Celebrating the NTSB’s 46th Anniversary

By Robert Sumwalt

Card image from http://www.etsy.com/listing/95063454/letterpress-happy-birthday-airplane-card

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the creation of the National Transportation Safety Board, which provides an opportune time to reflect on our mission, celebrate our safety successes and prepare for the challenges ahead.

In the decades since its creation, NTSB staff has investigated more than 132,000 aviation accidents and thousands of surface transportation accidents. Just as our nation’s transportation system operates 24 hours a day, so also do the committed men and women of the NTSB. Our investigators are on call all day, every day, and often spend their weekends and holidays doing investigative work to determine an accident’s probable cause.

While accident investigation is our most public activity, and the one most often associated with the agency, the lasting impact of our investigations comes through our efforts to prevent future accidents, which is accomplished through our safety recommendations and advocacy. Since 1967, the NTSB has issued more than 13,800 safety recommendations across all modes of transportation calling for greater regulatory oversight, voluntary adoption of safety standards, or even implementation of novel technologies. Despite their diverse subject matter, all share a single goal; if implemented, these recommendations would make – and have made – the American traveling public safer.

Likewise, the NTSB’s singular role as a respected and independent voice for transportation safety has guided its advocacy efforts on behalf of the nation, whether encouraging states to adopt stringent laws against distracted driving or drawing attention to the challenges facing implementation of positive train control technology.

No matter how successful our efforts on behalf of the American public, however, we are ever mindful of the dynamic nature of our national transportation system. At the time of the NTSB’s creation in 1967, for example, no one could have foreseen the incredible strides in technology. These changes drive our ever-evolving modes of transportation as well as the ways we investigate their accidents.

One critical component to the agency’s mission, however, was known at the beginning: Successful investigations and safety advocacy require the most experienced and dedicated individuals within the federal government. I’m proud to say that is exactly the workforce assembled within the NTSB today and with whom I have the privilege to work.

Happy anniversary, NTSB!


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.

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