All posts by ntsbgov

Speeding: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

By Member Jennifer Homendy

Every day I drive to work on one of the busiest freeways in the country. That freeway has a posted speed limit of 55-65 miles per hour. I am amazed how many drivers disregard the posted speed limit and use the freeway as their opportunity to drive like they are in the Indy 500.

Many people speed because they are trying to make it to their destination sooner. But here’s the thing – according to AAA, on a 30-mile trip, you would only arrive 8 minutes sooner driving at 75 miles per hour (a dangerous, and rarely posted speed limit) than you would driving 55 miles per hour.

Saving 8 minutes on a trip isn’t worth the increased risk of taking a life. On average, 10,000 people die every year in speeding-related traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 2017, the NTSB released a Safety Study, “Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles” which examined the trends in speeding-related passenger vehicle crashes and identified proven and promising countermeasures to prevent these crashes. We issued 19 safety recommendations which, if implemented, will prevent future crashes and save lives.

One of those safety recommendations was issued to the Federal Highway Administration. We recommended that they remove guidance to states to set speed limits within 5 miles per hour of what 85% of the traffic is travelling at, which only leads to ever-increasing speed limits. Since the mid-1990s, we have watched more and more states increase their speed limits up to 80-85 miles per hour. Just because 85% of traffic is flowing at 80 miles per hour, doesn’t mean speed limits should be set at that speed! At this rate, in 10 years, we could see states increasing their speed limits to 90 miles per hour!

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Speeding increases the likelihood of being involved in a crash and intensifies the severity of injuries sustained in a crash. According to the World Health Organization, vehicle occupants involved in a crash with an impact speed of 50 mph are 20 times more likely to die than had the vehicle been traveling at 20 mph. Additionally, the impact of vehicle speed in urban areas where there are more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists is even more serious.

Now, you might be thinking, Member Homendy, I’m not the Federal Highway Administration, I can’t implement this recommendation. That is true. What you can do is drive the posted speed limit and you can talk to your friends and family about doing that too. And if you’re a parent of a young driver, demonstrate and talk to them about safe driving behaviors and especially about speed limits.

Across the country, states have raised and are considering raising speed limits on their roads to dangerous levels. And many of those decisions are based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic. We shouldn’t base decisions about speed limits on behaviors we know are dangerous. Higher speeds create the opportunity for even more fatal crashes.

 

The issue of speeding is highlighted on our 2019–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements (Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes).

Oshkosh AirVenture 2019: Raise the Bar of Your Safety Culture

By Aaron Sauer, NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator, and Amy Terrone, NTSB Safety Advocate

Loss of control and midair accidents, drones in accident investigations, startle effects and distraction, general aviation safety trends, and survivor stories (oh my!)—these are just a few of the topics NTSB staff will present at this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The goal of our presentations is to encourage every aviator and aviation professional to raise the bar of their safety culture.

Safety culture comprises an organization’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and values regarding safety. It’s an idea with its roots in the safety of organizations; however, pilots have their own unique safety culture, as well, exchanging information informally about aircraft characteristics, avionics, and even en-route concerns, such as weather and notices to airmen (NOTAMs), that might affect a flight.

In fact, every organization has a culture, but not all culture is related to a formal organization. We are interested in helping pilots raise the safety culture bar within the broader aviation community. That’s why nearly 20 NTSB investigators, vehicle recorder specialists, safety advocates, and even the NTSB’s own Chairman Robert Sumwalt will be walking the AirVenture grounds daily July 22–28, sharing insights and learning from others.

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AirVenture is billed as the largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts in the United States, and maybe even the world. One week each summer, more than 500,000 EAA members, aviation enthusiasts, and pilots from 80 countries come to Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Attendees watch air shows and aerobatics and pyrotechnics displays, and attend educational forums, workshops, and demonstrations. In addition to those in the aviation industry, the event also draws members of the general public interested in aviation.

We’ve maintained an exhibit booth and delivered informative presentations at AirVenture for the past 15 years. In addition to presenting, NTSB investigators are always on hand to begin the on‑scene phase of an investigation if needed, because, unfortunately, at least one or two accidents occur each year as aircraft fly into the event. In fact, these fly-in accidents have led us to publish a safety alert urging pilots to keep their focus on safety while arriving at a major fly-in event like AirVenture, where there are more planes in the parking lot than cars.

This year we’ve asked some of the industry’s leading safety experts and those with unique insights to help us spread our safety culture message.

