November 21 is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. It is a day to honor the 1.3 million lives lost each year around the world in motor vehicle crashes.
Today, I urge everyone to take a moment to remember all those who have lost loved ones in crashes, as millions have done around the world since 1995. Here in the United States, traffic deaths are up 18 percent over the first half of 2020. We are on pace to lose 40,000 Americans this year alone.
My thoughts are with all who have lost loved ones, but especially those I’ve met who lost loved ones in crashes that the NTSB has investigated, and the survivor advocates I’ve gotten to know over the years.
We need to remember these numbers are people from our communities. They are lives lost: mothers, fathers, or children suddenly, permanently gone; brothers and sisters absent from holiday gatherings; friends missing from a baby shower. We record our losses in data tables, but we feel them at the dinner table, and in the graduations, weddings, and birthdays never celebrated.
At a November 10 virtual roundtable on the need for our nation to transition to a Safe System approach, I called for a moment of silence in advance of the World Day of Remembrance. I said then that, for the NTSB, the toughest part of our job is facing family members after a tragedy, explaining that their loved one’s death was 100 percent preventable and that we’ve issued recommendations which, if acted upon, would have prevented the crash and the loss of their loved one.
Then I said that we need a paradigm shift in how we address this ever-growing public health crisis.
For 26 years now, the world has memorialized the victims of motor vehicle crashes, and we have been right to remember them. No loss should be forgotten. But these are unnecessary losses. They must not be remembered only in words.
They deserve and demand action now.
They demand to be remembered with road treatments, traffic calming measures, engineering speed assessments, road safety laws, and other investments that will result in safe roads and safe speeds on those roads.
They demand to be remembered with the manufacture of safe vehicles that should come standard with better technology for avoiding collisions, including collisions with pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
They must be remembered with vehicle sizes and shapes that are less likely to result in the pedestrian and bicyclist deaths that we have seen so often.
They demand to be remembered with ignition interlocks for all impaired drivers, in the development of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology, and in fair and just traffic law enforcement.
They demand to be memorialized with increased investments in alternative modes of transportation, like public transit, which will reduce crashes on our roads, in newly changed laws to improve road safety, and in the enforcement of existing laws.
But most of all, these victims should be remembered as what they were: flesh and blood. Human. Vulnerable.
Put that image at the center of all the other aspects of our roads, and you’ll see the road as we must in order to finally make it safe. Don’t think of numbers, think of people. Put them at the center of every decision about our road system. That’s the paradigm shift that we need—to make our many layers of traffic hazards into layers of traffic protection, so that when crashes happen, nobody pays for it with their life.
This Day of Remembrance, let’s remember that the candle we light to remember victims is more than just a memorial; it’s a light showing the way to a safer tomorrow.
For most teens, receiving the car keys for their first trip alone on the road is a ceremonious moment—one that opens their world to freedom of mobility. For parents and guardians, however, this moment can be nerve-wracking. Unfortunately, the anxiety parents and guardians feel is justifiable, as traffic crashes continue to be a leading cause of death for teens. According to the most recent teen driver safety statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 205,000 young drivers were injured, and 1,603 young drivers died in traffic crashes in 2019.
Today marks the beginning of Teen Driver Safety Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness and seeking solutions to prevent teen injuries and deaths on the road. This week is critical to educate teens, parents, guardians, lawmakers, and the public on the risks of unsafe driving, and empower those individuals to make positive decisions and practice good driving habits behind the wheel. Although the week is focused on teens, it’s a good time to assess the role each of us plays in improving driving habits to ensure our roads are the safe.
The NTSB has long advocated for preventive measures that would mitigate or prevent teen driving-related traffic crashes, including eliminating distractions, fatigue, and impairment; reducing speeds; improving occupant protection; and implementing a robust graduated driver license (GDL) program. Throughout Teen Driver Safety Week, the NTSB will share helpful resources and engage with our stakeholders to educate the public on teen driver safety.
We’ve planned two roundtables this week to address specific NTSB concerns about teen driver safety and to share other important insights from experts in roadway safety.
