Hot Tires, High Risk… and How to Have a Tire-Safer Summer

Photo of the accident van.
NTSB investigated a hot summer tire blowout crash in July 2001 in Randleman, North Carolina. A 15-passenger van overturned on the highway, killing 1 person and injuring 12 others.

By Amy Terrone, Safety Advocacy Division

When you drive on hot roads at highway speeds your tires get hot. And when your tires get hot, you’re at greater risk for a blowout and potentially a crash. Fortunately, there are ways you can head off the risk before heading off to the beach.

How many times have we driven by a family in a minivan on the side of the road changing their tire in 98-degree weather? Being stranded is no fun, but it can be much worse. Tire blowouts can also lead to a loss of vehicle control and a crash.

According to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the summer months of June–August are associated with the highest number of tire-related fatal crashes.

Why the increase in crashes during the summer? A variety of reasons, such as more teen drivers on the road and vacationers navigating unfamiliar congested highways. But another cause is tire blowouts.

Hot tires can lead to blowouts, especially if the tires are underinflated.

NHTSA estimates that tire failure causes about 11,000 crashes a year, leading to more than 600 deaths and about 19,000 injuries. A common cause of tire failure is underinflated tires. Underinflation also leads to sluggish handling, longer stopping distances, and increased stress on tire components. If you need to be reminded of how dangerous a tire blowout can be, check out this video.

Memorial weekend is the unofficial start of the summer season. It also kicks off National Tire Safety Week (May 24-30), a week established 14 years ago by the Rubber Manufacturers Association to remind consumers about the importance of tire safety (see Be Tire Smart—Play Your PART). Being safe on the roads means regularly checking tire air pressure, alignment, and tread, and rotating tires.

The NTSB has investigated a number of tire failure crashes, including several in recent years, so we know first-hand the dangers of underinflated and poorly maintained tires. In honor of Tire Safety Week and the start of the summer season, the NTSB released a Safety Alert today outlining how tire registration and periodic maintenance can reduce the risk of crashes.

Please, as you embark on this summer of fun, take a moment to check your tires before loading the car with your camping gear, suitcases, fishing rods, and coolers. It’s a simple act that could save you money and time down the road, and it could also save your life…and that’s no hot air.

A Perfect Day on the Water

By Tracy Murrell

Wear It LogoHere in DC, the weather this weekend is expected to be perfect, close to 80 degrees and sunny. For many around the county, perfect weather this weekend will mean getting out on the open water for the first ride or paddle of the season.

If you’re a motorboater, maybe you’ve been longing to hear the deep hum of the engine idling in the water turn to a smooth roar as you speed through the water. Or maybe you prefer the feeling of free floating as you skip across the water on a personal watercraft.

Perhaps you’re a kayaker or canoeist, and crave the intimate closeness to the elements, the feel of even the slightest change in wind and the sensation of every ripple on the surface. Maybe you’re a paddler, and love the calming feeling of your board gently rocking to the rhythm of the water.

Something deep within us draws us to the water. But whether you prefer to enjoy the seas, lakes, or rivers; it’s important to equip yourself with the right tools to help you survive in those environments when something goes wrong.

Wear It PosterThat’s where your common sense comes in: Wear a personal flotation device – a lifejacket. Whether you’re in a motorboat, a canoe, a kayak, or on a paddleboard, wearing a lifejacket significantly improves your safety on the water.

In 2014, 610 people died and more than 2,500 were injured in 4,064 recreational boating accidents. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 78% of the people who died in these accidents drowned, and 84% 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.

This week is National Safe Boating Week. Safety advocates across the U.S. and Canada are working together to promote safe and responsible boating. This week also marks the official launch of the 2015 North American Safe Boating Campaign, a yearlong campaign to promote safe recreational boating and use of lifejackets.

Be a responsible boater and obey the ways of the water. Always use a personal flotation device, and don’t boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Don’t let a perfect day on the water turn into a preventable tragedy.

