Halloween: Keep the Overindulgence to Candy

By Debbie Hersman

Halloween is meant to be a little spooky. What many people do not realize, however, is that Halloween weekend holds a far scarier reality: a spike in impaired driving.

In 2010, 31 percent of highway deaths involved a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher. But on Halloween night (6 p.m. on October 31 to 5:59 a.m. November 1) 41 percent of deaths on involved an impaired driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Between October 25 and November 4, law enforcement will conduct special campaigns to deter impaired driving. This period of high visibility enforcement, however, is not just about pulling people over and handing out tickets. It is also about getting people to think of how they can have fun without putting their lives or the lives of others at risk on the roads.

We can all do our part to support this effort and drive the numbers down. Before going out, plan for how you will get home. If you intend to drink, make sure you have a designated driver. And if you find yourself drinking without a planned ride home, consider taxis, family members, public transportation or your community safe-ride-home program. Halloween should be spooky, not deadly.

Engaging the General Aviation Community: Partners in Safety

By Mark R. Rosekind

Getting the safety message out to the General Aviation community is a top NTSB priority. Today, I took those words to attendees of the ninth annual TBM Owners and Pilots Association convention in a presentation on managing fatigue risks in aviation operations.

Hundreds of people are killed every year in GA accidents and thousands more are injured. While the number of commercial aviation accidents has plummeted, GA has the highest accident rate in civil aviation–over 40 times greater than larger transport category operations. Unfortunately, the major causes of GA accidents remain the same and repeat the circumstances of previous accidents.

The TBM Owners and Pilots Association was founded for operators of Socata TBM planes that are high performance, single engine, turboprop light business and utility aircraft. The organization is dedicated to promoting safety to its members and is concerned about the GA safety risks posed by fatigue.

That concern is mutual. Fatigue has been on the NTSB’s radar for some time.

The NTSB has been increasingly focused on GA safety with numerous recommendations, reports, studies, and a forum on the subject. It is currently on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements and we have made over 200 recommendations on the issue, across all modes. Unfortunately, the connection between the two and the detrimental effects of flying while fatigued are well-documented in the agency’s work, and presentations like the one I gave today are essential to engaging this community as a partner in making GA flying as safe as it can be. While we have made strides in commercial aviation, so much more needs to be done in GA to address this known safety problem.

My presentation discussed: 1) fatigue as a safety risk in GA; 2) the physiological factors that create fatigue; and 3) the NTSB’s fatigue-related investigations and recommendations in aviation and all transportation modes.

Reducing GA fatality rates and injuries requires optimum pilot and maintenance personnel performance. This begins with good sleep and being alert. Even the world’s best and safest aircraft would be compromised if the pilot were not fully prepared for flight. Fatigue can slow reaction time, impede clear thinking, and impair good judgment. It degrades a pilot’s performance at all levels and places everyone at risk. Today, TBMOPA provided a good opportunity for its members to learn more about the safety risks associated with fatigue and actions they can take to enhance GA safety.

Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

Drive Safely in the Danger Zone: School Bus Safety Week

By Debbie Hersman

Statistically, the safest way for our children to get to school is on the school bus. In fact, less than 1 percent of fatalities involving school aged children (5-18 years) involve school buses.

Still, about 20 children per year are killed, typically after being struck by the bus or another vehicle during loading and unloading. This is why the area around an operating school bus is called the “danger zone.” This is School Bus Safety Week, and this year’s theme is, “I See the Driver. The Driver Sees Me!”

Because young children do not have the skills that come with time and experience dealing with traffic, it is up to adults to teach them about safety and more importantly to be safe drivers around school buses. Although there are rules of the road that require drivers to stop for buses and give pedestrians the right-of-way – tragically it doesn’t always work out that way. So please allow for extra time in the morning and be patient when school buses are loading children. We need to work together to reduce that number from twenty fatalities to zero.

NBAA Safety Town Hall Meeting

By:  Earl Weener
On Wednesday, Oct. 31, I’ll be in Orlando, Fla., participating in the National Business Aviation Association’s 65th Annual Meeting and Convention by speaking at one of NBAA’s “Safety Town Hall” meetings. My topic will be on improving pilot training for the business aviation sector. I plan to contribute through a discussion on general aviation safety, focusing 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. These types of accidents can be addressed through training, and that’s what I want to emphasize.

