Walking the Walk

By Debbie Hersman

The NTSB applauds the National Parent Teacher Association for its recent resolution calling on drivers to refrain from distracted driving.

Over the past decade, the NTSB has investigated accidents across all modes of transportation where distraction was the cause or a contributing factor in the crash. In December 2011, the Board recommended that states enact laws banning all drivers from all non-emergency use of personal electronic devices such as texting and talking on cellphones. The Board subsequently held an Attentive Driving – Countermeasures to Distraction Forum in March 2012.

Unfortunately, this issue suffers from the “Do as I say, not as I do” syndrome. Despite the fact that 80 percent of drivers see distraction as a danger to their safety, people continue to do it. In the AAA Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index for 2011, more than two in three drivers reported talking on their cell phone while driving in the past month, and one in three drivers said that they did so regularly. Even in the case of texting, which has been considered to be one of the deadliest distractions on the road, 26 percent admitted to having typed an email or a text while driving in the past month, and 35 percent admitted to reading one. This is why the resolution from the NPTA is critical; NPTA is showing that we must lead by example; we must not “talk the talk” but rather, “walk the walk.”

A Worrying Trend

By Debbie Hersman

According to an estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the first three months of 2012, highway deaths jumped 13.5 percent from the same time period last year. This represents the second-largest increase in fatalities in the first quarter since 1975, when NHTSA began to record traffic fatalities.

This is especially alarming given the steady decrease in first quarter fatalities since 2006. Some may attribute this to a statistical “hiccup” in an overall downward trend. But let us not forget that this figure represents 910 more highways deaths than in the same period in 2011. These were 910 lives that should not have been lost.

The estimates for 2011 show deaths at a 60 year low, but still, more than 30,000 fatalities over the course of last year. In reality, all highway crashes are preventable. It is very often about choices – texting, talking on the phone, speeding, running red lights, and the list goes on. Safety on the road cannot be far from a driver’s mind at any time, and those in the traffic safety community have the great responsibility of ensuring that fatalities are prevented.

Fatalities might be an accepted part of current motor vehicle culture, but this must change. Don’t drive distracted, don’t drive if you are tired or haven’t had enough sleep, don’t drive impaired with alcohol or drugs, make sure you and your passengers are buckled up. If we all work to increase safety and awareness while on the roads, we can prevent fatalities and injuries. Let’s make sure that the first quarter is not the beginning of a trend in the wrong direction – that is no way to get to zero.

National Stop on Red week

By Debbie Hersman

red traffic lightThe 2012 National Stop on Red week is August 5th to August 11th and with more than 30,000 fatalities on the roadways each year, we can all improve our performance behind the wheel. This week reminds drivers to stop on red, rather than try to beat the light before it turns red.

This message seems so simple, yet each year hundreds of people are killed by red light runners.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that in 2009 red light running killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red-light-running drivers — occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the vehicle, bicyclists, or pedestrians. In most states that were studied by the National Coalition for Safer Roads, evidence was found that the majority of red lights were run on Friday during the hours of 1 to 5 pm.

So next time, rather than trying to beat the light — stop. You won’t get anywhere quickly if you are involved in an accident.

I-35 Bridge: Five Years Later

By Debbie Hersman

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minn. This accident caused the deaths of 13 people and injuries to 145 others. It also raised questions about the safety of America’s roads and bridges.

Five years later, we recognize the progress made to address the deficiencies identified during our comprehensive investigation.

When the NTSB issued its final report in November 2008, we determined that a design failure led to this accident. Our safety recommendations focused on steps to improve bridge integrity and maintenance. I am pleased to report that six of these recommendations were addressed in less than two years after the report. This includes recommendations calling for improving guidance on conducting load rating calculations, consideration of key bridge elements such as gusset plates in design and inspection, and developing specifications and guidance for bridge owners to ensure that construction loads and stockpiled raw materials needed for maintenance projects do not overload the bridge.

These safety recommendations and the actions needed to complete the remaining safety recommendations will not only ensure that new bridges are being built to higher standards than their predecessors, but that all bridges will be held to that same, high standard through regular inspections and maintenance. Nobody wants to see tragedy strike in such a manner ever again, and the efforts taken by the Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to address these deficiencies provide an improved safety structure to the bridge industry that America rides on and depends on every day.