Tomorrow, October 19, Member Thomas Chapman will kick off the NTSB’s Teen Driver Safety Week Roundtable Series with “The State of Teen Driver Safety.” This roundtable will bring together traffic safety advocates and experts to discuss critical issues and risks impacting teen drivers, effective programs to influence positive teen driving behaviors, and future strategies for reducing fatalities and injuries resulting from teen driving-related crashes. This roundtable will provide a national platform to amplify young people’s voices. Register here for the “State of Teen Driver Safety” Roundtable.
On Thursday, October 21, we will host a second roundtable discussion, “The State of Graduated Driver License Laws.” The NTSB has long advocated for comprehensive driver education and robust GDL programs by adding passenger restrictions, cell phone restrictions, and provisions addressing minimum driving practice and minimum holding periods. Driver education programs should help new drivers learn proper vehicle control and safe operating behavior when behind the wheel. This roundtable is an opportunity to bring together legislative experts and advocates to discuss teen driver education, GDL laws, and the policy strategies that can be used to improve teen driver safety. Register now for “The State of Graduated Driver License Laws” Roundtable.
Education and action are the key elements to creating positive change for teen drivers. Parents should model safe driving behaviors, laying out expectations and enforcing consequences if rules are broken. Parents have great influence over teen driving behaviors.
The NTSB is committed to advocating for driving measures that create the safest environment for teens to learn. Their first experience on the roadways should start with good driving behaviors that continue for a lifetime. Our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements is designed to address our most critical safety recommendations; we encourage you to look to our MWL for ways to keeping not just new drivers, but all drivers safe.
We’re successful when teens, parents, caregivers, lawmakers, and the public—collectively—engage with teens on this issue, set a positive example, and execute strategies designed to prevent car crashes, injuries, and deaths.
Teen Driver Safety Week might last only one week, but our positive example and dedication to keeping our young people safe must continue all year, every year.
Each year, Operation Lifesaver, Inc., spearheads Rail Safety Week. For 2021, Rail Safety Week runs from September 20 through 26. Operation Lifesaver and its safety partners across North America, including the NTSB, use this annual event to educate and empower the public to make safe decisions around trains and tracks and to raise awareness of the need for rail safety education.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data show there were 756 total fatalities on US railroads in 2020. Most of these deaths occurred in highway–rail grade crossing and trespassing incidents. Public awareness and outreach efforts are important because, tragically, hundreds of people are fatally struck by trains in preventable collisions.
I have an especially strong interest in rail safety because, in the early 1950s, my grandfather was struck and killed in a highway–rail grade crossing crash. My grandfather was a volunteer firefighter. He and a colleague were on a call when the collision occurred. The tragedy had a devastating impact on my mother and her family. My mother was a high school student at the time, and the loss of her father changed the course of her life.
At a highway–rail grade crossing, it is our responsibility, as road users, to stop for train traffic. Trains have the right of way and will pass through the crossing without stopping for road traffic. There are two types of grade crossings. At passive crossings, signage will warn road users to be vigilant when crossing tracks and to look for oncoming trains. In more populated areas, you may be more likely to encounter active crossings, which are typically equipped with flashing lights, audible alarms, and automatic gates that warn of an approaching train. When warnings are activated at a crossing, the appropriate and safe action is to stop and wait. Trains are faster than they seem, and they don’t stop on a dime. The average freight train traveling at 55 mph can take a mile or more to stop.
So, what should you do if your vehicle becomes stuck on the tracks at a grade crossing? First, get out of your car. Then, call the number on the Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign posted near the crossing. These blue-and-white signs include a number to call and a US Department of Transportation crossing identification number. If you cannot find the sign, simply call 911. Additional information is included in this brief video produced by Operation Lifesaver. Also, the FRA developed its Crossing Locator App to help you find and call the ENS in case of an emergency or if you have a safety concern about a specific highway–rail grade crossing.
