Bike to Work Week

By Member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

I don’t know about you, but it seems that every day I see more and more people traveling by bicycle; whether they’re riding for exercise, taking a fun ride with family and friends, or commuting to work. It’s exciting to see a growing population using bicycles to get from place to place. People are also bicycling year-round, in all types of weather, across the United States. As someone with a background in public health, I’m glad to see that The League of American Bicyclists reports that bike riding is an increasing trend. Personally, I always look forward to participating in Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day each May during Bike Month.

Bike Week
Member Dinh-Zarr (center) and NTSB colleagues

I love my bike. It isn’t anything fancy, but it gets me where I need to go, and it was even recently featured in the New York Times. My family and I ride our bikes as often as possible. Some of my colleagues at the NTSB (you can see some of us in the photo) have been biking to work for years. Many of us are lucky to live in Bicycle Friendly Communities where it is easy to travel by bicycle around town.

The NTSB is known for investigating every civil aviation accident and significant accidents in other modes of transportation—highway, rail, pipeline, and marine. Our goal is to help people get around—in whatever form of transportation they choose—as safely as possible. One of the tools we use to achieve this goal is the “Most Wanted List” of transportation safety improvements (MWL). Although neither our investigations nor the MWL have a specific focus on bicycles, many of our recommendations and the MWL items can improve safety for bicyclists. For example, when decisions are made with the safety of all road users in mind, such as following NTSB recommendations for a safe systems approach to setting speed limits or lowering the per se BAC limit to 0.05 g/dL to prevent drinking and driving, those of us who ride bicycles are safer. Additionally, when we make roads safe for the most vulnerable users, such as people who walk and bike, everyone benefits.

I encourage anyone curious about commuting by bicycle to give it a try this Bike to Work Week. You’ll be in good company (and if you see one of us from the NTSB on our bikes, be sure to say hello). According to the League of American Bicyclists, many people who participate in the Bike to Work Day promotion for the first time become regular bike commuters! Give it a try—map your route, get your bicycle tuned up, and always remember to wear your helmet!

Roundtable Discussion About Loss of Control in Flight Yields Some Important Ideas

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

On April 23, I had the privilege of moderating an important roundtable discussion on preventing loss of control (LOC) in flight in general aviation (GA), the leading factor of general aviation accidents and an issue on our Most Wanted List. LOC involves the unintended departure from flight and can be caused by several factors, including distraction, complacency, weather, or poor energy management.

IMG_8676 (1) Full Group
NTSB Chairman Sumwalt and Member Weener with LOC roundtable participants

 

I can say unequivocally that the NTSB LOC roundtable event—held in our Board Room and Conference Center at our Washington, DC, headquarters and webcast live—was a resounding success. We achieved what we aimed to do: bring together leading experts in government, industry, and academia to identify training and cockpit technology solutions that could make a difference, as well as dig into the challenges of implementing these solutions.

And I was thrilled to hear that about 1,000 pilots and GA enthusiasts watched our discussion, with many receiving FAA WINGS credit.

At our event, we saw an honest, open sharing of ideas among GA safety experts, as well as a willingness to collaborate to address and overcome the challenges associated with this problem, which is the cause of nearly 40 percent of all fixed-wing general aviation crashes. The 18 industry and government participants included a NASA astronaut, a world-famous aerobatics champion and trainer, GA associations, tech companies, the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as our own investigators and Board Member Earl Weener. I was also thrilled to welcome to our roundtable two bright young minds, Thomas Baron and Justin Zhou—high school students from Virginia. Baron and Zhou (Remora Systems) won the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Founder’s Innovation Prize for a product they developed for pilots to help avoid LOC. Their fresh, Generation Z perspectives on this issue enhanced our discussions.

The NTSB’s Director of the Office of Aviation Safety John DeLisi kicked off our discussion with these experts by reminding us that more than 1,500 people have died in the last 10 years due to loss of control and that “we are here to save lives.”

 

Our roundtable experts—all leaders in their organizations—discussed both the challenges and solutions to reducing LOC accidents, especially in the area of training and technology. I will recap just some of their key insights:

 On Training . . .

  • Address pilot weaknesses and skills requirements; pilots should always continue to improve their skills.
  • Reward pilots for additional training taken and ratings achieved, and incentivize new instructors to make sure pilots are taught correctly.
  • Teach students the importance of maintaining situational awareness during their initial training. The first 10 hours that new pilots spend with instructors can be some of the most important training time.
  • Recognize that technology is not a substitute for basic stick skills, nor should it compensate for poor training.
  • Incorporate more realistic scenarios into flight training regarding stalls. Ensure pilots have the confidence to do stall recovery.
  • Train for the startle factor so it doesn’t happen at low altitudes. The stall warning might be too late to recover.

 On Technology . . .

  • Find a responsible role for cockpit technology; it can make a big impact on safety.
  • Continue to responsibly innovate.
  • Reduce angle of attack (AOA); this is the key to recovery. AOA indicators can help.
  • Continue to quickly certify new technologies in a variety of plane types.

Other ideas . . .

