This week is National School Bus Safety Week. The theme this year is “My School Bus, The Safest Form of Student Transportation.” School Bus Safety Week is a public education program hosted by the National Association of Pupil Transportation, National School Transportation Association and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, designed to promote school bus safety and to engage with parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other interested parties – to address the importance of school bus safety.
In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, we talk with Kris Poland, PhD, Deputy Director, and Sheryl Harley, Highway Investigator, both in the Office of Highway Safety, about recent NTSB crash investigations involving school buses, new safety recommendations related to fire suppression systems and seat belts and why school buses are the safest form of transportation for students to travel to and from school and school-related activities.
In 2017, 37,133 people died on our nation’s roadways in preventable crashes. One way to prevent or mitigate these tragedies is by implementing proven and effective vehicle technologies, such as collision-avoidance systems. We know these systems can save lives, and our current Most Wanted List includes “Implementing Collision Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles.” We want to see these technologies installed as standard equipment on all vehicles, and we want consumers to know which systems offer the best protection when they are buying a car.
That’s why, in a 2015 special investigation report, we called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) 5-star rating system to include collision‑avoidance system ratings, and to post those ratings on the new-vehicle window sticker. The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) also required that crash-avoidance information be presented next to crashworthiness information on the window sticker. The NCAP 5-star rating system—which the United States pioneered in 1979— provides valuable information to consumers about crashworthiness, including protection from frontal and side impacts and vehicle rollover. This information can lead to consumers making safer choices, which will motivate manufacturers to design safer cars—it’s a win-win for consumers and for public safety! But NCAPs are most effective when they continuously raise the bar and, while NCAPs in other nations have progressed, the US NCAP has not made any significant program updates in more than a decade.
In recent years, NHTSA has sought public comments on a potential plan to update and modify the US NCAP. For example, in 2015, the agency discussed potentially updating its crashworthiness testing to add a crash-avoidance rating that would incorporate the effectiveness of multiple safety technologies and to create an overall 5-star rating that would encompass crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and pedestrian protection. The NTSB knew that it was possible to incorporate collision avoidance and other safety features into NCAP ratings because other NCAPs around the world had already done so, and we publicly supported these plans to expand the NCAP rating system. We encouraged NHTSA to move forward.
In our 2017 safety study on speeding, we called on NHTSA to consider using the NCAP to incentivize passenger vehicle manufacturers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems, and in our 2018 special investigation report on pedestrian safety, we recommended that the agency incorporate pedestrian safety systems, including pedestrian collision-avoidance systems and other more passive safety systems, into the NCAP. As of today, these recommendations remain open.
Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death and injury in the United States. We want to see more vehicles using collision-avoidance systems to save lives—but they can only save lives if people know they exist and understand how to use them. This makes the NCAP, a successful program on which car buyers already rely, the perfect avenue for increasing consumer awareness of the latest safety technology and, ultimately, making our roads safer.
As we mark the 40th anniversary of the US NCAP program, let’s take advantage of the program’s success and use this moment to make it even stronger. Our nation’s road users deserve it.
By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division
In today’s world, distractions are everywhere. From the electronic device in our hands to the infotainment options built into our vehicles, we are surrounded by hundreds of things vying for our attention every day. Even if we try to block out these distractions, despite our best efforts, our minds are not capable of multitasking like we think they are. When distraction happens on the road, the consequences can be deadly. What distracted-driving crashes leave behind are families and loved ones struggling to cope with sudden, tragic loss. Distracted driving is a serious threat to the safety of everyone on the road, and the NTSB is committed to eliminating it. This issue has been on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 2011, but it remains a serious problem.
As technology becomes more ubiquitous in our lives, distraction risks increase—not only for drivers and passengers in cars, but also for cyclists and pedestrians, as well. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia have tried to reduce distracted driving by prohibiting all drivers from texting while driving. Unfortunately, Missouri is one of the two states without a cell phone restriction that would prevent drivers over the age of 21 from texting while driving. As a result, 841 people have died in crashes related to distracted driving since 2010, when we recommended that states enact legislation prohibiting the nonemergency use of personal electronic devices for alldrivers. The Missouri Department of Transportation reported that, in 2018 alone, 19,239 motor vehicle crashes involved distracted drivers. Those crashes resulted in 79 fatalities and 7,345 injuries. Until the law in Missouri is changed, these crashes will continue to happen. Only by completely removing the distraction will the roads become a safer place.
Any use of a cellphone or other electronic device will always come with increased and unnecessary risk. This includes hands-free devices; just because our hands are on the wheel doesn’t mean our minds are focused on the road. Science has repeatedly shown us that holding a conversation using a hands-free device still creates a cognitive distraction that makes us more likely to be involved in an avoidable crash. There is no such thing as safe cellphone use on the road, and, unfortunately, many people learn this the hard way, when it’s ultimately too late.
On October 29th, the NTSB, in partnership with StopDistractions.org, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, and the University of Missouri, will host our fourth roundtable on distracted driving. The even will bring together researchers, state and federal government officials, victims’ families, and other safety advocates to discuss strategies to prevent distracted driving. For more information about this roundtable event and to register, visit our website.
Legislation and enforcement are critical to making our roads safer, but, ultimately, it comes down to people taking personal responsibility. We have the power to make choices that can positively or negatively affect ourselves as well as others. Choose to put aside that temptation to send one more message, make a quick call, or post an update or photo. Your right choice could end up saving not only your own life, but someone else’s. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life. Visit the links below for more NTSB blogs on the dangers of distracted driving, and check out our Most Wanted List for more information on distracted driving.
On September 6, in Anchorage, Alaska, I facilitated a first-of-a-kind roundtable of industry operators, government officials, educators, and aviation associations. Troubled by investigations into too many crashes involving Part 135 flight operations (which include air medical service, air taxi, air tours, charter, and on-demand flights) in Alaska, we called together some of the brightest experts across industry, academia, and government to help answer one question: How can we improve the safety of flight operations involving these aircraft?
We had some ideas on how to answer that question already; the issue is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. For example, we know that safety management systems (SMS), flight data monitoring (FDM), and controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) training can help ensure that operators manage their planes and pilots in the safest possible way, reducing the chances of a crash. But we wanted to hear ideas from others—specifically those flying in Alaska, where Part 135 crashes are so prevalent—and urge operators and regulators to make some of the changes we believe will help.
Between January 2008 and June 2019, we investigated 204 fatal accidents in Alaska
involving fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, scheduled and nonscheduled, in Part 135 operations. These accidents killed 80 people. At the roundtable, Dana Schulze, the NTSB’s Director of Aviation Safety, briefed us on the leading causes of Part 135 accidents in Alaska, reporting that nearly 80 percent of fatal accidents in Alaska are due to CFIT, loss of control in flight, midair collisions, and unintended instrument meteorological conditions.
Alaska has several challenges compared to the “lower 48,” such as unique terrain conditions, difficult weather, and congested airspace. That’s why we thought it important to talk specifically to those navigating this terrain. However, the deadly consequences of a crash are the same, regardless of where it occurs, and aviators across the country should be concerned with the issues we discussed at the roundtable.
I kicked off the roundtable of 29 experts, many of whom were operators, with a reminder that there is a business case for safety. I challenged the panel to come up with concrete solutions that we could collectively address. From the start, we agreed on one thing: the September 6 roundtable wouldn’t just be a conversation; it would be a call to action.
Our panelists discussed four key areas: training, risk management, technology, and infrastructure. We were pleased to see that many of their ideas related to these topics aligned with recommendations the NTSB has already issued, which are noted below. However, we welcome a discussion about any and all other potential improvement areas. Areas which the panelists agreed that they will evaluate further and perhaps pursue individually and collectively included:
Cue-based (simulator) training has an impact on pilot decision-making and should be encouraged and required. Pilots taking CFIT training on a simulator performed significantly better on subsequent real-world flights than those who didn’t. (Note: the NTSB supports and has made recommendations to improve CFIT training for pilots).
To improve safety, operators must consider five safety principles: knowledgeable pilots, training, proficiency, reliable equipment, and culture.
The five things every operation must do are (1) realize it needs to change, (2) have a project champion, (3) create clearly defined standard operating procedures, (4) offer quality assurance systems, and (5) mentor/train employees.
We must do a better job of training the trainers.
As part of our training discussion, we talked about the recent closing of the Medallion Foundation, a flight safety advocacy organization in Alaska, and its impact on the industry. Medallion simulators will continue to be available to Alaska’s pilot community after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines where those simulators will be placed.
An SMS is important and worthwhile for improving safety, but it should be scalable
depending on the size of the operator. Smaller operators may find it economically wise to outsource their safety assurance/FDM programs. (Note: As mentioned earlier in the blog, the NTSB has issued recommendations requiring SMS and FDM). One roundtable participant pointed out that there are 303 Part 135 operators in Alaska; of those, only eight are in the FAA’s SMS program.
Safety management requires the commitment of company leadership, but it’s just as important to involve pilots, mechanics, and management in the process so they recognize the value of an SMS, too.
An SMS should be a required prerequisite to participate in any federally funded programs, such as U.S. mail delivery and Medicare/Medicaid transport.
Useful data can be found in the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program. Carriers can benefit from the aggregated data collected in this information-sharing program.
Operators should equip their planes, either voluntarily or by requirement, with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology, and the FAA should consider helping smaller operators fund such an improvement. In Alaska, ADS-B is only required in the Class C airspace above Ted Stevens International Airport, and above 18,000 feet. We discussed the FAA requiring ADS-B in high-risk airspace, such as around the village of Bethel.
Pilots and air traffic controllers need more ground-based station coverage in strategic locations.
A terrain alert warning system (TAWS) should be an aid, not a navigational tool. There’s a tendency for some operators to inhibit their TAWS because of its low-altitude nuisance alerts; this is a hazard that needs to be mitigated. (Note: the NTSB has made recommendations in this area).
Technologies such as digital cockpit, 406 emergency locator transmitters, FDM equipment, and flight-following equipment look promising and should be considered.
When it comes to weather management, a meteorological automatic weather station isn’t authorized as a weather tool, but flight service will provide it as a supplement upon request. Satellite programs are showing promise for predicting icing and cloudy conditions.
We need to enable more flights to operate under instrument flight rules and improve visual flight rules (VFR) operations (weather camera stations). Alaska should consider establishing a common traffic advisory frequency division across the state.
ADS-B can help in remote locations. Special VFRs and letters of agreement would also be helpful.
Federal money should be committed to improving infrastructure. For example, the FAA could establish a Capstone II program in Alaska, but very small carriers will need help with funding.
We need more pilot information reports to validate radar returns and polar satellites, and to fill in the gaps of weather station coverage.
Operators and pilots should better use air traffic control services.
We at the NTSB are committed to doing our part to improve Part 135 safety. Currently, the FAA does not apply the same requirements to Part 135 operators as it does to Part 121 commercial airlines. We believe that, regardless of the purpose of flight, one thing is for sure: all flights should be safe. But we don’t have to wait for the FAA to regulate; we know that operators can—and should—make the appropriate changes.
Perhaps the most significant takeaway and critical action suggested at the roundtable—upon which the entire group agreed—was related to the need for one group, organization, or entity to focus on flight operation safety issues in Alaska. I agree. FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson has also indicated that this concept of a “single focal point” in Alaska may be worthwhile. It looks like the time to act is now.
We greatly appreciate all the experts who came to this event and participated in our vigorous discussion. We are convinced that this roundtable will lead to life-saving improvements in Alaska that will then serve as models for the rest of the world.
