From the Boardroom to the Field: Gathering Information outside Washington

By Mark Rosekind

Member Rosekind at the Tesla factory“Let’s learn more about each other BEFORE we’re on an accident scene.” That’s my philosophy and my advice to transportation organizations across the modes. It is far better for business, industry, and governments to know what the NTSB does, and for the NTSB to understand their respective safety roles and efforts prior to an accident, investigation, and recommendations. This is why whenever possible I like to visit transportation groups and representative sites when I’m on the road, where the perspective outside Washington can be more direct and provide greater context to our work at the agency.

Over the past several days, I’ve been in California taking advantage of proximity to transportation entities located a whole continent away from the NTSB’s home base in the nation’s capital. This part of the country is no stranger to some high-profile accidents and the NTSB’s recommendations. The insights gained at every one of the places I visited, and the invaluable two-way exchange these opportunities presented, will pay back important dividends to the agency’s ongoing work. Here are some of the highlights.

Cooperating with Local Governments, Law Enforcement, and Emergency Personnel

I met with the San Francisco Police and Fire Chiefs.   Through these officials and their top officers, I learned more about the strengths and challenges facing their departments when confronted with a major emergency response to a large-scale transportation accident. Knowing what works well and what needs to be enhanced or changed is critical to the NTSB’s ability to issue the most effective recommendations possible. It was also a great opportunity to shine some light on the NTSB process and the steps leading up to the Board’s issuance of an accident report. For as clear and transparent as the NTSB strives to be, we can always do more to demystify the process.

Learning More about Safety Operations in Different Modes

I had the opportunity to witness an unprecedented safety operation in San Francisco Bay when the Board of Pilot Commissioners and others conducted an emergency towing exercise involving an ultra-large container vessel in the shipping channel. The towboats secured an immense cargo ship that was simulated to be dead-in-the-water and brought her to safety away from the shipping lanes and out of harm’s way. It was a unique opportunity to see some of the day-to-day safety work of the Bay pilots and hear firsthand about their efforts to make shipping safer in the biggest estuary in the Americas and one of the three largest U.S. ports on the Pacific.

Expanding the Use of Technology in Transportation Safety

I use any opportunity in the Silicon Valley to find out more about innovations affecting transportation safety. This area is an incubator for next generation solutions that continue to revolutionize the way we think about traveling. Visits to Google and Tesla provided a chance to see what is happening in automotive technology to protect drivers on the nation’s roadways. I rode in the automated Google Car for a demonstration of the latest developments in the astonishing capability for vehicles to augment and even replace the human role in the driving task with a promising future for unprecedented safety. At Tesla, a company that sells electric cars and electric vehicle components, advances in lithium ion battery production, capabilities, and their safety was a key agenda item.

Getting Greater Context for Accident Investigations

Finally, I visited San Francisco International Airport (SFO) where the Asiana Airlines crash occurred last year. As the Board prepares for the June consideration of the accident report, this provided a good opportunity to see the crash site first-hand, talk with key emergency operations personnel about response procedures, meet with SFO officials on safety operations, and assess overall what the airport’s capabilities are in responding to this and any prospective emergencies that may occur at the facility. My time there was as in-depth as it could be and will be invaluable in next month’s deliberations.

Our agency’s Washington headquarters are wonderful, and full of passionate people and tremendous technical capabilities, but information from the field is also important to executing my duties as a Board Member. Whenever possible, the exchange of information on the NTSB process that I can provide those in the field builds strong bridges upon which we can rely for future investigations. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Somehow we must be able to show people that democracy is not about words, but action.”


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

Kicking off a Safer Summer

By Christopher Hart

Acting Chairman Hart speaking at Global Youth Traffic Safety Month eventMemorial Day is the traditional kickoff to summer. For many people, summer is a busy time of year, and this can be especially true for teens. Graduation, family vacations, time spent with friends, summer jobs … often these busy summertime schedules mean lots of time spent behind the wheel for teen drivers, many of whom are novices. Unfortunately, summer can also be the most dangerous time of the year for teen drivers. In fact, according to AAA, the deadliest time of the year for teen drivers is between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

We know much about what makes driving such a dangerous activity for teens. Driving with teen passengers, driving at night, and driving while using cell phones or other devices are all associated with increased risk among teen drivers. The NTSB recommends that a comprehensive teen driver safety program, often called Graduated Driver Licensing, include (1) beginner (learner’s permit) and intermediate licensing stages with mandatory holding periods, (2) limiting which hours during the day teens can drive and limiting the number of teen passengers in the car for drivers in the intermediate stage, and (3) prohibiting the use of interactive wireless communication devices by drivers in both stages. Research has shown that this type of comprehensive teen driving program can significantly reduce the risk of crashes, injuries, and deaths.