  • Use data to improve GA safety; data monitoring programs can help us standardize safety.
  • Establish mechanisms where industry and government can continue to collaborate to collectively find solutions.
  • Recognize that regulation and mandates aren’t always the answer; education and outreach may be a better approach.
  • Utilize pilot social networks and type clubs to learn and grow.
  • Get involved in working groups; study best practices and incorporate outcomes.
  • Be aware of the limits of the airplane; pilots should not fear the capabilities of their planes.
  • Change the way we do outreach. Unifying around a single topic like LOC helps.

The statistics are trending in a good direction, thanks to the FAA’s and industry’s efforts to address LOC. However, from NTSB accident investigations, we know that much more can—and should—be done to accelerate the improvements in training and technology, because one death for what is largely a preventable problem is one too many.

For more information on the LOC roundtable, including the topics covered, participant’s list, and our LOC resources, see our events page.

 

Global Perspectives on Youth Traffic Safety

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, a time where communities come together to bring more awareness to safety issues impacting teens on the road. GYTSM, which began as National Youth Traffic Safety Month, was expanded to support the United Nations’ 2007 Global Road Safety Week, because teen driving crashes are a worldwide safety problem requiring global solutions.

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to London to address an audience concerned about young driver safety. Although the United Kingdom has far fewer road deaths per capita than the United States, the country loses more teen drivers than drivers in any other age group each year.

My hosts were interested in hearing the perspective of a US safety advocate as they consider implementing a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system. Just as the United Kingdom has much to teach us on many roadway safety topics, we have much to share about GDLs and factors that combine with them to make them even more effective. For example, in 1993, the NTSB recommended keeping young drivers off the road at certain times, particularly from midnight to 5 a.m. In 2002, we recommended that:

  • a supervising adult driver be 21 or older;
  • states that did not already have a three-stage graduated licensing system implement one; and
  • states with a GDL program prohibit young drivers from carrying more than one teen passenger without adult supervision.

And it wasn’t just the NTSB that was looking at GDL systems and their effect on teen drivers. By 2011, researchers associated with the National Institutes of Health found that GDL laws reduce crashes among drivers 16 and 17 years old by 8 to 14 percent. They also found GDL laws to be most effective in combination with at least five of these seven factors:

  1. A minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit
  2. A mandatory waiting period of at least 6 months before a driver with a learner’s permit can apply for a provisional license
  3. A requirement for 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving
  4. A minimum age of 17 for a provisional license
  5. Restrictions on driving at night
  6. A limit on the number of teenage passengers allowed in a car
  7. A minimum age of 18 for a full license

US states are often called “laboratories of policy.” This is a grim prospect when it comes to setting a single, high safety standard, but, as I told my hosts in London, it also allows researchers to review what works best and where we can still improve. Opportunities to share lessons learned across national borders are another important tool in combatting roadway deaths and injuries.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.25 million people die each year around the world in traffic crashes. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among people age 15 and 24 years old. In the fight against roadway deaths and injuries, our youngest and most vulnerable drivers are counting on us to help them emerge victorious, not only during Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, but every day. Until roadways around the world are safe for them, our work will continue.

My British counterparts are committed to winning this war with us. And we agree that, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, we shall never surrender.

 

 

The Age of Reason

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Some scholars play a critical role in founding a whole field of study: Sigmund Freud, in psychology. Noam Chomsky, in linguistics. Albert Einstein, in modern physics. In the field of safety, Dr. James Reason has played such a role. In this field, no single name is better known.

Dr. Reason turns 80 today, and if you’re reading this, it’s possible that you owe your life to his ideas.

NTSB reports have frequently cited Dr. Reason’s work, and I personally quote him liberally in my talks to industry and safety stakeholders.

His contributions to safety have been influential not only in transportation and workplace safety, but also in fields as varied as healthcare, nuclear power, and fraud prevention.

His books include Human Error; Organizational Accidents; Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents; Organizational Accidents Revisited; The Human Contribution: Unsafe Acts, Accidents, and Heroic Recoveries; and A Life in Error: From Little Slips to Big Disasters.

He views safety as a system, and accidents as the result of any individual’s mistakes in combination with other failings in the system. People are fallible, but that doesn’t make accidents inevitable.

Focusing on a safer system, instead of only an individual’s mistakes, can help diminish individual error (for example, through better training and procedures). More importantly, studying the system reveals much more of “what went wrong” – and will go wrong again if not corrected, because other individuals will make mistakes.

Dr. Reason came up with a handy analogy for his view, called the “Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation.” (Just say “Swiss Cheese Model” to a safety or risk management professional, and they’ll probably nod knowingly.)

In this model, layers of protection against an accident, each of which has weaknesses, are visualized as slices of cheese riddled with holes. An accident occurs when the weaknesses, or holes, align.

 

Swiss Chese Model
Swiss cheese model by James Reason published in 2000. Source: https://openi.nlm.nih.gov/detailedresult.php?img=PMC1298298_1472-6963-5-71-1&req=4, open-access, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

 

We’re all living in the Age of Reason. It’s a good age in which to live, one during which accidental deaths and injuries have been on the decline.

The continuous improvement of safety depends on safety professionals living with what Dr. Reason called a “chronic unease.” The paradox of safety is that the moment we think we’ve arrived, we introduce another hazard: complacency.

However, even in the chronically uneasy profession of safety, we find cause to celebrate every now and then. So, on that note, Happy 80th birthday to Professor Emeritus James Reason, on behalf of safety professionals everywhere—and on behalf of all those he’s saved, from every walk of life.