We’ll work with Patty Wagstaff, a legendary acrobatic pilot, to kick off the first day of the event with a discussion about what it means to “Raise the Bar of Your Safety Culture with Challenging Training.” Tim LeBaron, the deputy director for the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety Regional Operations, will introduce Wagstaff and offer preliminary comments on this issue.

The rest of the week will be filled with opportunities to learn more about how pilots can play their part in building a stronger safety culture. Staff will present several accident case studies that highlight pilot errors, lack of proficiency, and decisions that led to loss of control in flight. They will include a case study of a Teterboro, New Jersey, crash that illustrates our new Most Wanted List (MWL) issue area, “Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations.”

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We will also talk about weather challenges—a significant concern in general aviation flying—and how to manage and overcome a variety of scenarios, and we’ll share several safety alerts related to weather. Our research team will present general aviation safety trends and new statistics, and we’ll discuss distraction, a long-time MWL issue that is dramatically affected by the proliferation of technology in the cockpit.

But perhaps the most important presentations we will give are the ones that remind us of why we do what we do—that is, issue safety recommendations to prevent accidents and crashes.

We’ve also teamed up with two accident survivors to help drive our message home. These speakers will share their harrowing stories in the hopes that they can motivate other pilots to avoid the same mistakes. Dan Bass will offer the riveting story of how he survived an in-flight loss of consciousness due to a carbon monoxide leak, a serious safety concern that has prompted us to release several safety alerts on the topic. Trent Palmer and Nikk Audenried will share their story about a loss-of-control accident they experienced that was widely shared via YouTube. Preventing loss of control in flight has been featured on the NTSB MWL for several years.

If you’re attending AirVenture, plan to visit our booth in Exhibit Hangar D in the Federal Pavilion to meet investigators, touch a real-life “black box” (actually orange), and learn about our most important general aviation safety issues and our current MWL. You’ll likely find the Chairman engaging with pilots around our booth, and you can tune into EAA radio during the week for some of his key general aviation safety insights. We would certainly like to see you join us for our presentations and you can plan your itinerary by visiting https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2019-EAA-AirVenture-EVT.aspx.

Even if you can’t make it to AirVenture 2019, rest assured that we’re using opportunities like AirVenture throughout the year to encourage general aviation aviators and aviation professionals to raise the bar when it comes to safety.

Don’t Drive High This 4th of July

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

When I started my career with Mothers Against Drunk Driving 20 years ago, I never imagined I would still be advocating to eliminate impaired driving in 2019. I wasn’t so naïve to believe we’d have flying cars by now, but I did think that, surely in 20 years, Americans would shift their attitudes and behaviors to routinely separate drinking and driving. After all, impaired driving is 100% preventable with smart choices and planning for a sober ride home.

We should have zero fatalities when it comes to impaired driving, and yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 10,000 people die in alcohol-impaired driving crashes every year. That means one-third of all traffic fatalities are caused by impaired driving. What’s more, those numbers are limited to alcohol impairment at the 0.08-percent BAC level or higher. If we include all alcohol-involved fatalities, that statistic increases to over 12,000.

As if that number wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t even include other drug-impaired driving. We don’t have accurate statistics for those yet because there’s currently no common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing (although NHTSA is making progress toward implementing this NTSB recommendation).

Impairment is impairment, regardless of if someone is impaired by alcohol, marijuana (for recreational or medical use), illicit drugs, or even prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Instead of seeing that attitude and behavior shift I had hoped for years ago, today, an estimated 14.8 million drivers report that, in the past 30 days, they got behind the wheel within 1 hour after using marijuana, according to a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey. The AAA survey also revealed that 70% of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while high on marijuana. Those folks are in for a sad surprise, as more law enforcement officers are being trained in the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) programs, and many are being certified as drug recognition experts (DREs). This means traffic officers have been specifically trained to detect and identify impairment—by alcohol or other drugs—with a high level of accuracy.

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The 4th of July is one of the deadliest holiday periods of the year when it comes to impaired-driving crashes. But it doesn’t have to be. Drive sober. Choose—or volunteer to be—a designated driver. Use a ride-sharing app or public transportation. There’s never an excuse to drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Don’t drive high this 4th of July.

Deadly Days of Summer

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

My youngest son is 16 and a newly licensed driver. He’s had his license for about 4 months. Statistically, as a driver, the cards are stacked against him. For young drivers like him, the first 6 months of unsupervised driving are the most dangerous. As a mom, I’m terrified.

