Earlier today, the National Transportation Safety Board announced our 2015 Most Wanted List of life-saving safety improvements. For the second year, we had the privilege of announcing our list at the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a hub of forward-looking research on transportation issues.
The theme for the TRB meeting was “Corridors to the Future: Transportation and Technology.”
This theme brought to mind the many ways that technology can make a difference in moving forward our Top 10 safety improvements for this year.
One of this year’s improvements specifically targets adoption of a technology that has reached maturity, that can save lives, and that is well understood: Implement Positive Train Control in 2015.
Positive train control can automatically apply a train’s brakes when it is going too fast. Four people died and scores were injured in the December 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx. A train entered a 30-mile-per-hour turn going 82. Positive train control would have prevented this derailment.
It can also prevent other accidents. Regrettably, we have seen all of these types of preventable accidents many times in the 45 years since we first urged a forerunner to positive train control.
In 2008, lawmakers from both parties overwhelmingly passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which gave railroads until December 31, 2015 – more than seven years – to implement positive train control. The time to act is now.
If positive train control is a case of industry catching up to available technology, another of our Most Wanted List items touches on our culture catching up with the downside of technology already in broad use: Disconnect from Deadly Distractions.
Since 2003, the NTSB has found distraction from portable electronic devices as a cause or contributing factor in 11 accident investigations. Those crashes resulted in 259 people injured and 50 people killed. The first step toward removing deadly distractions will be to disconnect from non-mission-critical information. Everyday drivers are at risk as well as commercial vehicle operators in all modes of transportation. No call, and no text message, is worth the risk of an accident.
Proper use of technology can help us achieve many other safety improvements on the 2015 Most Wanted List. For example, the use of alcohol-sensing ignition interlocks for repeat offenders can help to End Impairment in Transportation, and scenario-specific simulator training can help Enhance the Safety of Public Helicopter Operations. Design improvements can help Improve Rail Tank Car Safety.
But while technology has helped to improve transportation safety by leaps and bounds, and can continue to do so in the future, it is only one part of the story. Even a quick glance at the 2015 Most Wanted List reveals that much depends on changes to human behavior (for example, in Strengthen Procedural Compliance):
NTSB’s 2015 Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements
Disconnect from Deadly Distractions
End Substance Impairment in Transportation
Enhance Public Helicopter Safety
Prevent Loss of Control in General Aviation
Require Medical Fitness For Duty
Strengthen Commercial Trucking Safety
Strengthen Procedural Compliance
To read more about each of these issues, please visit our Most Wanted List page. There you will find online information and printable fact sheets on each issue and what can be done to bring about improvements.
At the NTSB we want to make new strides in transportation safety in 2015, and we want to lay the groundwork for years that are even safer. As we know, safety is not a destination, but a never-ending journey, and no matter how safe transportation becomes, there will always be room for improvement.
The Most Wanted List is our roadmap for 2015. We hope that it will also be a roadmap for policy makers and legislators. It is grounded in the accident investigations by which NTSB learns safety lessons, and in the recommendations that are NTSB’s primary safety product. These are safety improvements for which the time is ripe for action.