Too often, those who are struck and killed by trains near or on the tracks could have avoided putting their lives in such perilous danger. According to the FRA, more than 400 trespass fatalities occur each year, and the vast majority of them are preventable. An especially tragic example is highlighted in our investigation of a 2014 trespassing accident that involved a film crew near Jesup, Georgia, that was filming on a rail bridge without authorization when a freight train passed. One crewmember was killed, and six others were injured as a result of this preventable accident.
Whether you are taking a shortcut by crossing railroad tracks, or jogging, taking pictures (selfies included), fishing, or riding a recreational off-road vehicle, on or around tracks, you put yourself in imminent danger.
Remember, trains are faster and quieter than you think. They can’t stop quickly. They can’t swerve. They are enormously powerful machines and taking a chance on a collision with a train is risky business.
During this year’s Rail Safety Week, all of us at the NTSB join our friends at Operation Lifesaver in their mission to save lives around railroad tracks and trains. Here’s how you can do your part.
Know the signs.
Make good decisions.
Talk to your loved ones about rail safety.
Together, we can STOP track tragedies. See tracks? Think train.
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death and injuries in the United States. Early estimates for 2020 show that more than 38,000 people lost their lives in traffic crashes on our nation’s roads. These preventable tragedies are often due to driver mistakes and poor decisions—speeding or driving while impaired, distracted, or fatigued. Collision-avoidance technologies have the potential to mitigate the impact of these mistakes by alerting a driver to impending danger or actively reducing the vehicle’s speed if the driver does not act.
“Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles” is on the NTSB’s 2021–2022 Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements to increase public awareness about collision-avoidance systems as a lifesaving technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should develop comprehensive performance standards and mandates for collision-avoidance systems and connected-vehicle technology, and we urge NHTSA to incorporate collision-avoidance system ratings into its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).
The primary goal of any collision-avoidance technology is to prevent and mitigate the severity of crashes by detecting a conflict, alerting the driver and, when necessary, automatically braking. A standard collision-avoidance system is comprised of two separate technologies that work together to prevent and mitigate crashes: forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Forward collision warning assists a driver by presenting an auditory, visual, or haptic warning to the driver before a collision. Typically, once a warning occurs and a driver does not respond, automatic emergency braking autonomously applies the brakes to prevent or mitigate a crash.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an estimated 56 precent of rear‑end crashes that result in injuries could be prevented if passenger vehicles were equipped with a combination of forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. These technologies can also improve the safety of commercial trucks. The IIHS found that equipping large trucks with both of these systems could eliminate more than 40 percent of crashes in which a large truck rear-ends another vehicle.
Despite the proven safety benefit of collision-avoidance systems, these lifesaving technologies are not required as standard options on passenger vehicles or commercial trucks. NHTSA’s regulatory inaction has delayed the broad deployment of these systems for too long. NHTSA must require forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking on all passenger vehicles and commercial trucks.
Although more collision-avoidance technologies have been deployed into new vehicles recently, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking performance and reliability vary significantly among vehicle manufacturers and models. Performance standards specify the minimum level of performance for these technologies, and NHTSA has been slow to adopt comprehensive performance standards and criteria to assess these systems. Testing protocols to assess the performance of forward collision-avoidance systems should be expanded to include common obstacles, such as traffic safety hardware, cross-traffic vehicle profiles, and other applicable vehicle shapes or objects found in the highway operating environment. Further, testing protocols should also assess their performance at various speeds that represent the wide range of speed conditions seen in crashes, including high speeds. NHTSA should set robust minimum performance standards for both systems to provide consumers with confidence and certainty of the safety benefits of these technologies.
New Car Assessment Program
The NCAP is a government resource, developed by NHTSA, that evaluates and rates the crashworthiness of all passenger vehicles. Consumers rely on NHTSA’s vehicle safety ratings to make informed purchasing decisions for their safety and that of their loved ones. The NCAP has been an effective tool for informing the public about a vehicle’s crashworthiness; however, the current NCAP does not rate collision-avoidance technologies such as forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. This allows a vehicle without collision-avoidance technology to achieve the same safety rating as a vehicle equipped with a highly effective collision‑avoidance system.
