#NoExcuses This New Year’s Eve

By Leah Walton 

By now, you likely have your New Year’s Eve plans in place. Maybe you’ll go to a big party. Perhaps you’ll meet friends at a local bar or host a small gathering at your house. Maybe you’ll just spend a quiet night in. But whatever your plan may be, if it involves alcohol or other drugs, it should also involve a sober ride home.

Most of us know someone whose life has been impacted by an impaired-driving crash. These accidents occur at an alarmingly high frequency and yet, they’re totally preventable.

Data show that impaired-driving crashes occur more frequently over weekends, on holidays, and at night. This New Year’s holiday falls on a weekend, making it likely that we’ll see a higher-than-usual number of impaired-driving crashes—a very tragic start to 2017.

impaired2According to a recent report by the National Safety Council, we can expect to see more than 360 crash fatalities over this 3-day New Year’s holiday period. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 40 percent of all fatalities during the Christmas and New Year holiday periods have occurred in crashes in which at least one of the drivers was alcohol impaired. That means that approximately 145 people could be killed from drunk driving over this New Year’s weekend.

Let’s not accept this gloomy statistic.

On the eve of 2017, there really are no excuses to operate a vehicle while impaired, or to travel in a vehicle operated by an impaired person. The truth is, impairment starts with the first drink. With the ability to easily find a ride with a few swipes of our phones, and the wide availability of public transportation and sober ride programs on nights when drunk driving crashes are at their highest, there’s no reason for anyone to drive impaired.

Since the 1980s, transportation safety advocates have been working tirelessly through education programs, increased enforcement, strengthened legislation, and emerging technology, such as breathalyzers, to stop impaired driving. And, without a doubt, improvements have been made. In the early ‘80s, more than 21,000 people were killed each year as a result of alcohol-impaired driving. In 2015, that number was down to about 10,265. Lives have been saved because of improvements in safety culture and safety technology.

However, even with that improvement, every impaired driving death is still unacceptable, because, in the end, it’s a decision, not an accident.

No one goes out on New Year’s Eve expecting to die or be injured in an impaired-driving crash. New Year’s Eve is about celebrating the close of one year and welcoming the hopes of a new year ahead. Everyone has the ability to experience the new year when they make plans to get home safely, whether that means driving sober or designating a sober driver.

impairedIt is our hope at NTSB that everyone will make it home safely and that no one will have to start the new year off with a phone call that a loved one was killed in an impaired-driving crash. Let’s prove the statistics wrong, because, nowadays, there really are #NoExcuses for driving impaired.

Leah Walton is a safety advocate in NTSB’s Safety Advocacy Division.


Looking for Leaders

By Nicholas Worrell

nbcslI recently spoke to a group of student leaders at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) 40th Annual Legislative Conference. My audience was full of sharp young people who were eager to learn, succeed, and lead.

I had gone to talk about safety—especially transportation safety—as it affects both our personal lives and our public policy. But I knew that this driven group would want to a leadership lesson, as well. According to business writer John C. Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” Undoubtedly, the biggest transportation safety challenge for youth drivers today is one of leadership, and safety is often a matter of finding one young person to stand up and say “no.” Driving while distracted? No. Driving while impaired? No. Driving while fatigued? No. That one young leader must then encourage others to make the same commitments, and on and on.

More than 35,000 people are killed every year in motor vehicle crashes. From childhood through young adulthood and into middle age, the most likely way for any of us to die is on our roads and highways, and the vast majority of these crashes are preventable. However, making the choice to say “no” to unsafe driving requires a behavioral change in American drivers, especially young ones. Teens and young adults often take their cues from whatever seems normal among their friends. They tend to “go with the flow.” That’s why it’s so important for us to educate and influence young leaders who can take charge and redirect unsafe trends among their peer group. We need to inform the new generation of leaders.

The young leaders at the NBCSL Youth Congress are ready and willing to change the world. My message to them was that they could make a big impact by acting as leaders in transportation safety. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” In the same way, for the 35,000 people who die on our roads every year, safety too long delayed is safety denied. I encouraged my young audience to step up to the challenge, not only to be futures leaders, but to be transportation safety leaders today, because the life that they save might be their own.

Helping Consumers Understand Collision Avoidance Technologies

By Member Earl F. Weener, PhD

Panelists at , Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

On October 27, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Safety Council (NSC) hosted an expert panel discussion, Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

NTSB and NSC came together to educate drivers about the benefits and capabilities of currently available collision avoidance technologies (or “advanced driver assistance systems”), which can prevent many common types of crashes. This issue appeared on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List in 2016 and remains on the 2017–2018 list because increasing the implementation of these technologies is a priority for us.

Crash avoidance technologies have improved and become widely available, and automakers have worked hard to get that message to potential buyers. As a result, consumers have been increasingly bombarded with a variety of safety technology-focused marketing campaigns. Our joint panel looked at ways to help consumers understand the functionality, benefits, and limitations of these technologies.

The full-day event featured presentations from policymakers, auto manufacturers, researchers, media and trade press writers/reviewers, industry associations, and safety advocates. The discussions covered technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning—to name a few—and what they mean for safety. We also focused on how we could all work together to better promote these technologies to consumers. By the end of the day, we could all agree that these technologies save lives, and more must be done to incorporate them into every vehicle and educate consumers about them.

Deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes increased by 7.2 percent in 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this is the highest increase in 50 years. This is a move in the wrong direction and is potentially the beginning of a very troubling trend. We believe that crash avoidance technologies could have prevented many of these deaths and that advanced driver assistance systems can play a significant role in saving lives.