Despite everything that is known about the dangers of teen driving and ways to reduce that risk, however, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for teens across the nation. In 2012, more than 4,600 people were killed in crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20. This is why the NTSB remains committed to improving teen driving safety through our recommendations and our involvement in activities such as Global Youth Traffic Safety Month (GYTSM), which is observed every May.

As we wrap up the month of May and this year’s GYTSM and go into summer, the NTSB encourages everyone – teen drivers and adult drivers alike – to remember that your safe driving can help prevent injuries and fatalities. Some ways to do that? For starters, buckle up every trip; put down your cell phone while driving; and avoid driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Summer will go by quickly – and we hope you will do everything you can to help make sure it goes safely as well!

Ride for Cause

photo of Rolling Thunder being saluted.
taken by Luis Gomez at Rolling Thunder 2010.

By Nicholas Worrell

Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, the moment I publicly longed for in my winter blog. It’s been a long winter, and it’s great to get the bike back on the road and feel the open air. This weekend always features some outstanding events where riders reconnect with some old buddies, meet new ones, enjoy the road together, and come back with some stories to tell.

But in 2012 we lost almost 5,000 riders nationwide, 13 people each day who won’t be able to make new memories and share old stories. I am not okay with that – and here’s why.

For several years my buddies and I, from various rider clubs, have packed our bikes, hitched our trailers, and taken that long journey from Washington, DC to Myrtle Beach Bike Week to enjoy a week of riding and fun. I can hear the patient if ominous deep idle of the Harleys, the buzzing roar of Suzukis, and every now and then the signature sound of a Ducati dry clutch. I can feel as much as hear the bikes, all sizes, colors and shapes, thundering through the streets. And I can see the smiles on every rider’s face, smiles that look like relief from Old Man Winter. I can feel the cool breeze hitting my face as I cruise the stretch of Atlantic Street with riders I’ve known for years.

And I want to see each and every one of them the next year. I don’t want our group missing any of those bikes’ sounds, or any of those faces I’ve gotten used to seeing.

In the Washington area, every year Rolling Thunder brings hundreds of thousands of bikes roaring through the streets in commemoration of servicemen and women who have sacrificed for our freedom. The dedicated bikers at Rolling Thunder ride in remembrance of those who gave everything to protect us.

With all that they sacrifice for us, it’s a shame when we don’t protect ourselves.

As a United States Marine Corps veteran (OORAH), I am not shy about standing up for one more noble cause: motorcycle safety. (Repeat after me: “This is my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine…”) And I want everyone to realize that motorcycle safety isn’t just riders’ business – it’s everybody’s.

So here are some of the dangers and safety measures we should all take into consideration during this Memorial Week and the rest of the summer.

    1. Drivers: Share the Road and Pay Attention. For riders one of the biggest concerns is for drivers who are not focused on the task at hand. The distracted driver who simply can’t wait to place that call, send that text or update that Facebook posting, and the impaired driver who is too intoxicated to focus on the road, endanger everybody, but riders have less protection. If you ask most riders their number one concern, they’ll say “lack of respect by drivers” (or perhaps stronger words to that effect). So listen up drivers: share the road, don’t drive distracted, and don’t drive impaired.

 

    1. Riders: There’s a time and a place. Too many of us have done it, even though we shouldn’t have; we’ve taken those corners a little too fast, or performed a trick on a crowed highway. There is a time and place for those types of stunts, and it’s not where you’re taking risks with the lives of other riders or drivers.

 

  1. You’re not invincible. Gear up. Long-time riders will tell you that road-rash is no fun, and it can get way worse than that. I am amazed every time I see riders in shorts and a tee shirt, not realizing that at any moment they can take a fall from a simple pebble or piece of gravel in the street. Then there are riders who would never drive without a seat belt but ride without a helmet. A helmet is your best defense against head injuries when, not if, you fall off the bike. Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41-percent for motorcycle passengers.

If you still have to gear up, get it done now, so the rest of the summer is a safe one.

  1. Ride for a Cause. Safety first. I’ve been waiting all winter to ride, but I’m not gunning the engine the first chance I get. I’m going to ride at safe speeds. I’ll be in a DOT-compliant helmet. And you won’t find me drinking and riding, because those two are a bad mix. If you live to ride, like me, you also have to ride to live.

Riders, respect the road and the power of your bike. And drivers, have a little consideration for the riders; put away the distractions and keep your eye out for that rider sharing the road with you.

 

 

Nicholas Worrell is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Communications.