The NTSB recommends that NHTSA expand the NCAP to rate collision-avoidance technology performance. Such a rating can inform the public about a vehicle’s capacity to prevent and mitigate crashes, as well as differentiate collision-avoidance systems based on their performance. Incorporating collision-avoidance system ratings into the NCAP also provides an incentive for vehicle manufacturers to equip new vehicles with forward collision-avoidance systems, which can speed up deployment of such systems into all vehicles.
One of the most promising lifesaving collision-avoidance technologies being researched and developed for nearly three decades is connected-vehicle technology. This technology does not rely on radar or cameras but on direct communication between vehicles, called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. This technology also allows vehicles to communicate with infrastructure and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians—collectively known as vehicle-to-everything communications (V2X).
The NTSB’s investigations have found that V2X communications-based technology could address many crash scenarios, including many intersection crashes. Additionally, connected-vehicle technology increases the safety and visibility of vulnerable road users by alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists that may be outside a driver’s or vehicle‑based sensor’s field of observation.
However, connected-vehicle technology depends on an available communications spectrum. Currently, the entire program is at risk due to a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow shared use of a wireless communications band previously dedicated solely for transportation safety. We are concerned that sharing this spectrum could compromise successful connected-vehicle technology deployment. The NTSB urges the FCC and others to overcome this communications challenge so connected-vehicle technology can be deployed widely and securely.
Every day we lose more than 100 lives in preventable traffic crashes on our nation’s roads. Humans make mistakes that lead to crashes, but technology can mitigate those mistakes, avoiding death and serious injuries. Collision-avoidance technologies assist drivers by alerting a driver to an impending crash and automatically stopping the vehicle if the driver does not act. This proven, lifesaving technology is available today.
Tragically, regulatory inaction has slowed both deployment and broad availability of these technologies. The NTSB calls on the NHTSA to:
require forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking on all passenger vehicles and commercial trucks,
adopt comprehensive performance standards and criteria to assess these systems, and
expand the NCAP to rate the performance of collision-avoidance technologies.
As parents, caregivers, teachers, school administrators, and school transportation safety professionals prepare for the return to school the health and safety of our children is the highest priority.
This school year, back to school preparation for our children looks very different and it’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns. But it’s so important that in addition to ensuring children are safe in the classroom, we also dedicate the time to discuss with our kids the safest way for them to get to and from school.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve made school transportation safety a priority. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and pedestrian and bicycle safety) are currently items on our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Our MWL contains what we believe to be the safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives, and these issues are among our highest priorities in our advocacy work.
The hour before and after school are the most dangers times for students on the roads. In fact, more school-age pedestrians were killed between 7-7:59 a.m. and 3-3:39 p.m. than any other hours of the day.
So, how will your kids get to school this year? Will they take the bus? Do you have a carpool set up with another family? Do they walk or bike to school? Is your teen driving to and from school this year? Regardless of how your child gets there and home, this is a critical time for you, as a parent, to think about ways you can help keep them safe. By talking to your children about steps you can take together this school year to ensure a safe trip to and from school.
Here are a few tips for keeping students safe this school year:
If your student will be walking to school, map out the safest route for them before school is back in session and practice it a few times. This will help your child become familiar with the route, including any crosswalks or intersections they may need to negotiate and allows you the opportunity to demonstrate safe walking behaviors.
If you have a student biking to school, be sure they wear a helmet and reflective gear! Helmets are the most important piece of safety equipment for bicycle riders. Just as with walking, it’s also important to help your child select the safest bicycle route before starting the school year.
If you’re the parent of a teen driver, talk to them about safe driving behaviors—following posted speed limits, no cell phone use, about always buckling up and getting enough sleep before they get behind the wheel. Consider signing a parent-teen driving contract with your teen driver with clear guidelines for using the car.
We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that all children make it to school and return home safely. Drivers, be on the look out for children in neighborhoods and around schools, and slow down. If you approach a school bus with flashing lights on and stop arm out, STOP! When you’re behind the wheel, give the driving task your full attention, don’t be distracted by your cell phone —hand’s free doesn’t mean risk free— and never drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs, even over-the-counter medication.
For additional tips check out these valuable resources: