All posts by ntsbgov

What if a Trucker Just Breaks the Rules?

By Dr. Robert Molloy

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) often responds to crashes in all modes of transportation with recommendations to regulators to ensure that vehicle operators are not fatigued or impaired. In commercial trucking, for example, we have made many recommendations to prevent fatigued truckers from getting behind the wheel. There are also long-established rules about the use of impairing drugs by commercial truck drivers.

But what if a trucker just breaks the rules?

Reduce Fatugie-related Accidents Most Wanted List posterOn October 4, the NTSB met to discuss a tragic crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which a tractor-trailer ran into a line of slow-moving cars at a speed of at least 78 miles per hour. This began a chain-reaction crash that killed six people and injured four others. The driver in this accident chose not to follow the hours-of-service rules and get appropriate rest before he began his trip. He also chose to use methamphetamine before getting behind the wheel. As a result, the driver was impaired by both drugs and fatigue as he approached a clearly visible work zone with slowed and stopped traffic. He deliberately ignored the rules that had been in place to prevent this very tragedy.

In such a case, what is there to learn about safety? What can be done to improve safety when a truck driver just decides to break the rules?

This question illuminates the value of a safety investigation that does not determine blame or fault, and does not conduct criminal or disciplinary proceedings. Rather, the NTSB’s sole mandate is safety. This means that we not only recommend better rules for truck drivers, but we also continue to look for ways to prevent future tragic crashes, even when a driver simply breaks the rules.

One way to prevent another crash like the one in Chattanooga is to keep such dangerous drivers away from commercial trucking. In the Chattanooga crash, we found that the driver’s employer could have used a pre-employment hair drug test to discover the driver’s history of drug use before he was hired. We also found that the state of Kentucky had a list of citations and previous collisions associated with the driver’s 5-year driving record, but his employer had only consulted the driver’s 3-year driving record in the hiring process.

In this case, we did make recommendations to the regulator, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), not to adopt new rules for truck drivers, but to help keep dangerous drivers that break the rules out of commercial trucking. We asked the FMCSA to disseminate information to carriers about hair drug testing. We also asked the FMCSA to specify that an employer must consider any evidence in a driver’s crash record that the driver had violated laws governing motor vehicle operation. We asked that the FMCSA evaluate motor carrier use of and perspectives on their Pre-employment Screening Program, and to collect and publish best practices for pre-employment investigations and inquiries.

In addition, we recommended that the states of Kentucky and Idaho include driver status, license expiration, driving restrictions, violations, and crashes in their 3-year driver records.

In the case of a tragic crash like the one that happened in Chattanooga, it is for other appropriate authorities to pursue punishment. Our findings and recommendations reflect our mission to improve safety.

NTSB 2016 Most Wanted List issue image for End Substance Impairment in Transportation, image collage of drugs, alcohol, vehicles and dead end signOur Most Wanted List of safety improvements includes ending impairment in transportation and reducing fatigue-related accidents. One way to make progress toward these goals is to ensure that truck drivers with a demonstrable pattern of unsafe behavior are filtered out of the transportation system before their behavior results in tragedy.

Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Making A Difference

By Nicholas Worrell

Group picture of teens and safety advocates at the NTSB Training CenterAmericans take an average of four car trips every day—that’s more than 1,400 per year. It’s no wonder that the chance of dying while inside a moving vehicle is about 1 in 6,700. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in teenagers, and second leading cause of death in all other populations. Without a doubt, driving is risky business.

Reducing that risk was the focus of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) Open House and Transportation Education Day held at the agency’s training center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Friday, October 14th. The event brought together local law enforcement, federal officials, safety advocacy groups, and dozens of high school students from Virginia for a day of hands-on learning and activities designed to promote safe driving habits and educate the next generation of drivers about the consequences of making poor decisions while operating a vehicle. The event was a prelude to National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct 16–22), the annual week-long initiative created by Congress 10 years ago.

Friday’s event, organized in conjunction with the advocacy group DRIVE SMART Virginia, featured a teen-driving panel discussion that included speeches, presentations, and firsthand accounts from crash victims, NTSB investigators, and advocates. One of those who spoke was Brad Hughes, a Virginia police officer who was hit by a pickup truck driven by a districted driver. Hughes had been helping a fellow officer on the side of the highway during an ice storm in March 2014 when he was struck. As a result of the crash, Hughes lost both of his legs. “The man who hit me got a suspended sentence and only served 5 days in jail,” Hughes said. “I got a life sentence.”