Improving Traffic Safety: No Man Is an Island

By Nicholas Worrell

Nicholas Worrel presenting at the IRF Caribbean Regional Congress In the Caribbean islands, people often sing, reggae style, like “no man is an island, no man stands alone, treat each man as a brother … you can’t make it alone.”

The truth of those lyrics was really brought home to me last week at the 3rd International Road Federation Caribbean Regional Congress. More than 150 delegates from the Caribbean and other countries attended. Everyone gathered in Port of Spain to address key issues facing safety, infrastructure and mobility, all knowing that to improve traffic safety and save lives, well, you can’t make it alone.

I was honored to be a guest speaker at the conference and to join so many dedicated traffic safety professionals working hard to make a difference in the Caribbean. In my remarks and discussions with the Congress delegates, I highlighted the NTSB’s findings from safety studies and accident investigations, showcased the agency’s safety priorities (e.g., the Most Wanted List), and shared lessons learned in how to achieve progress to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.

Did you know that worldwide, more than 1.2 million people perish each year because of motor vehicle crashes? In the United States, we are making progress, but have much more to do, especially to address driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs as well as distracted driving. Traffic safety officials in the Caribbean face their own challenges.

Last week, I learned more about the challenges faced by Caribbean traffic safety professionals. For one, the Honorable Stephen Cadiz, Trinidad Minister of Transport, spoke about proposed legislation to address changing the mindset of people in his country who believe it is acceptable to drink and drive. He spoke of changing the nation’s “culture of safety” by introducing measures similar to a graduated driver’s licensing system.

As I listened, I was reminded of the great benefit of these conferences, which bring together experts from many countries and cultures. Indeed, no man is an island. What affects safety in one part of the world can also affect safety in another. And, most importantly, what prevents crashes and fatalities in one nation can also help prevent them in another country.

That is the true benefit of coming together –  to share experiences, lessons learned and, most importantly, solutions. That’s what the delegates were doing in Trinidad and what so many dedicated safety professionals do every year across the world at conferences like the one in Port of Spain: Work together to share data, experiences and expertise. It’s these relationships among safety professionals that can be so pivotal in making a difference to save lives and prevent even more injuries all around the world.

It was invigorating to be with so many dedicated professionals. It also was a great way to kick off Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. Treat each man as a brother as the song goes. But, at the same time our lifesaving work is improving traffic safety for our children and our children’s children.

I am honored to be a part of the NTSB and to be a part of the solution.


Nicholas Worrell is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Communications.

Click It for Life

By Earl F. Weener, PhD

Click it or Ticket campaign posterToday begins the annual Click It or Ticket enforcement campaign to increase use of seatbelts. It involves a nationwide mobilization effort of law enforcement agencies and safety advocates, from all levels of government and the private sector. From now until June 1st, motorists will be targeted with messages and possibly enforcement action, including tickets, to again stress the point: seat belts save lives – a simple fact, yet still apparently challenging for some motorists to accept.

In May 2011, nearly a year after joining the NTSB, I wrote a blog about the 2011 Click It or Ticket campaign. What surprised me then and continues to puzzle me, is the continued need for this campaign. Seat belts have been around for more than 60 years, yet nearly one in six Americans still fail to regularly use one when motoring.

We often herald the fact that across the U.S. approximately 86% of all highway vehicle occupants wear a seat belt. But here are some additional statistics to provide a more complete picture:

  • 14% of Americans continue to travel on our highways unrestrained.
  • Only 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted seat belt laws that apply to all vehicle occupants and can be enforced as a primary offense by law enforcement.
  • In 2012, more than 21,000 people were killed in passenger vehicle crashes; more than 50% of those killed were unrestrained.
  • 62% of 18- to 34-year-old passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing their seat belts.
  • More men than women die every year in motor vehicle traffic crashes.
  • 66% of pickup truck occupants killed in crashes were not buckled up.

The motor vehicle remains the primary choice of transportation in the U.S., and for good reason – nothing rivals it in terms of providing freedom and mobility. Yet, motor vehicle crashes are responsible for more deaths annually in the U.S. than in all other transportation modes combined. Comparatively, this figure equates to a commercial airplane crash every other day.

Now, the NTSB is encouraged by the advancement of various safety technologies offered in today’s automobile market, such as adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection systems. We note though, the single greatest defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash remains: the use of seat belts. In acknowledgement of this simple concept, the NTSB added Strengthen Occupant Protection in Transportation to its Most Wanted list to promote seat belt usage, and it supports the Click It or Ticket campaign.

Realistically, though, nothing would please me more than to see an end to this campaign and decided victory – it shouldn’t take the threat of a ticket to do the right thing. A few moments of extra care at the outset of a trip can last a lifetime. Please, take the time to click it for life.


Honorable Earl F. WeenerEarl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

Wear It! …at work and at play

By Jenny Cheek

Across most of the United States, beautiful spring weather is finally here to stay and warm summer days are right around the corner. With the nice weather comes a renewed interest in outdoor activities , especially fun times on the water. Whether in a motorboat, a pontoon, a canoe, or a kayak, one thing is always true about recreational boating: using a personal flotation device – a lifejacket – significantly improves your safety on the water.

In 2012, there were 4,515 recreational boating accidents that resulted in 651 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 71% of the people who died in these accidents drowned. Sadly, 85% of those who drowned were not wearing lifejackets. That’s almost 400 people whose lives could have been saved by the simple act of putting on a lifejacket.

To help educate people about the importance of wearing a lifejacket, the National Safe Boating Council is sponsoring National Safe Boating Week, May 17-23. National Safe Boating Week is the official launch of the 2014 North American Safe Boating Campaign, a yearlong campaign to promote safe recreational boating and use of lifejackets. The campaign’s theme of “Wear It!” will be emphasized in activities in all 50 states, including social media outreach and use of bilingual public service announcements to spread the word.

In preparation for National Safe Boating Week, today has been declared National Wear Your Lifejacket to Work Day. This is a fun way to demonstrate just how easy it is to wear a lifejacket. Here at the NTSB, some of us are participating by wearing our lifejackets in the office! Even if you didn’t wear a lifejacket at your job today, we hope you’ll wear one every time you’re on the water. Lifejackets save lives … one of them could be yours.

life-jacket

NTSB takes a closer look at tire safety

By Don Karol

On February 21, the NTSB was notified of an accident on I-75 near Lake City, Fla., in which a 15-passenger van overturned and ejected passengers following a tire tread separation. Investigating crashes following tire failures is nothing new to us. At the time of the Florida accident, a team of our investigators was still on the scene of another tire-related crash that had occurred less than a week earlier in Centerville, La.

Centerville_kia
Kia Sorento involved in the Centerville, LA accident.

In the Louisiana crash, an SUV experienced a tire tread separation, veered out of control across a grassy center median area, and crossed directly into the path of a school bus carrying a high school baseball team. In these two crashes alone, six people died and 38 were injured.

These two accidents prompted us to begin a special investigation focused on tire safety.

Although the special investigation is still in its early stages, several investigative areas are being considered, including proper tire maintenance procedures, the tire recall process, potential degradation of tires due to aging, vehicle handling and driver response following a tire disablement, and technological and manufacturing innovations.

Additionally, investigators will be evaluating numerous data sources to determine the overall scope of the tire-related crash problem and will be completing an analysis of the involved tires to determine the reasons for the tread separations.

A tire can fail for many reasons while a vehicle is moving. These include operation of the tire in an underinflated or overinflated condition, overloading of the tire, insufficient tread or uneven wear, tire punctures, manufacturing defects, and degradation of the tire due to age and operating environment.

Van involved in teh Lake City, FL accident (photo credit: FL Highway Patrol)
Van involved in the Lake City, FL accident (photo credit: FL Highway Patrol)

Although the Florida and Louisiana accidents were similar in that the drivers lost vehicle control immediately after a tread separated from their left rear tires, the conditions of the tires involved were markedly different. For example, one tire was over 10 years old while the other was only two years old.

For more than a decade, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been conducting research into what happens to tires as they age. Although it’s clear that tires degrade over time, there are still debates among manufacturers and safety advocates about their service life.

Unfortunately, apart from tread life, most drivers know very little about tire maintenance and safety. For example, how many consumers even know the brands of the tires they’re driving on, let alone how old they are?

The two-year-old tire that failed in the Florida accident was a BFGoodrich Commercial T/A A/S tire, which was subject to a recall campaign initiated in July 2012 for approximately 794,000 tires. The safety recall notice stated, “It is possible that any one of the tires being recalled may experience tread loss and rapid air loss resulting from tread belt separation. This condition may increase the risk of vehicle crash.”

To date, our investigators have not found evidence that the owner of the 15-passenger van, the First Baptist Church in New Port Richey, ever received notice of the recall.

As part of our investigation, we’ll be examining the tire recall process to identify the responsibilities of the regulator, the manufacturer, the tire sales facility, and the consumer to determine if safety improvements are warranted.

Without question, tires are among the most important components of a vehicle as they are the only points of contact between you and the ground. If a failure occurs at any of these points of contact, a tragedy could occur. Our special investigation will focus on preventing future tragedies and making safety recommendations where improvements can be made.


Don Karol is the director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.