Lessons Learned from NTSB Investigations Addressed in Highway Bill

By Debbie Hersman

At the NTSB, we don’t have the power to pass laws, regulations or issue fines. Our charge is to thoroughly investigate accidents, analyze trends and make our best recommendations on how to make transportation safer.

It is a testament to the great work of the men and women of the NTSB that Congress addressed so many of our safety recommendations in its latest transportation law.

Based on our investigation of several accidents involving the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as well as a number of accidents around the country where local oversight was lacking, the NTSB recommended increased federal oversight of rail transit following the 2009 collision near Fort Totten. Senator Mikulski and many in the Washington-area delegation made this a priority following several fatal accidents on Metro and at the DOT, Administrator Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration and Secretary LaHood, have embraced this safety oversight. The new law improves federal oversight of rail transit systems and creates greater accountability among state safety oversight entities.

Bus occupant safety, which is on our “Most Wanted List” and includes a number of long-standing NTSB recommendations, received a boost in the new transportation law. Senator Hutchison worked for many years with her colleagues to advocate for better bus occupant protection through better crashworthiness, safety monitoring standards, and fire suppression measures. The law also improves the safety-fitness rating system of motorcoaches and additional authority for DOT to combat the efforts of poor carriers who try to escape scrutiny by “reincarnating” themselves under new names. Senator Brown and Congressman Lewis deserve credit for their work on bus safety.

Addressing human fatigue has been a perennial issue on our “Most Wanted List.” For over 30 years, the Board has identified fatigue as the primary cause of numerous fatal highway accidents involving large trucks. The law includes the requirement for electronic on-board recorders to be installed on commercial motor vehicles to monitor drivers’ hours of service. This requirement, while controversial and heavily debated, is the only way to really level the playing field when it comes to driver compliance with the law – we routinely see two sets of log books or drivers exceeding legal limits in our investigations. Adoption of this provision will save lives and make our highways safer.

Other NTSB “Most Wanted List” issue areas, teen driver safety, addressing alcohol-impaired driving and motorcycle safety were also addressed in the law. To improve teen driver safety, grants will be provided to states implementing graduated licensing programs and efforts aimed at increasing teen seatbelt use, reducing distracted driving and curbing underage drinking. To help fight alcohol-impaired driving, the law specifies minimum penalties for repeat offenders and authorizes NHTSA to conduct research on in vehicle alcohol-detection technology. The law also provides motorcycle safety grants focused on improving motorcycle training and reducing fatalities.

The law includes many of our recommendations and important changes which, if implemented, will improve safety. Yet, with more than 30,000 fatalities a year, we know there is much more work to be done. At the NTSB, our investigators and analysts will continue evaluating accidents so we can learn important lessons to constantly improve the safety of our roadways and help inform the policymakers that are working to prevent future accidents.

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from NTSB Investigations Addressed in Highway Bill”

  1. My response is to your most wanted article referencing “fatigue”. I am an over the road truck driver. And my concerns are truck drivers aren’t the only ones on the road. I feel trucks get the short end of the stick so to speak. There are motor homes, as well as traveling cars and trucks that drive the same roads as the trucks and the aren’t required to follow specific fatigue laws. I agree truck drivers should be and need to be required to take breaks as it Is a safety issue. But I do believe its bit of double standard that if while in my commercial vehicle I don’t follow the dot compliance I am fined substantually as well as the company because its not safe. But I can get Into my personal vehicle and drive 24 hours if I want regardless of my fatigue. To be honest I feel its just as dangerous and if this is truly about safety the would be regulations put into effect for ALL motor vehicles regardless of size. I have to share the road with those same fatigued drivers. For some reason all you here about its trucks. Again I’m all for regulation but I believe it should be across the board for anyone that holds a licence. That would help reduce traffic accidents and fatalities. The second concern I have is the way the dot laws are written and enforced. They are written as though we are robots. How can you know the limitations of any one person. The way its written you basically tell us we have to go to bed regardless as if we are tired or not. The problem with that is this. If someone isnt tired you cant force them to sleep. You require us to take a 10 hour break after 11 hours. If we are not tired we will not be sleeping therefore waisting that required time off. Then when the 10th hour is up, and the government deems me safe to drive, I drive an hour down the road and fall asleep because I could’t force my body to rest. Then I don’t believe that’s real safe for me or anyone on the road. You my say take a nap..well the way the laws are written, any nap time we take when our day is started Is held against us. So it seems to me there is A lot of safety concerns that are left on the table each and every day by the NTSB as well as the Federal Government..So my question to all would be is this about ” safety” or geared more towards revenue?

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