The Importance of Communication

By Robert L. Sumwalt

Communication is key during an investigation
Communication is key during an investigation.

This week, I had the privilege of moderating a panel of international aviation safety professionals at ISASI’s annual meeting in Baltimore. The subject was the internal and external challenges facing accident investigators between the on-scene phase and the final report.

The panelists touched upon the tension between the public’s continual hunger for information in the modern era of the 24-hour news cycle, and the critical need for confidentiality and uninhibited fact-gathering by the investigative team. Darren Straker, of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, said that investigators must be particularly mindful of the risks, as well as the rewards, of social media. At a time when mobile-phone use proliferates and communication of photos and video is nearly instantaneous, he said accident investigation agencies must be even more careful that the information they share with the media and the public is accurate.

Jens Friedemann, of the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation, said robust internal communication among the parties to the investigation is critical, especially during the formation of the factual reports which form the foundation for the final report, as well as its findings and recommendations. At the NTSB, as we increasingly participate in international accident investigations, such communication – across continents, and across the world – becomes even more critical.

One valuable comment came from Captain Paddy Judge, of the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit. He said that when an investigative agency, especially a small one with limited resources, encounters a problem during an investigation, “Pick up the phone.” The odds are high that another ISASI member agency has previously encountered the same issue, and can bring their own expertise to bear.

The conversation arising from the panelists’ discussion was fascinating, and one that I am sure will continue well beyond the end of this year’s ISASI meeting. I want to extend my thanks to all of the panelists for their participation and their insights.

Robert L. Sumwalt was sworn in as the 37th Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on August 21, 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

A Pilot’s Story

By Debbie Hersman

At the NTSB we investigate more than 1,400 accidents a year, learning not only what happened but why. In that way, lessons can be learned that can prevent future accidents. That’s our job.

What Russ Jeter has done is something unexpected. In his short documentary, “No Greater Burden,” Russ shares the story of his accident and his devastating personal loss. It is more than a story about how an experienced pilot makes a mistake that leads to a crash; it’s his own personal investigation into how and why the mistake was made and how accidents are more than simply forgetting to flip a switch.

He shares his story with brutal honesty in an effort to educate his fellow pilots.

The documentary, produced by AOPA’s Air Safety Institute, is on the AOPA Foundation’s website and I urge every pilot, and everyone interested in safety, to watch Russ’ story.

Putting Attention Back in the Driver’s Seat

www.distraction.govBy Debbie Hersman

Highway fatalities are still going up and the traffic safety community is working hard to understand why. But, one of the clear things that we can do to save lives is eliminate distractions. And, yes, there’s far more to distraction than sending a text or placing a cellphone call. But it’s those electronic distractions — like texting and calling — that take the driver’s eyes and attention away from the road that can be especially risky and result in tragic endings.

We learned a lot about the heightened risk from not paying attention to the driving task at the “Attentive Driving: Countermeasures for Distraction” forum we held in March. Leading experts talked about the myriad of distractions and ways to mitigate the risks. We discussed one of the biggest challenges, which is moving drivers and societal norms to foster attentive driving. Panelist Dr. Donald L. Fisher of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said a clear way to start changing norms and behavior is through laws.

This is why I was so encouraged this week when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it will issue grants to states that have enacted laws banning distracted driving in fiscal year 2013. In order to qualify for a grant a state must have a comprehensive primary law against distracted driving or a primary law prohibiting texting while driving. This is a win-win approach to improving traffic safety.

Funding from the grants is available to the 35 states that currently enforce primary texting-while-driving bans. That means a law enforcement officer can stop the driver solely for texting while driving. The balance of the grant money is available to states that have much stricter bans. Hopefully, the availability of additional funds will encourage states to strengthen their laws during their 2013 legislative sessions

I look forward to the day when there are full bans of the use of personal electronic devices while driving. In the meantime, I’ll continue to put my communications devices in the trunk. That’s how I resist the temptation to make that one quick call.

Improving Skills Through Training

By Earl Weener

On August 22, I am looking forward to NBAA’s Safety Committee’s Business Aviation Pilot Training Symposium, a one day event focussed on improving pilot training for the business aviation sector. The discussion will include ideas on how business-aviation pilot training substantially benefits from adapting training philosophies from other segments of the industry, such as the Advanced Qualification Program.

The symposium will highlight efforts already completed by NBAA’s Safety Committee, and include planning tools and guidelines to assist the business aviation community in advancing their own training programs.

I will contribute to the event with a discussion on general aviation safety, focussing on several of the all-too-typical fatal business flying accidents. Each year, hundreds of people are killed in general aviation, and thousands more are injured. However, these statistics do not need to remain static, as the causes of these accidents are often repeated scenarios of previous accidents and can be addressed through training.

I hope you are able to join me at this free event hosted at the NTSB Conference Center. Bottom line: every pilot can improve his or her skills through training.

High Visibility Enforcement: Law enforcement officers target drunk drivers

By Debbie Hersman

Even after decades of fighting against the deadly decision to drink and drive, the fight to eliminate impaired driving is far from over. A critical component to this fight is the anti-drunk driving campaign “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” coordinated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Between August 17 and September 3, more than 10,000 police departments across the country will contribute to this campaign’s success. And, in a sentiment shared by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, this is a sign to those who still choose to drink and drive that they will be caught, and they will be held accountable.

Tackling the problem of impaired driving requires a systems approach; law enforcement is the first step. These high-visibility enforcement campaigns with their enhanced police presence and extensive media coverage are needed to create general deterrence – that is, convincing drivers not to get behind the wheel after drinking in the first place. And without the arrests made by law enforcement officers, imposing other countermeasures such as ignition interlocks and treatment won’t be effective.

A newly released Traffic Safety Fact Sheet by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirms that we have more work to do. In 2010, at least 70% of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities involved at least one driver with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher. This is almost twice the legal limit. Even more alarming, the most frequently recorded BAC in fatal crashes was 0.18 percent. These are not just unfortunate accidents; these are flagrant violations of the law. And 10,228 people have paid the price. That’s why the NTSB includes Addressing Alcohol-Impaired Driving on its Most Wanted List.

And it’s exactly why we support the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign. If we are to reach zero crashes, injuries, and deaths from impaired driving, these high-visibility enforcement campaigns are necessary. We haven’t won the battle yet, but thanks to the dedicated law enforcement officers participating in this year’s campaign, we are moving one step closer.