Tracy Murrell is the Director of the NTSB’s Office of Marine Safety

PTC in 2015: A Deadline We Can Live With

Member Robert Sumwalt on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment in Philadelphia, PA
Member Robert Sumwalt on the scene of the Amtrak Train #188 Derailment in Philadelphia, PA

By Mark Jones

As I write this blog, the nation’s eyes are on the derailment of Amtrak train No. 188 in Philadelphia, and the resulting deaths and hundreds of injuries. Like others at NTSB, my thoughts are with the family members of those who were lost, and we hope for a full and speedy recovery for those who were injured.

But this blog contains no breaking news about our investigation into that derailment, which is in its earliest stage, and which might not be complete for another year or more.

Nor does this blog contain any new detail about the Metro North derailment more than a year ago, in which four other people died and at least 61 were injured.

Rather, this blog is about positive train control (PTC,) a technology that could have prevented both tragedies and many more. Positive train control is a technological safety net for the train operator, which stops a train when the operator doesn’t – but needs to.

The NTSB has been calling for a system like this for more than 45 years. It was on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements from the list’s inception in 1990 until Congress overwhelmingly passed The Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) of 2008.

The RSIA mandates that PTC be implemented on certain railroads nationwide by the end of 2015 – including the rail lines on which both of the accident trains mentioned above travelled. Public safety demands that the railroads comply with Congress’ mandate this year.

Yet there is still doubt whether PTC systems will be implemented nationwide this year as required by law. That is why Implement Positive Train Control in 2015 is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List this year.

If you are wondering whether a stretch of track near you is protected by PTC, contact the Federal Railroad Administration.

If you are wondering whether it should be, by the end of this year, the answer is likely “yes.” That is not just the opinion of the NTSB – it is the law.

December 31, 2015, is the deadline for implementing PTC. It is a deadline that railroads – and passengers – can live with.

To learn more about Positive Train Control, see our 2013 forum, Positive Train Control: Is It On Track?

Fallen Heroes: Tragedies Not in Vain

By Don Karol

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

Walking slowly down the tree-lined path, I pause, panel after panel, gazing at the names engraved on the marble wall of remembrance. The names of over 20,000 police officers, killed in the line of duty, adorn the east and west walls of the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial. The peacefulness of the Memorial grounds provides me an ideal place for reflection; a place to remember my many friends and colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice. Each time I visit, I take out a tattered sheet of paper, a list of the locations on the wall where I can find the names of particular fallen heroes. In toll, there are 48 names on my list, depicting the specific location where I can see the engraving of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers who died tragically during my 21-year CHP career. Many of these officers were my friends; many others I only came to know in death – as the lead crash investigator responsible for identifying the factors that led to their death.

As I reach the 50th panel on the west wall, I glance down at my notes and see 50W-19. Scrolling down the wall to the 19th line, I get choked up when I see the name “John Steel” carved into the bluish-gray wall. John was my friend, mentor, and my first supervisor. For three years, I learned from him and admired him. Over the years, I’ve thought of the morning of April 23, 1993, many times. Memories of the CHP locker room radio blaring, “Officer down, Officer down.” Arriving on scene and finding out that an impaired driver had crossed over a center median and crashed head on into John’s motorcycle. Seeing his mangled CHP Harley Davidson lying in the roadway. The investigation, memorial service, flagged draped coffin, honor guard, a multi-mile long procession to the burial site – imprinted in my mind forever.

So many panels, so many memories:

Handwritten notes of memorial locations on the panels of the National Law Enforecement Officers Memorial48E-20: Officer Saul Martinez (End of Watch 5-15-97) A friend, beat partner, and person who was beloved by the community. Before his death he was named “Latino Peace Officer of the Year” in recognition of his outstanding service in the Latino neighborhoods. Saul died tragically when an impaired driver ran off the road and struck him while he was outside of his patrol car checking on a disabled vehicle. Prior to being hit, Officer Martinez saved the life of his partner by pushing him out of the way of danger. The Governor of California posthumously presented him the “Medal of Valor,” in recognition of his heroism. While visions of Saul’s crash scene haunt me to this day, what I remember most was the tradition of eating fresh tamales at Saul’s house on Christmas day.

