On a Mission to Make a Difference

By Danielle Roeber

Danielle Roeber at the Reaching Zero forumWhenever someone asks where I work, it takes me a moment to decide whether I’ll say “NTSB” or give the full name, “National Transportation Safety Board.” Some people know what “NTSB” means. Maybe they’ve heard a reference on television or in a movie. Maybe tragically, they’ve been in or related to someone who has been in an accident that we’ve investigated. Or lived in a community where the accident occurred. Most of the time, though, I get almost a deer-in-the-headlights look, especially if the person isn’t from DC. When I start to explain what NTSB does, there often seems to be an unspoken question. Why would the federal government create a nonregulatory, independent agency to investigate transportation accidents and share lessons learned?

Transportation connects people, goods, and services. One hundred and fifty years ago, it would have taken days or even weeks to send and receive mail. Relatives who moved out west rarely, if ever, saw those they left behind on the East Coast or in Europe. Trains, automobiles, and then planes brought us closer together. Along with ships, these modes of transportation allow us the flexibility to visit other continents within hours, receive mail from relatives half way around the world, and get supplies from local stores that are stocked with “just-in-time” delivery. Transportation is ingrained in our daily lives; when everything goes right, we don’t even think about it. However, when something goes wrong, such as a bridge collapse, an airplane crash, or a train collision, the effects can be devastating to people and communities. Safe transportation requires an ongoing commitment.

In 1967, the federal government made that commitment to safe transportation when it created my agency. Congress envisioned that a single organization with a clearly defined mission could more effectively promote a higher level of safety than individual modal agencies working separately. That mission – Independently Advancing Transportation Safety – means we focus exclusively on what will prevent crashes, reduce injuries, and save lives, without consideration for economic or political considerations, and that we do so as an independent and transparent agency.

Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Every day I come to work with approximately 400 colleagues, all of us looking for ways to make a difference for each of you traveling in America’s transportation system. In our agency’s 47-year history, through our investigations, studies, recommendations, and advocacy, I believe we have made transportation safer. And someday I believe we’ll work ourselves out of a job. What a privilege it is to serve!

Danielle Roeber is the Safety Advocacy Division Chief in NTSB’s Office of Communications

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