I hope you are able to join me at this event hosted at the Orange County Conference Center. Bottom line: every pilot can fly like a pro, simply by improving their skills through training.

Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010.

Member Weener is a licensed pilot who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

Working Together


By Robert L. Sumwalt

Today, I had the opportunity to speak to the Aviation and Space Law Committee of the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section. Because the NTSB’s investigations focus on gathering facts and determining probable cause – rather than assigning liability or fault – our interaction with the legal community is infrequent. Given the unique opportunity to address members of this community, I thought that I would provide a few key “take home” points that might assist their aviation clients in working with the NTSB following an accident.

First, my strongest recommendation to the assembled attorneys was that their client organizations become parties to NTSB investigations. NTSB rules allow party status for organizations that can provide technical expertise to an investigation. Their participation, and their knowledge, can very often prove critical in assisting the agency to determine what happened in an accident, so that we might make safety recommendations to prevent it from happening again.

Second, as a party member, an organization is entitled to make a party submission to express its views on the facts, analysis, probable cause, and recommendations. I encouraged the Committee’s members to ensure that their clients take advantage of this opportunity.

Third, in those instances where an accident report goes to the full Board for deliberation, I highly suggest the parties meet with the individual Board Members in person prior to the board meeting. Most people aren’t even aware that they can do this.

The NTSB has been fulfilling its mission for 45½ years, and we do it well. But if a party has new information that may be relevant to the investigation, or if erroneous information exists in the record, file a Petition for Reconsideration with the Board.

I hope that my suggestions will encourage organizations to take a more active role in future NTSB investigations. When the NTSB and parties to an investigation work together through the party system, it’s the American traveling public who ultimately benefits.

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.

Teens and Driving

teenager driving putting on lipstick and talking on the phoneBy Debbie Hersman

As one expert has said, driving is one of the most dangerous things we let our children do. In the last decade, more than 58,000 teenagers died in car crashes. In 2010, more than 3,100 teens died on the roadways, many of whom were merely passengers in the cars of other teen drivers. National Teen Driver Safety Week is a great way for many organizations—federal, grassroots, industry—to highlight the number one cause of death for teens and undertake activities to reduce these needless fatalities.

The NTSB has long recognized the need to improve teen driver safety. Many of us at the NTSB are parents ourselves. Keeping children safe on the highways isn’t just part of our job; it is something that affects us personally.

This year, many grassroots efforts are underway to promote events for Teen Driver Safety Week. Across the nation, families, schools and communities are working to promote awareness of highway safety issues, take for example, the Conor Lynch Foundation in CA is holding their 2nd Annual 5K Run/Walk: In Honor of Conor to raise awareness for teen driver safety, and is also hosting a Teen Driver Safety Fair at a local high school. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is raising awareness by hosting Operation Safe Driver Week throughout all of Teen Driver Safety Week to promote safe driving habits around big trucks, with a focus on distracted driving. The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy is also holding an event to kick off Teen Driver Safety Week, with a press conference, distracted driving demonstration, an assembly at a local high school, and an event where victims of distracted or reckless driving speak out about these dangers.

Yes, driving is the most dangerous thing we let our children do. But we at the NTSB, along with many others in the community, are doing what we can to make it safer We appreciate the committed and powerful voices working every day in local communities to advocate for safety changes – one person at a time, through their efforts we will see results and end this epidemic.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

By Debbie Hersman

As I told members of the City Club of Cleveland Friday, It can be tempting to see technology as the answer to every problem. But there are always risks and tradeoffs to be understood and addressed.

Technology provides us with great vehicle safety benefits, such as anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags and electronic stability control. And on the way are lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems.

But what about technology that distracts vehicle operators — as we have seen in accident investigations? We know distractions are only going to grow as drivers check Facebook, book a dinner reservation and buy movie tickets, all while behind the wheel.

While technology presents problems, it can also provide the solutions. Consider the autonomous car. Last year, I rode in Google’s self-driving car as it negotiated a busy freeway — it avoided other vehicles, slowed and sped up with the flow of traffic, and when necessary, turned over control to the human driver. It was pretty remarkable to think what that car could mean for aging drivers, busy parents and the disabled.

Yes, we must invest in technology — but we must ensure that technology solves problems, and doesn’t create new ones.