More than 150 students at the event also took part in real-world distracted driving simulations designed to show just how vulnerable young drivers can be, especially those who are distracted, not wearing a seat belt, fatigued, or impaired in some other way. Teens in attendance had the chance to use a driving simulator to attempt to text and drive at the same time. Law enforcement personnel distributed “impairment goggles” to allow teens to see how different levels of impairment could affect their driving. The teens were also encouraged to spread driving safety messages to their friends. Students were informed that each year, thousands of people die from—and millions more confess to— distracted driving. They were told that, in addition to increased public awareness and tougher laws and enforcement, part of the solution to this problem must be a cultural change—a change that can begin with them.

Beyond that, parents also need to be a part of the cultural change. A survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that only a quarter of all parents have had a serious talk with their kids about the key components of driving. However, teaching children how to drive safely shouldn’t stop when they receive a license or learn how to change a flat tire. Parents should continue to talk to their teenagers about safe driving and remind them of their responsibility on the road.

The NTSB is committed to saving lives, but we can’t achieve that goal alone; community effort is required to make a difference. So, take the time to talk to your teenagers about driving safely and responsibly—a luxury parents of car crash victims no longer have. Beat the odds of your teen getting in a crash, as so many do within their first year of driving, and let’s keep our young drivers safe.

Please visit our website at for more information, and join our discussion using hashtag #1goodchoice on Twitter.

Nicholas Worrell, is Chief of the NTSB Safety Advocacy Division.

A Wake-Up Call for Employers and Employees

By Jana Price

Poster encouraging drivers to get enough rest and not drive drowsyMy brother is a district sales manager who sells manufacturing supplies to companies across Wisconsin. He spends about 75 percent of his work time in his car, traveling on sales calls throughout the state, often driving 5 hours for a 2-hour sales visit before driving back home. Because he drives a company car, his employer pays for his insurance and gas. When I asked him what types of driving safety training or policies his company has, he told me that the driving safety policy is clear: No texting or hand-held phone use while driving, and always wear seat belts.

“But what about drowsy driving?” I asked him. No policies, no training, even though he spends as much time on the road as many interstate truck drivers.

Drowsy driving is a serious problem. According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one in five fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver. As an accident investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board, I have spent a good part of my career investigating crashes that could have been prevented if drivers made better choices to stay alert, and if employers had proactive strategies to prevent drowsy driving. All of us need sleep, and none of us—even the most experienced drivers—is immune to the consequences of getting behind the wheel while drowsy. In the blink of an eye, your car can drift off the road, risking your life and the lives of those around you.

This week is Drive Safely Work Week, sponsored by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, and one of this year’s central themes is the importance of sleep to ensure that employees stay healthy and safe. To prevent drowsy driving and increase safety, companies can establish fatigue management programs, which can include setting maximum work times and minimum rest hours to ensure that workers have sufficient time for sleep, educating workers about the importance of sleep for health and safety, providing screening and treatment for sleep disorders, and encouraging drivers to report sleep, fatigue, or workload problems.

Even if your company doesn’t have a fatigue management program, there are steps you can take to stay safe and alert while driving. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night; avoid driving during early morning hours when the brain is wired for sleep; get checked for sleep disorders, especially if you are drowsy during waking hours; and if you feel drowsy while driving, get off the road and stay safe.

I am thankful that my brother’s company has paid for hotel rooms the handful of times he felt he was too tired to drive home. But employers and workers can—and must—do more to ensure that drivers are alert and safe for every trip.

Jana Price, PhD, is a Senior Human Performance Investigator in the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Which child safety seat is the right one for you?

By Stephanie D. Shaw

Graphic for Child Passenger Safety Week“Every 33 seconds a child is involved in a crash.”
“6 out of 10 car seats are installed improperly.”

For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is the proper use of age-appropriate child safety seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there—and maybe not the same technical background or experience—how do you know if you’re making the right decisions for your children?

Today, I wanted to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers.

Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?

A. Until they properly fit an adult seat belt, they should always ride in the back seat, and they should always use the right child safety seat or booster seat! But different-size children need to be protected differently – read on.

Q. Which child car seat is the safest?

A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards. But car seat designs vary. That’s why it is critical that you look for a seat that is recommended for your child’s height and weight.

Q. So just buy the right car seat?

A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step. But, it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.

Q. How do I install and use a child safety seat?

A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. It’s important to read both, as they provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.

Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?

A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. Even for children older than age 2, it’s recommended that they remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.

Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?

A. Not until the adult seat belt fits them properly – usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone.

Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits them properly?

A. seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face.

Q. What are the common mistakes to look out for in using the car seat?

A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:

  • using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
  • installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than one inch at the belt path;
  • allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
  • placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.

To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat.

Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined); properly use the internal harness, chest-clip and buckle; and determine how best they should fit to protect your child.