Over the past 20 years, we have advocated for the use of driver assistance safety technologies and have issued 14 recommendations on collision avoidance technologies to date. We believe that, like seatbelts before them, these next-generation technologies will move vehicle safety forward, helping safeguard drivers and passengers.

When considering these safety-improving systems in your vehicle, it’s important to remember that they do have limitations. In other words, they are driver assisting, not driver replacement, systems. We have not yet reached a stage of autonomous—or driverless—vehicles, so drivers are, and must remain, in full control. These technologies are designed to work with a driver who is sober, well-rested, and fully engaged with his or her vehicle.

Reaching Zero Crashes was part of our effort to inform the public of the important aspects of collision avoidance technology. By bringing together interested safety advocates, we moved the dialogue forward and discovered new ways of promoting the technology.

I was impressed by the variety of related consumer education campaigns underway. For example, the AARP announced it would expand its Smart DriverTEK, a new and innovative vehicle technology education program specifically for seniors, developed jointly with The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. With the goal of encouraging adoption, the program uses in-classroom workshops and pop-up events to educate drivers on current and evolving vehicle technologies and how to use them.

In 2015, the NTSB urged NHTSA to expand its New Car Assessment Program 5-star rating system to include a scale that rates the performance of forward collision avoidance systems. At our event, I heard how NHTSA will, in fact, review some of these safety technologies as part of its 5-star safety rating program. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who also participated in the event, this week announced it would also be reviewing and rating vehicles for a TOP Safety Pick+ if they had good headlight systems and autobraking, among other factors. These are all promising developments for consumers.

Representatives of the media and trade press from such publications as Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, and US News and World Report discussed how seriously they take their jobs to provide consumers critical information about these technologies before buyers arrive at the dealership. Representatives from these outlets were testing, reviewing, and writing features for new buyers—and planned to do more in 2017.

Advocacy groups, academia, industry, media, the NSC, and the NTSB can—and must—take the message to consumers and lawmakers about how these technologies work and why they are beneficial. At our event, the NSC discussed its “My Car Does What” education program, a terrific online tool designed for all age groups that provides an overview of available technologies and how they work. Dealer groups, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, have committed to using these tools to educate dealers and consumers as they sell or buy vehicles with these features. Dealers will play a significant role in promoting these technologies.

Vehicle safety technology has come a long way over the past few decades, and these advances provide an opportunity to significantly reduce the unacceptable number of injury and fatality crashes each year.

If you were not able to join us for the event, I encourage you to watch it via our recorded webcast to learn more about these technologies. You can also find the complete event transcript on our webpage.

The Safest Generation?

On Monday, November 14, we unveiled the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 2017–2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements, our “road map from lessons learned to lives saved.” We know that these vital safety improvements will need continuing, concerted effort among industry, government, and the public; possibly for years to come. So, on the morning of the announcement, we arranged to talk with students from the American Studies Program (ASP) about how the NTSB communicates and advocates for these top 10 transportation safety issues.

ASP offers college students from across the country the opportunity to study and intern in Washington, DC, for a semester. The students serve as interns in various institutions, from congressional offices and federal agencies to think tanks and nonprofit agencies. Today, they are the best and brightest young millennials interested in public policy; tomorrow, some of them might be making public policy.

Giving the ASP interns a sneak peak of what went into unveiling the Most Wanted List offered them a case study in communications. NTSB Chief of Media Relations Chris O’Neil explained that many communication and advocacy efforts fail because they fail to define what success looks like. He stressed that not all goals require the same tactics, and that different organizations and groups envision communication success very differently.

“The Most Wanted List is a key part of our implementation phase, but implementation isn’t enough by itself,” said O’Neil. “You need to do your homework and come up with a plan.”

Board Member Robert Sumwalt continued the theme of making plans and setting goals, but also gave his view of leadership. Member Sumwalt explained to the interns that, when he was their age, his dream was to become an NTSB Board Member. Recounting the story of how his dream eventually came to pass, Member Sumwalt urged students to persevere and to think big. Turning to the topic of leadership, Sumwalt told them what they should look for, and what they should one day embody.

“Good leaders create a vision and truly live by those values,” Member Sumwalt said. “Good leaders are ‘servant leaders’ who care, support, and nurture those who work for them. Good leaders are willing to make the tough decisions that are not always popular.”

Finally, the students heard from Advocacy Chief Nicholas Worrell, who was an ASP student in 1994. Worrell interned at the NTSB, beginning a (thus far) 22-year journey with the organization. He explained to the students that knowing how to organize a campaign is key to public policy. He encouraged the students to set goals and make strategic plans for themselves, treating their own career paths as they would a successful advocacy campaign.

“All of you guys came here to DC with potential,” he said. “Success boils down to 10 percent performance, 30 percent image, 60 percent exposure. The more exposure you get, the better your chances will be in life.” Worrell closed by inviting the students to the 2017­–2018 Most Wanted List press event that afternoon, and many took him up on the offer, including Derek Ross, a communications major from Simpson University in California. “I felt that the NTSB did a great job in portraying their message and promoting the safety and well-being of others,” Ross said. “The quality of work produced by the NTSB showed a great deal of thoughtfulness and dedication, with the health and safety of all Americans in mind.”

Because we develop our Most Wanted List from specific lessons learned in accidents, it would be very difficult to add a safety improvement such as “reach out to future generations of leaders.” However, we are keenly aware that transportation safety not only disproportionately affects the young, but that future progress depends on today’s young adults, who will be tomorrow’s safety leaders.