63E-20: Officer Dan Muehlhausen (End of Watch 6-1-97) Working in the same CHP office as Saul and I, Dan was killed two weeks after Officer Martinez. Dan had been one of my trainees and had been on the job for less than two years. He was dispatched to assist a disabled motorist on a rural highway near Twentynine Palms, when a pickup truck attempting to pass on a hill, crossed over double yellow lines and struck Dan’s patrol car head on. Both vehicles were immediately engulfed in flames.

28E-20: Officer Noreen Vargas (End of Watch: 11-8-96) Lost her life when a tractor-trailer combination lost one of its trailer’s wheels and the tire bounced onto the opposite side of the highway and landed on Noreen’s vehicle, crushing the vehicle’s roof and killing her instantly. Officer Vargas was the first female officer killed in the line of duty in the CHP.

18E-20: Officer James Schultz (End of Watch: 11-16-96) was checking on an abandoned vehicle on the shoulder of desert highway when a sleepy commercial truck driver drifted toward the right shoulder and hit him.

18W-25: Officer David Romero (End of Watch: 9-23-05) was on motorcycle patrol and stopped at an intersection, when a driver, impaired by drugs, collided with the rear of his bike.

Six panels visited, forty-two more names to locate. . . As I reflect upon each of my fallen colleagues, I am reminded of the sculpture of an adult lion protecting its cubs which adorns the Memorial’s entrance to the pathway of remembrance. Beneath the statute is an inscription, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” As a highway crash investigator, it is difficult to remove the images of the crumpled patrol cars, debris-strewn highways, and autopsy viewings from my thoughts. But this simple quote helps calm me, and makes me realize that I need to honor my friends by remembering who they were in life, not how they died.

This week, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world will converge on Washington, DC to visit the Memorial and participate in a number of commemorative ceremonies as part of National Police Week. This week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of others. Sadly, 117 more law enforcement officers died in the line of duty this past year – a nine percent increase over 2013. Traffic-related incidents were one of the leading causes of these deaths, killing 49 officers.

National Police Week is an emotional time to pay respect to the fallen, a time of remembrance, and hopefully time of contemplation. For me, it is a time to rekindle the flames of my passion; a passion to learn from tragedy, and do everything in my power to prevent future calamities. Likewise, when I hear politicians and leaders in the law enforcement community speak at memorial events and say the solemn words, “These officers shall not have died in vain,” I expect they mean it. What does to “not have died in vain” mean? To me, it means that proactive steps are being taken to prevent the situation which led to their deaths. This may mean changing procedures and tactics, strengthening and enforcing safety regulations, or improving vehicle and safety equipment.

Four years ago, when I retired from law enforcement to join the National Transportation Safety Board, I was following my passion. When I first saw the inscription on the glass wall at the NTSB Training Center, I knew I was in the right place. The wall inscription reads: “Dedicated to the victims of transportation accidents and their families – From tragedy we draw knowledge to improve the safety of us all.”

We must never forget the tragedies. And we must learn from each of them. When I push for fatigue-mitigation strategies and science-based hours of service regulations for truckers, Officer James Schultz, and hundreds of other motorists who lost their lives at the hands of a tired trucker, are not forgotten. When advocating for stronger laws, technology and more enforcement to combat substance-impaired driving, I think of John Steel, Saul Martinez, David Romero and the thousands of others who are killed by drunk drivers. If someone tells me that commercial trucks and buses are safely maintained and vehicle inspections are not needed, I gladly share the tragic story of how Officer Noreen Vargas lost her life, and the scores of other crashes I have investigated caused by vehicle maintenance problems.

This week, as we commemorate National Police Week, let’s remember the fallen heroes, and ensure the tragedies were not in vain.

Don Karol is a National Resource Specialist in the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety and a 21-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol.

Empathy, Compassion and the Golden Rule: Passenger and Family Assistance Operations

By Katy Chisom

Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr addresses attendees at NTSB's conference on Passenger and Family Assistance OperationsThree ideas serve as the foundation for successful family assistance: empathy, compassion and the golden rule. Seemingly simple, these three concepts provide essential guidance for emergency managers who find themselves working with family members in the aftermath of a transportation disaster.

On May 7, 2015, the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance division hosted the agency’s first formal meeting of passenger rail professionals from across the country. Participants from as far as San Diego, CA traveled to Washington, DC to connect with the NTSB, Amtrak, the American Red Cross and other passenger rail agencies and exchange ideas regarding not just establishing, but improving their family assistance plans for the aftermath of a major accident.

The focus on including family assistance in emergency response operations is especially important to NTSB Vice Chairman Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr. Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr opened this month’s conference by providing a great example of her family’s daily reliance on passenger rail lines. Both she and her husband use commuter rail during the work week and frequently take the train on weekends for sightseeing excursions or to visit with friends and family. With such large numbers of people utilizing the rail systems, the focus on family assistance in the aftermath of an accident is an important aspect of emergency response.

Max Green, Emergency Operations Coordinator for the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance division highlighted key aspects of a successful family assistance operation. He emphasized the importance of the initial interaction with family members and addressing their concerns. For a rail carrier, notification of a loved one’s involvement in an accident is an important aspect of family assistance. Although it may be difficult to determine who was onboard without a manifest, it is important that carriers provide as much information as possible to the local emergency manager to properly account for those involved. Max further emphasized the rail carrier’s responsibility in making contact with affected family groups as soon as possible. News today travels quickly and families will likely know about an accident through websites and social media before a company is able to issue a formal press release. Establishing a plan for timely notification of involvement provides the carrier with an opportunity to take responsibility, offer condolences, provide accurate information, assign a point of contact, and offer available resources and assistance.

Amtrak provided a strong presence during the conference with 7 participants and 3 presentations. Susan Reinertson, Vice President of Emergency Management and Corporate Security, and Mary Carlson, Senior Manager of Training and Exercises, provided an extensive overview of Amtrak’s commitment to family assistance operations through preparedness and community collaboration.  Although Amtrak is legislated by Congress to provide family assistance to its passengers after an accident, they strive to go beyond the assurances required by the 2008 legislation. Several times a year, Amtrak conducts emergency response exercises that include family assistance operations. Mary Carlson spoke about a full scale exercise in Chicago in which Amtrak and its community partners established a family assistance center and recruited volunteers from major air carriers to role play as family members to allow Care Team members practice their roles and the caring provision of services. Through this dedication of time and resources, Amtrak continues to emphasize the importance of caring for its employees, passengers and their families before and after an accident.

Agencies present at the meeting included: All Aboard Florida, Charlotte Area Transit System, Herzog Transit Services Incorporated, Keolis Rail Services Virginia, Maryland Transit Administration, North County Transit District, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Utah Transit Authority, Virginia Railway Express, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Although the majority of the attendees are not required by law to provide family assistance to its passengers after an accident, their attendance and participation demonstrates a commitment to customer service and “doing the right thing” even when no one is watching.

Paul Sledzik, Chief of the NTSB Transportation Disaster Assistance division, often reminds stakeholders that “when all else fails, remember these three concepts: empathy, compassion, and the golden rule” during all interactions with family members. When an emergency manager is able to view each step in the process with those concepts in mind, the operational planning will remain focused on taking care of the customer and continuing to provide the best service possible for the given situation.

Katy Chisom is a Coordinator of Victim Services for the Transportation Disaster Assistance division within the NTSB Office of Communications.