This event would not have been successful without the dedicated NTSB staff who worked tirelessly to plan and execute it, and the great participation of the panelists.
Thanks for all for the contributions!
For more details on this event, including participants and agenda, or to learn more about Part 135 safety, watch the event recording and see our event web page.
Trucks move the economy, and they do a superb job. One- and two-day delivery wouldn’t be possible without the nation’s truck army. But when trucks are involved in a crash, the results are often disastrous. How do we make trucking even safer?
I recently spoke to the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), which represents about
50 percent of the truck fleets in the United States. This meeting was devoted to—what else?— safety. This group is driving hundreds of millions of miles every year so the potential for catastrophe is high.
A quick statistic from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): In 2017, there were just shy of 4,900 fatal crashes involving large trucks. That works out to about 13 crashes a day, or one every 2 hours. In almost every case, these were not accidents or unforeseen events— they were preventable crashes. Lives are lost and survivors suffer life-changing injuries. Most times, we know what happened, why it happened, and what could have prevented the crash. Why, then, don’t we see a reduction in the number of crashes?
The vast majority of trucking companies make safety their top priority; however, there are some that intentionally operate vehicles with out-of-service brakes, bad tires, too much load, or other issues, or they knowingly use drivers with poor safety records. These deliberate decisions affect the safety of everyone on the road. But even drivers at conscientious companies can crash when they suffer a lapse in judgement, become distracted, fail to get enough rest, or drive when ill or affected by prescription or over-the-counter medications. The good news is that crashes really are easily preventable.
So, how can truckers—and their employers—ensure a safe trip each time they drive?
Set reasonable hours of service. A tired driver is unsafe! There are many excuses as to why a driver should be allowed to run to exhaustion; all are indefensible.
Complete pretrip inspections. Mechanical equipment fails, usually in predictable fashion and often at the worst possible time. Checking on your rig’s tires, brakes, and other equipment before your ride is not only required, it’s critical.
Ensure drivers are fit for duty. Incapacitating illnesses or impairment can interfere with a driver’s ability to do the job safely. Sleep apnea is a particularly troubling problem for too many drivers.
Embrace automation and driver-assist technology. Full automation, despite the marketing hype, is still some distance away—maybe very far away. But speed control, adaptive braking, stability control, and advanced driver-assist safety features, such as collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning, are currently available and make a big difference in mitigating driver mistakes. As the aviation industry has embraced pilot-assisting technologies, it’s become remarkably safer; the trucking industry could learn from this willingness to use available automation tools in its operations.
End distraction. Cell phone use—including texting—should be prohibited, except for emergency use. Many companies make it a firing offense to use a cell phone while a vehicle is in motion. Federal regulation already prohibits call phone use in company vehicles, but companies need to ensure their internal cell phone policies make this clear to their drivers. At the same time, many companies could do a better job implementing cell phone policies and tracking drivers’ cell phone use.
Develop a safety management system and strong safety culture. In almost every accident or crash we investigate, there was also a management failure. The safety mindset isn’t something that’s “bolted on” after the fact, but rather, it’s something that’s embedded in a company’s, driver’s, and leadership’s DNA. Ongoing management support and accountability makes a huge difference. Owner-operators must ensure that they have safety management controls in place.
Verify that your drivers are being safe. Trust, but verify! Install inward- and outward-facing cameras to help assess driver performance. Review the recordings—not with the intent to punish, but with an eye toward improving driver education and training.
Good business means caring about your drivers and other drivers on the road. It’s also a value that can prove economically sound; after all, it takes only one crash to put a business out of business. In the bigger picture, a mark against one operator is a mark against the entire industry. The aviation industry recognized that trend and established the Commercial Aviation Safety Team to assess risks and evaluate safety concerns related to commercial airline operations. The trucking industry could consider doing something similar.
From what I heard after meeting with the NPTC, it’s clear that NPTC members are working hard to make their good record even better. How about you?