What is a public health scientist doing at the NTSB?

By Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman

This week is National Public Health Week.  I can’t think of a better time to introduce myself and answer the question, “What is a public health scientist doing at the National Transportation Safety Board?”

Dr. Dinh-Zarr being sworn in as the newest Member of the BoardI am the new Member and Vice Chairman of the NTSB and I am convinced that safe transportation is vital to the health and well-being of our communities.

A little over two weeks ago, I was honored to take my oath of office as the newest Member of the NTSB. Ever since I was a child growing up on the Gulf Coast, I have loved transportation. From working at the Railroad Museum as a kid to watching the ships near Galveston Island, to taking airplanes to faraway places, to using mass transit to get to work – transportation is of utmost importance to me, personally and professionally.   As I studied public health in school, specifically motor vehicle injury prevention, I saw that deaths and injuries were an unwanted (and preventable) by-product of mobility. But I also knew that we could do something about it. In fact, a seat belt has saved my life twice – once when a drunk driver hit my family’s station wagon when I was a child and again, when a distracted driver hit my car when I was a graduate student.  At the NTSB, experts investigate crashes in detail and we use the information to advance transportation in all modes.  We also highlight key issues through the Most Wanted List. As in public health, we ensure that all aspects are considered carefully as an avenue for the prevention of crashes: the person, the machine, and the environment.

President Obama proclaimed April 6-12, 2015, as National Public Health Week, and it is celebrated throughout the U.S. every year in recognition of the importance of public health to our nation and the world.

We often think of public health in terms of preventing the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, or reducing chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Injury prevention is an important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of public health. Injuries have been a leading cause of death and disability throughout history and, in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, unintentional injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in our country! The NTSB contributes to public health by advancing transportation safety in order to prevent deaths and injuries.

The theme of this year’s National Public Health Week is the Healthiest Nation in One Generation and today’s focus is “Building Broader Communities,” which focuses on partnerships and collaboration to accomplish that. Two vital partnerships I have valued over the years in my injury prevention work is the American Public Health Association, the leaders of National Public Health Week, and the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which has very useful state-by-state data on many areas, such as seat belt use and impaired driving. I encourage you to be a part of National Public Health Week and help make yourself and our nation even healthier and safer.

We live in a mobile world. There is nothing more relevant to our health, and the health of our nation, and indeed to public health, than having a safe way to get where we need to go. Going to school, to work, to recreation, whether by land, by air, by rail, or by sea – it’s your decision where you want to go, and how you get there – but it is our job at the NTSB to help ensure you get there in the safest way possible.  I feel very privileged to be a part of this mission and to work with the highly capable and dedicated people at the NTSB!

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