2019–2020 Most Wanted List

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Earlier this week we announced our 2019–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. The Most Wanted List (MWL) was developed from safety recommendations that we’ve issued but that haven’t been acted on acceptably.

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In 2017, the last year for which we have complete numbers, 38,958 people died in transportation accidents and incidents in the United States—that’s 107 per day (or, about the capacity of the room in the National Press Building where we unveiled the MWL). These losses are unacceptable and, most often, completely preventable.

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NTSB Media Relations Chief, Chris O’Neil (at podium), Chairman Sumwalt, Vice Chairman Landsberg, Member Weener and Member Homendy at the 2019-2020 MWL unveiling

At the MWL unveiling, we shared the lessons we’ve learned from far too many transportation tragedies, and we reemphasized the actions that should be taken on the related recommendations we’ve made to prevent similar accidents and crashes. The 2019–2020 MWL promotes several specific safety recommendations that can—and should—be implemented during the next 2 years. It also features broad, longstanding safety issues that continue to threaten the traveling public.

Eliminate Distractions

Distractions come in all forms, and anything that takes a driver’s or operator’s attention away from the task at hand is potentially dangerous. Personal electronic devices are now commonplace, and distractions from these devices are a growing problem that must be curbed.

End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation

Each year, more than 10,000 people die in highway crashes related to alcohol impairment. This does not account for highway deaths due to impairment by drugs other than alcohol. As the face of impairment continues to change, we must keep up with new developments while continuing to fight against an old nemesis—drinking and driving.

Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials

Our investigations have shown that moving ethanol by rail and crude oil by pipeline can be unnecessarily hazardous. These essential commodities must be conveyed in a manner that ensures the safety of those who are transporting it as well as those in the communities it passes through.

Fully Implement Positive Train Control

One year ago today, NTSB investigators were on scene in Cayce, South Carolina, investigating a collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train. Like the 149 other rail accidents we have investigated over the years, this accident was preventable with positive train control (PTC).

PTC has been mandated by Congress, but there has been delay after delay in fully implementing the life-saving technology. Each day that we go without PTC, we risk another PTC‑preventable accident.

Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes

Speed kills. It contributes to more than 10,000 deaths each year on our nation’s roadways. It’s a factor in nearly one-third of all highway crash deaths—about the same proportion as alcohol.

Yet, there is little stigma to speeding, and we underuse speeding enforcement tools. If we are to reduce speeding-related crashes, we must combine education, enforcement, and technology together in a comprehensive strategy.

Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations

“Part 135” aircraft flight operations include services such as medical flights and on-demand charter flights. Although many Part 135 flights operate with very high levels of safety, our accident investigations have highlighted that Part 135 operations aren’t required to meet some of the stringent safety regulations that are required for scheduled air carriers operating under Part 121 (such as scheduled airline flights). Our recommendations in this area seek to provide Part 135 passengers more of the safety benefits Part 121 passengers enjoy.

Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Systems in all New Highway Vehicles

Collision avoidance systems can prevent and mitigate the severity of crashes. In fact, collision avoidance systems could potentially save more than 1,000 lives each year that would otherwise be lost in rear-end collisions.

We support the broader adoption of collision avoidance systems, including their inclusion as standard equipment in all newly manufactured vehicles.

Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents

It is estimated that fatigue played a role in 90,000 highway crashes in 2015. But this problem goes beyond highway transportation; we have investigated accidents in all transportation modes that involve fatigue. We have 42 outstanding safety recommendations related to this widespread and life-threatening issue.

Require Medical Fitness—Screen for and Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea

We have repeatedly investigated fatal accidents in which a transportation operator was fatigued due to undiagnosed or improperly treated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and we have repeatedly called for OSA screening. The Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration initiated rulemaking to require such screening, but rescinded it in August 2017.

This inaction is unacceptable. Until we have robust requirements for OSA screening and treatment for operators, people will continue to die.

Strengthen Occupant Protection

Our investigations have shown that occupant protection systems must be improved to protect passengers in an accident or crash. In school buses, for example, compartmentalization alone isn’t enough to protect passengers in rollover crashes. In severe side-impact crashes and high-speed rollovers, three-point restraints provide additional protection. We believe all new school buses should be equipped with lap/shoulder belts. Motorcoach occupants will benefit from window glazing and improved roof strength, and greater crashworthiness standards are needed for passenger rail cars, as well.

Our Most Wanted List is data-driven, based on the results of our investigations of tragic, senseless, and often preventable deaths. Our recommendations, if acted upon, will result in safer transportation and save countless lives.

We’ve issued a call to action. Although any member of our five-person Board can speak on these issues and testify by invitation to legislatures and to Congress, we have no power of our own to act. We are counting on industry, advocates, the safety community, and government regulators to implement these recommendations, and quickly. We are counting on you!

Lives depend on it.

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