Q. Can I get hands-on help?

A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week. Child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals will host events nationwide, where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, installed and being used properly. (Such help is also available year-round.)

Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. As a parent and a technician myself, I encourage you to find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.

Saturday, September 24, is National Seat Check Saturday. To find an event in your community, visit

Stephanie Shaw is a NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Just the Facts

By Sharon Bryson

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with improving transportation safety, and a significant part of that mission is accomplished by investigating every civil aviation accident and significant accidents in other modes of transportation. Fast approaching its 50 anniversary, this small agency takes pride in its independence, transparency, and collaborative approach to accident investigations. As a key measure of our effectiveness, we maintain strong working relationship with all transportation stakeholders. We work hard to build and maintain the trust and confidence of those stakeholders while we carefully, thoroughly and independently gather all the facts surrounding an accident to maintain credibility with the public.

You may have had the opportunity to view the recently released movie about the Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549, ditching on the Hudson River.  (NTSB report title: “Loss of Thrust in Both Engines After Encountering a Flock of Birds and Subsequent Ditching on the Hudson River”). As an employee of the National Transportation Safety Board I can appreciate the movie’s treatment of the ditching of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 – it’s certainly a movie-worthy moment in aviation history. However, the movie is a fictionalized version of the NTSB’s investigation of the accident, and as such, it portrays the NTSB as the antagonist. That’s unfortunate because it misrepresents the purpose of our investigation and in doing so, undermines the important safety lessons learned and recommendations that we issued.

The purpose of the investigation was to gather the facts surrounding the accident, understand what happened, and make recommendations to prevent recurrence and improve aviation safety. Thankfully, this accident had a successful outcome because of the performance of a very skilled crew and the exceptional rescue efforts by many that day. As good as the outcome was, the NTSB knew there was much to learn from the accident, as there is in every accident we investigate.

The ditching of US Airways flight 1549 presented the NTSB with one of the best moments to learn ‘the facts’ and recommend improvements to reduce future accidents because everyone survived – and isn’t that the best time and the best way to improve safety?

The NTSB issued its report May 4, 2010, along with 35 safety recommendations designed to keep you and your loved ones safer.

The facts of this investigation, including the final accident report, related safety recommendations, a webcast (and associated transcript) of the June 2009 three–day investigative hearing, nearly 4000 pages of investigative materials from the accident docket, and an accident animation, are publicly available on the NTSB’s web page for the accident so you can too, get the facts.

Sharon Bryson is the Director of the NTSB’s Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.


By Nicholas Worrell

Flight deck of the USS George Washington (CVN-73)I recently had an opportunity, with a team from Drivesmart Virginia, to speak about the importance of safe driving to 3,500 service members onboard the USS George Washington during their safety standdown. These members of the military go into harm’s way, where people are trying to kill them in direct combat operations. However, one enemy they often overlook when they return home is the danger of unsafe driving. Three of this enemy’s weapons on the road are distraction, fatigue, and impairment. Highway crashes kill over 35,000 Americans every year, and many of these crashes are preventable because they are a result of deadly weapons that we can control and defeat.

Nicholas Worrell speaks to sailors on board the USS George WashingtonMy interaction with the troops brought back fond memories of my time in the Marines. Having internalized the core values common to military service—honor, courage, and commitment—I felt the need to pursue a career where I could continue to make a difference after leaving the Marines. Joining the NTSB allowed me to do just that. Even before speaking to the crowd aboard the USS George Washington, I knew that the core values I learned as a Marine had guided me in my safety career, but it wasn’t until I was in front of 3,500 sailors that I was able to put that into words.

Service men and women live and breathe the core values of honor, courage, and commitment every day through discipline and accountability. These core values are also applicable to daily safe driving habits they can apply when they get off the ship and back on the road. Here’s what I said about these core values:

Honor. There is honor in saving American lives, including your own and other drivers on the roads. There is also honor in saving American lives by working to make our roadways safer and educating others about the hazards of impaired driving.

Courage. There is courage in standing up for your beliefs and speaking out about what is right, especially as it relates to road safety. It can be hard to tell someone to put their phone down or to take a taxi, but you have the courage to do just that and save a life.

Commitment. It takes commitment to make the right choice and stick to it every time.

Wearing a seat belt or a helmet is a choice you make. So is choosing to drive unimpaired by alcohol, drugs, distraction, or fatigue. A commitment to reducing motor vehicle crashes starts with your own individual behavior and continues as you educate others on the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

I called on each of these sailors to apply these values to their daily lives when they return to shore. I spoke to them about the importance of planning ahead, getting enough rest, and avoiding distracted driving, and I urged them to apply those values—honor, courage, commitment—to make safe driving a priority in their lives.

