure pipeline safety is to call before you dig. You or your contractor should call 811 before any home improvement job that involves digging.

That call puts steps in motion that will lead to marking the location of your home’s underground lines, pipelines, and other utilities to be avoided during construction, landscaping, and other excavation projects.

Today, PHSMA unveiled its new national television and radio public service announcement to urge the public to avoid preventable pipeline accidents by calling 811 before they dig.

Clearly, Benjamin Franklin was not talking about pipelines when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but his advice applies in so many cases today, especially pipeline safety. Always remember to call 811 before you dig.