Memorial Day marked the beginning of the “100 Deadliest Days” for young drivers. All parents should know that during this driving season, crashes involving 16- to 19-year-olds spike more than among any other age group. Per mile driven, our teens are nearly three times more likely than other drivers to be in a fatal crash.

For seven summers now, the “100 deadliest days” have been the “100 scariest days” for me, only lessening slightly as my older son entered his 20s. Now my younger son is a newly licensed driver and the terror is freshly upon me again.

And I’m not alone. Just as many students revel in summer freedoms, throw themselves into summer jobs, take trips away from home, and celebrate life late into some nights, their parents worry over their safety.

Don’t get me wrong. My sons are, overall, good young drivers. But during the 100 Deadliest Days, young drivers are getting behind the wheel with cellphones in hand, or drowsy from long summer nights. And they are spending more time behind the wheel. A recent AAA study found that each year over a recent 5-year period, an average of 1,022 people died in crashes involving teen drivers during the 100 Deadliest Days.

What makes driving during this time of year so deadly for teens? Mostly lack of experience.

Help your teens gain experience by taking them out for drives not just on sunny days, but in the rain and, in a few months, the snow. Allow them to experience driving in heavy traffic conditions, merging, and making left turns.

Parents, I know it’s scary, but rest assured, you’re doing the safe thing. Students have to learn by doing, and the best way to do that is with a responsible adult driver next to them. And note: that doesn’t mean they should go out driving with a slightly older teen! Teen passengers significantly increase a teen driver’s risk of being in a crash. Teen drivers should not carry passengers under age 21—not their friends, and not their siblings or other young family members.

My sons know that I live for those moments when they bring up road safety. (That’s one hazard of having a mom who works for the NTSB!) Although I only started emphasizing safe driving behaviors once my sons learned to drive, I’ve not been shy about sharing them since.

Fellow parents, it’s our responsibility to talk to our young drivers about avoiding distracting activities, like talking on a cell phone, texting, posting on social media, skipping a song on their playlist, or trying to use navigation apps, while driving. And of course, it’s our responsibility to remind them to always buckle up! Most importantly, we need to demonstrate safe driving habits ourselves. Don’t just give good advice—set a good example.

I’m proud of how often I see my sons doing the little things right (although as a mom, I’ll always worry). I know I’m not alone in this, either. I’m confident that other parents are proud of their kids’ safe driving progress too, even if it seems they only notice the little things their student driver is doing wrong.

6 Rules Parents_Graphic-Banners-300x250This summer talk with the young people in your life about safe driving and the hazards they’ll be up against over the next 100 days. Doing so will ensure that they have many thousands of days ahead.

 

Developing Future Safety Leaders

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Author and leadership expert John Maxwell once said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Leadership is at the core of all we do, whether it’s in our professional organizations, community groups, or personal lives. Success depends on sound leadership.

Earlier this week, I represented the NTSB to more than 200 members of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). SADD’s mission to empower, engage, mobilize, and change is the very essence of youth leadership, and that leadership is desperately needed. The number one cause of death in teens ages 15 to 19 remains motor vehicle crashes. It’s fitting that I would speak at SADD during the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer, where we lose hundreds of teens on our roads to motor vehicle crashes. In order to save lives, it will require a change in our attitudes toward safety, and that’s a lesson best taught at an early age.

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The SADD students I spoke to had already taken a major step toward this shift in thinking, simply by attending the event. Our nation’s youth must learn not only how to practice safe behavior, but also how to become the next generation of safety leaders. With that in mind and understanding that strong leadership begins with self, I urged the SADD attendees to develop their own internal leadership qualities, stressing that increased knowledge of self would help them to empower others.

As a safety advocate, I know that a big part of my job is to provide support to those who will one day fill my shoes. I used my opportunity with SADD to plant the seeds that will yield the world’s future safety advocates. It’s important that today’s adults—professional safety specialists or not—work together to train, grow, and prepare today’s youth to be strong, effective leaders that we can one day confidently hand the baton to in the name of safety.

