Improving Transportation Safety is What We Most Want

Every year, the NTSB publishes its Most Wanted List – a list that highlights various safety issues identified through NTSB’s accident investigations and studies. The NTSB Most Wanted List is designed to increase awareness of the most critical changes needed to reduce transportation accidents and recommend safety solutions for achieving our goal of ZERO transportation crashes, injuries and deaths.

We unveiled our recent list on January 16th. And now, seven months later, it’s appropriate to assess the progress that is being made in these areas and what still needs to be done.

Acting Chairman Hart with the New Mexico State PoliceIn 2014, the NTSB first specifically focused on the unique characteristics of helicopter operations. Over the last 10 years, we have issued over 200 recommendations on helicopter issues calling for such improvements as safety management systems and access to training that includes scenarios such as inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions and autorotation. By placing this issue area on the Most Wanted List, we want to increase awareness among, and instigate action by, key stakeholders. One of the direct results was that we were invited by the helicopter industry to provide a half-day seminar on recent accident investigations at the annual HAI Heli Expo in February in Anaheim. In May, Acting Chairman Hart had the opportunity to learn about improvements made by the New Mexico State Police (NMSP) following the June 9, 2009, crash involving a NMSP helicopter, which he highlighted on the 5th anniversary of that crash.

Because general aviation accidents represent the largest segment of our aviation accident investigations and fatalities the NTSB has called attention to general aviation safety through the Most Wanted List for many years. This year, we focused on the role that hazardous weather identification and communication play as a frequent cause or contributing factor to general aviation accidents. In March, NTSB staff highlighted this issue by exhibiting at the annual Communicating for Safety conference hosted by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Presentations at the annual Sun n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in April and the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh event in July also addressed the need for improvement in hazardous weather identification and communication.

Member Rosekind at the unveiling of the new WMATA train carsSix weeks ago, we commemorated the 5th Anniversary of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Ft. Totten accident; we were reminded of why it’s critical to promote operational safety in rail mass transit (light rail, commuter rail, and subways). That accident was a watershed moment for mass transit rail operators, and in particular, WMATA. As a result of the lessons learned from this and other rail mass transit accidents we have investigated, we’ve issued a number of safety recommendations to promote the development of system safety programs, and we continue to issue recommendations and encourage improvements. Since January, NTSB Members and staff have met with operators (Miami Dade Transit), regulators (FTA), and associations (APTA) to discuss what they are doing and what they can still do. We’ve also had the opportunity to see how WMATA has changed, including the unveiling in January of WMATA’s new 7000-series railcars and a more in-depth tour of these cars in July. These new railcars offer improved crashworthiness that will preserve survivable space in the event of a catastrophic collision. And NTSB investigative work and recommendations spurred congressional action to provide WMATA with the long overdue resources necessary for WMATA to make this and other changes.

Nicholas Worrel presenting at the IRF Caribbean Regional CongressAlmost 95 percent of transportation deaths occur on the highway, so several Most Wanted List issue areas emphasize much-needed improvements to drive those numbers down. This includes critical issues such as substance-impaired driving, distraction in transportation, and occupant protection. About 10,000 traffic deaths each year involve an alcohol-impaired driver. Use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, including use behind the wheel, continues to increase, leading to crashes, injuries, and deaths. These astounding facts make promoting our recommendations for preventing these dangerous behaviors critical. But in the event that a crash does occur, strong occupant protection can mean the difference between life and death. NTSB staff had multiple opportunities to advocate for these issue areas through our presentations at the annual Lifesavers Highway Safety Conference and the International Road Federation’s 3rd Caribbean Conference.

Over the last seven months, our Board Members and staff have been in the forefront giving presentations, attending conferences, writing letters in support of legislation, attending press conferences, and meeting with organizational leaders to develop stronger safety practices throughout the transportation community. Why? Because ultimately it is up to transportation industry, regulators, manufacturers, Congress, state and local officials and even the public to take action on our recommendations or identify better solutions before the next accident. Not only do we need to conduct thorough investigations and comprehensive safety studies, and issue sound, meaningful safety recommendations, we need to educate and lead people to make the changes we’ve recommended. That’s why engaging with so many stakeholders, to share the lessons learned from our accident investigations and studies and improvements needed across the transportation industries is imperative to bringing about life saving safety improvements.

Each year presents an opportunity to promote a new list of transportation safety improvements. In addition to these issue areas, we have worked tirelessly to draw attention to steps that will advance passenger vessel safety, enhance pipeline safety, improve fire safety in transportation, and implement positive train control systems. Improvement and progress may not be instantaneous, but we are committed to the work needed to reach our ultimate goal – ZERO transportation crashes, injuries, and deaths.

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