Thank You, Secretary LaHood

DOT LogoBy Debbie Hersman

This morning, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced that after serving for four years as secretary he would not be staying for a second term. President Barack Obama expressed the sentiments of the transportation community in his statement where he said, “…every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger.”

I appreciate Secretary LaHood’s leadership in making transportation safety a priority. He led the way on several important initiatives, including the effort to stop texting while driving, addressing the commercial vehicle safety, and pushing for the long-awaited rule to address fatigue in the cockpit, to name just three of the key safety initiatives under the secretary’s leadership.

All of us at the NTSB thank Secretary LaHood for his public service and wish him all the best in the future.


By John Delisi

On Jan. 16, 2013, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive requiring that U.S. airlines cease operating Boeing 787 airplanes immediately until demonstrating that the batteries are safe. This followed a Jan. 7 B-787 battery fire at Boston’s Logan airport and a Jan. 16 B-787 battery event in Japan.

The FAA has not grounded a commercial airline fleet since June 1979. That instance was a five-week grounding of DC-10 airplanes after the deadly May 1979 crash in Chicago that killed 273 people. The NTSB investigation of that crash identified improper maintenance procedures as the cause.

Grounding aircraft is serious business; aircraft are meant to be flying and carrying passengers and cargo. Yet, as Chairman Hersman said Thursday when we provided an update into our investigation of the Jan. 7 battery fire, a fire onboard an aircraft is a serious safety concern. We applaud the FAA for its decisive action. It’s imperative to find out what happened in these two events and why. Then, and only then, can counter-measures be developed and instituted to prevent a recurrence.

The B-787 is a new model airplane with 50 in service worldwide. There are another 800 on order. This is why it’s so important to address this safety issue now, before the B-787 is in wide service. Most importantly, it’s good news that we are investigating incidents — where no one was killed – and not investigating accidents with fatalities.

We want the B-787 to be flying safely. That’s why our team of experts is working with the FAA, Boeing, the Japan Transport Safety Board and our French counterpart on getting to the bottom of this critical safety issue.

You can find out more about the status of the investigation on the NTSB B-787 battery fire investigation page.

John DeLisi is the Director of the Office of Aviation Safety.

Saving Lives – State by State by State

ignition_interlockBy Debbie Hersman

As I write this blog entry, there’s a lot of legislative activity at the state level where so much is decided that affects the quality of our lives—education, job creation, community services, and importantly for us at the NTSB—transportation safety.

Every state’s legislature will convene in 2013, with 43 state legislatures in session right now. We pay close attention to this since states are the recipients of many NTSB safety recommendations—measures that improve safety and save lives.

For example, 20 years ago the NTSB recommended graduated driver licensing, a three-stage driver-licensing system that reduces teen driver exposure to risk by restricting their nighttime driving and teen passengers. GDL laws are important because young, inexperienced drivers, especially 16-17 year-olds, are vastly over represented in fatal crashes. At the time of the NTSB recommendation, no state had a GDL system. Today, after intensive advocacy by a host of traffic safety organizations, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of graduated driver licensing. NHTSA reports that GDL laws have led to a substantial decrease of crashes for young people, “anywhere between 20 and 50 percent.”

This year, there are a number of actions pending in the states that address NTSB recommendations and can make a huge difference in transportation safety. For one, a Georgia state senator recently introduced a bill to the Georgia legislature to require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders. These devices have proven to be effective in addressing impaired driving. In fact, last December the NTSB recommended the use of ignition interlocks for all offenders.

In another key traffic safety issue, ten states and the District of Columbia now prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Our investigations have highlighted the deadliness of distraction across all transportation modes, which is why “Eliminate Distraction in Transportation” is on our Most Wanted List. It’s also why we will be advocating for states to enact legislation to ban all non-emergency use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices while driving.

Do you know what’s going on in your state to make transportation safer? The best way to influence change and save lives is to get involved. For more information on the NTSB’s priorities, see our MWL.

Out of the office and in the field

By Debbie Hersman

Hersman-in-NCToday, Member Robert Sumwalt and I had the opportunity to visit with Carolina Gas Transmission, a SCANA company that delivers natural gas to wholesale and direct industrial customers throughout South Carolina. We met with company leaders and safety officials at their headquarters in Columbia, South Carolina. In the morning, we heard about their capital maintenance program to replace, inspect and maintain 1,469 miles on their transmission lines in South Carolina and Georgia, over half of which were laid prior to 1970.

In the afternoon, we traveled to Lexington, SC, to observe a 12″ pipeline confirmatory dig. The dig’s purpose: to conduct additional radiographic exams (or X-rays) of the pipe using GPS locations noted in previous in-line inspections that had established the basis for further evaluation. A crew had excavated a 40’ section of Line ‘M’ and was evaluating the pipe’s condition when we arrived.

We finished the day with a visit to their control center where we saw how employees monitor pipeline operations and heard how their emergency response process is designed to work. It was a busy day, but a good opportunity for us to hear from pipeline company employees about their vision of safety, from the CEO to a backhoe operator.

Driving Into a Safer Future

Auto ShowBy Debbie Hersman

On Monday, Detroit opened the North American International Auto Show, showcasing new concepts, new technologies and new ideas. During our visit to the auto show, my colleagues, Earl Weener and Mark Rosekind, and I heard firsthand from automakers and suppliers about their efforts to address safety. In particular, we learned more about their investments in two of this year’s Most Wanted List areas: collision avoidance technology and distraction.

They are clearly putting their investments into technology. We saw impressive new concepts for the future of safety, but more importantly we saw safety features becoming standard equipment on many different models. No longer are backup cameras, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems found only on luxury vehicles, they are now widely available across a spectrum of makes and models.

In the future, we will see even more advanced technologies in our cars and trucks, such as collision avoidance with active braking and lane maintaining technology. Every year the technology focused on the outside of the car is helping us become safer. When it comes to distraction, we need to make sure the technology on the inside of the car is focused on making us safer, too.