According to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” The same is true for safe driving—often the war is won or lost before a driver gets behind the wheel. I encourage all individuals to adopt the values of our service members by having the honor to do what is right when they’re considering driving, having the courage to take an impaired friend’s keys or call a cab when they’ve had too much to drink or not enough rest, and having the commitment to making a plan before they get behind the wheel.

Nicholas Worrell, USMC (Ret.), is Chief of the NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Reflecting back on 10 years as a Board Member

By Robert Sumwalt

On August 21, 2006, I was sworn in as the 37th member of the National Transportation Safety Board. At the same time, I was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as NTSB Vice Chairman. In 2011, President Barack Obama reappointed me for an additional five-year term as a board member.

Robert Sumwalt, taking the oath of office, administered by then-NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker on August 21, 2006.
Robert Sumwalt, taking the oath of office, administered by then-NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker on August 21, 2006.

As I reflect on 10 years as an NTSB board member, there are several things that stand out. First, is the mission. Our role in transportation safety quickly became apparent when, on my seventh day on the job, I launched to an airline crash in Lexington, Kentucky. Tragically, that crash claimed 49 lives.

But, the NTSB’s primary mission involves more than just investigating accidents. It also involves determining the cause of accidents, and then, most importantly, issuing safety recommendations to prevent future accidents. At the entrance to our training center, we have an etched glass window that says, “From tragedy we draw knowledge to protect the safety of us all.” And that’s exactly what we do – we learn from tragedy so we can keep it from happening again.

Recently, one of our investigators wrote to me about a rail accident he investigated where fire and explosion claimed multiple lives. He told of meeting a man who was glaring at the carnage as he pushed a baby in a carriage. As it turned out, the man’s wife – the baby’s mother – had been killed in the disaster. Our investigator promised the man that the NTSB would get to the bottom of why this event occurred so other accidents could be prevented. “I also watched a man standing outside of the exclusion zone peering over the barrier in tears as a backhoe demolished his home,” the investigator explained in his note to me. “My thoughts were of those victims, and it was clear that we were being called upon to do this for them.”

Yes, we are here to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice—the victims and their families of transportation accidents. I take great solace knowing our work really does make a difference and keeps others from enduring similar tragedies.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency – meaning, we are not attached to a larger federal organization such as the U.S. Department of Transportation. In my opinion, independence is one of our greatest virtues because it allows the agency to conduct investigations and explore safety issues without being encumbered by actual or perceived political pressures. As I’ve often said, our independence allows us to “call it the way we see it.”

What also stands out to me is the dedication of the men and women of the NTSB. Their passion and determination to find the truth is uplifting. In the most recent employee viewpoint survey, 96 percent of respondents replied positively to the statement, “When needed I am willing to put in the extra effort to get a job done.” That demonstrates the commitment and dedication NTSB employees share for fulfilling our mission.

In addition to investigative activities, there is a proactive side to the NTSB. Our staff conducts safety studies, tracks and follows up on our safety recommendations, and advocates for safety improvements by providing testimony on safety issues, promoting our Most Wanted List, bringing important safety issues into the public discussion via social media efforts, and organizing safety events such as roundtable discussions.

One of the NTSB’s values is transparency; we are open and honest with the public about our work. We post on our website all accident reports and publications, as well as the docket for each accident. The docket provides reams of background information for accidents, such as interviews, photos, and technical information that may not be in the actual accident report. Our board meetings are webcast and open to the public. And, our Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications ensures the media are informed of the status of investigations by answering questions, arranging interviews, issuing press releases, and releasing updates through social media.

Many are surprised to learn that the NTSB also serves as a court of appeals for pilots, aircraft mechanics, and mariners who receive violation notices from the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S Coast Guard. The NTSB’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) processes those cases, and our three ALJs hold hearings to adjudicate those matters.

The NTSB’s Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance – a highly trained group with expertise in social services, emergency management, and forensics – works closely with various organizations to meet the needs of disaster victims and their families. This group also serves as the primary point of contact for family members and disaster victims, providing updates regarding the status of NTSB investigations and addressing their questions. It takes a special person to do the work they do, and I’m always appreciative of how well they do it.

There are other parts of the agency that aren’t often acknowledged, but nevertheless are important to allowing the agency to function. As in any organization, job openings need to be posted and filled, bills paid, contracts written and executed, and our computers maintained. The employees who perform these functions are as dedicated as those performing the agency’s core mission.

To put it simply, I’m so proud to be part of this agency. Our mission, independence, transparency, and people are all so important. I’m honored to have served with them for the past 10 years.

Robert Sumwalt is an NTSB board member.