Episode 26 – Silver Spring, Maryland, Apartment Building Explosion Investigation

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, we talk with Rachel Gunaratnam, a Hazardous Materials Accident Investigator in the NTSB Office or Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations and Frank Zakar, a Senior Metallurgist in the NTSB Office of Research and Engineering, about the natural gas-fueled explosion, on August 10, 2016, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Rachel and Frank talk about the circumstances of the explosion and fire, the probable cause, and the safety recommendations issued to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

To learn more about the NTSB investigation of the Silver Spring, Maryland explosion and fire visit: https://ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/nr20190423.aspx

To read the full accident report visit: https://ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/par1901.aspx

 

Get the latest episode on Apple Podcasts , on Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast platform.

And find more ways to listen here: https://www.blubrry.com/behind_the_scene_ntsb/

Why We Care When Things Go Right

By Lorenda Ward, Sr. Investigator-In-Charge, NTSB Office of Aviation Safety

As an investigator-in-charge (IIC) at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), part of my job is to launch to aviation accident scenes. When my team and I arrive at the scene of an accident, we come prepared to uncover the sequence of events that led to the accident—whether it was weather, human factors, or a problem with the plane’s structure, systems, or engines. It’s the NTSB’s responsibility to find out what occurred and provide recommendations to prevent future accidents.

When we investigate an accident, we don’t only look for the things that went wrong, but we also look for those that went right. Sometimes these “rights” ensure the accident didn’t become an even greater tragedy, and sharing them can help crewmembers and operators in the future ensure the safest flight possible. A good example of this is a recent accident we investigated in Michigan.

On March 8, 2017, an Ameristar Charters Boeing MD-83 ran off the end of the runway during a high-speed rejected takeoff at Ypsilanti Airport in Michigan. The plane was scheduled to carry 6 crewmembers and 110 passengers to Washington, DC—among them, the University of Michigan men’s basketball team, cheerleaders, band, coaches, and some parents. Fortunately, no one was killed, though some passengers sustained minor injuries.

March 8, 2017, Ypsilanti, Michigan, runway overrun during rejected takeoff
Rear view of accident scene

I led the small team that was launched to the accident site. On scene, we found that the right geared tab of the elevator flight control system had become jammed. Our investigation showed that this occurred during a strong windstorm that struck the area while the aircraft was parked at Ypsilanti Airport prior to the flight.

Seconds after the captain tried to “pitch,” or rotate, the airplane’s nose up, he quickly realized that the airplane was not going to get airborne. At that time, the airplane was traveling at a speed of 158 mph and was about 5,000 feet down the 7,500-foot runway. Because the elevator was jammed in the airplane nose-down position, no matter how far back the captain pulled the yoke, the nose refused to pitch up. The captain quickly called to abort the takeoff, but the plane was traveling too fast to be stopped on the remaining runway. It departed the end of the runway at about 115 mph, traveled 950 feet across a runway safety area, struck an airport fence, and came to rest after crossing a paved road.

Our investigation determined that the flight crew had completed all preflight checks appropriately, including a flight control test, and found no anomalies before initiating the takeoff. Furthermore, we determined that there was no way the pilot checks could have detected the flight control jam.

It’s important to note that, not only did the captain appropriately reject the takeoff once he felt the airplane was not able to fly, but the check airman did not try to countermand the rejected takeoff. And after the plane came to a rest, the cabin crew also followed procedures to coordinate a careful, safe passenger evacuation.

Also essential to the safe outcome was the fact that the passengers followed the crew’s instructions, so everyone got off quickly without any serious injuries. Unfortunately, too many times, we see passengers delay an evacuation by ignoring crew instructions to, say, retrieve their luggage.

Although the accident airplane crashed through a perimeter fence and crossed a road before coming to a stop, an extended runway safety area that was added to Ypsilanti airport between 2006 and 2009 allowed the airplane plenty of room and time to come to rest safely. This expansion was part of a national program started by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1999 in response to an NTSB recommendation to add runway safety areas to many commercial airports.

Our investigative team learned that three critical factors—things done “right”— helped prevent this accident from becoming a tragedy, in which numerous lives could have been lost:

1) The captain’s quick response

2) The crew’s adherence to procedures, which resulted in a quick and efficient evacuation

3) The addition of a compliant runway safety area

After 20-plus years of investigating accidents, it’s refreshing to me to see an accident in which more things went right than wrong, and where people lived to tell the tale because of good decision making. These cases don’t normally get a lot of attention, but it’s important for us to understand and report out all our findings—even the good—because we see lessons there, too.

I encourage everyone to read the full Ypsilanti report. A link to the accident docket and related news releases are also available at https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/pages/2017-ypsilanti-mi.aspx.