Category Archives: Distraction

The State of Distracted Driving in Missouri

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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 all drivers. 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.

We must act now to end preventable distracted driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities—in Missouri, and nationwide.

Safe Trucking is Good Business

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

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

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Vice Chairman Landsberg at the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) 2019 Safety Conference

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?

Heading Back to School Safely

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

 It’s nearing the end of August. Gone are the days of lounging by the pool or on the beach, or running around and playing outside. Soon, crowds of children will be waiting on the street corner for their school bus to arrive. It’s almost Labor Day, and the back-to-school season is upon us.

‘Tis the season for worrying about a lot of things: hunting down the best sales on school supplies and clothes, buying the right books, hoping your children will have good teachers and make new friends . . . the list goes on. It’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns, but now is also the time to discuss with your 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. For example, although the school bus is the safest method of transportation to and from school, when a bus crash does happen, we investigate to uncover any relevant safety issues so they can be fixed. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including impaired driving, distracted driving, and fatigue-related accidents) 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.

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 as a family this school year to ensure a safe commute, you can do your part to help make transportation safety a priority.

Check out some of our back-to-school blog posts for some conversation starters and tips for keeping your children and their peers safe on the roads.

Eyes on The Road, Hands on the Wheel, Mind on One Task

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

On April 3, I represented the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) at an event kicking off Distracted Driving Awareness Month and California Teen Driver Safety Week, in Sacramento. I challenged California to lead the nation in acting on NTSB’s 2011 recommendation to ban the nonemergency driver use of portable electronic devices that do not support the driving task. So far, many states have banned driver use of handheld phones, and all but three have banned texting and driving. But none go as far as our recommendation demands.

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NTSB Chief of Safety Advocacy, Nicholas Worrell (at podium) addresses media at the April 3, 2019, Distracted Driving Awareness Month kick-off event in Sacramento, CA.

Since the Sacramento event, I’ve spoken about the recommendation to radio and television outlets in the Golden State, some with call-in segments, and I’ve read the comments on news websites covering my kickoff remarks. I’ve learned a lot about what most troubles (and impresses) people about the proposal:

  • Many gave examples of their experiences with dangerous distracted driving behavior on the road and supported the safety recommendation.
  • Some pointed out their personal ability to multitask (an ability at odds with the science of distraction).
  • Some disparaged the danger compared to other distractions (eg, people eating or putting on their makeup).
  • Some asked how the law can be enforced. Indeed, this is certainly a challenge, but one that could be addressed with technology, especially if device-makers get on board. California already bans all nonemergency use of these devices for young drivers and bus drivers, so there’s precedent.
  • Finally, many pointed to technology solutions, and I believe that they’re spot-on. In fact, in response to the same crash that spawned our proposed cell phone ban, we also issued a recommendation encouraging the Consumer Electronics Association to work with its members to disable drivers’ cell phones while driving (except for emergency use, and for use in support of the driving task). We would love to have a meaningful dialogue with device manufacturers through the CEA.

Distracted(4).jpgWhen you talk on a cell phone or become engaged with phone operations, your mind is not on the driving task. Have you ever shushed a passenger while you try to decide if you’re at your freeway exit? How about missed a turn or blown past a stopped school bus while having a conversation on your Bluetooth-enabled, hands-free smartphone? It turns out that we can’t really multitask. We slow down as we disengage from one task and engage in another. It even takes us longer to disengage and reengage our visual focus, to say nothing of completing a competing cognitive task. To experience this lag, just run through the first 10 letters of the alphabet out loud as quickly as you can. Then do the same with the numbers 1 to 10. Then try them together: A-1, B-2, and so on. Do you slow down when “multitasking”? Most people do.

People are quick to admit that manual and visual distraction can cause crashes, but few understand that cognitive distraction can be just as significant.

The NTSB believes that California should apply its cell-phone ban for bus drivers and novice drivers to the general driver population. We also believe that California is the perfect state to lead the charge to develop technology that will help end this deadly problem.

As we learn more about the science of distraction and distracted driving, it becomes more and more obvious that, as distractions are eliminated, Californian lives will be saved.

Eliminate Distractions

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

The NTSB has investigated distraction-linked crashes in all modes of transportation. Our 2017 distracted driving roundtable, “Act to End Deadly Distraction,” made one thing very clear:

We don’t feel these losses in a statistical table. We feel them at the dinner table. We also don’t call them “accidents” because they are totally predictable.

More than 100 people die every day on our roads and highways, nine or ten of them per day in distraction-involved crashes alone. More than 1,000 people per day—391,000 in one year—are injured in distraction-involved crashes. And it’s certain that this number is greatly under-counted. Many of these injuries are life-altering, disfiguring and permanently crippling. My apologies for being graphic – but ask anyone who’s been involved whether the distraction that caused the crash was worth it.

Listen to stories told in our 2017 roundtable by survivor advocates. Or, simply ask around. It won’t take long to find someone with a story of a friend, business colleague or loved one lost to a distracted driver.

What too many of these crashes have in common is a portable electronic device – the universal cell phone. When the NTSB made its first recommendation about driver distraction by “wireless telephone” in 2003, cell phones were primarily just that: tools for making voice calls. Although some cell phones had keypads, the word “texting” does not appear in that early report.

In 2011, the NTSB recommended that the states ban non-emergency driver use of all portable electronic devices that did not support the driving task. To date, no state’s laws have gone that far. Why?

And since drivers look to the law for guidance, no state’s drivers have gone so far as to voluntarily stop driving while visually, manually, and/or cognitively distracted. Why?

Now, a second 2011 NTSB safety recommendation is becoming steadily more feasible: Safety Recommendation H-11-47. We recommended that CTIA—the wireless association, and the Consumer Electronics Association, encourage the development of technology that can disable portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion (with the ability to permit emergency use of the device while the vehicle is in motion, and the capability of identifying occupant seating position so that passengers can use their devices).

Unfortunately, the recommendation has not been adopted, despite smartphones and apps that will allow the driver to opt out of calls and texts while driving. So, why hasn’t there been more action on this recommendation?

The best safety solution is always to design out the problem. Rather than just encourage people to do the right thing, don’t give them the opportunity to do the wrong thing… and possibly take a life or maim someone.

Don’t misunderstand, we endorse a solid tech solution, but such a solution won’t work in every situation. It must be a belt-and-suspenders effort, together with the familiar three-legged stool of highway safety (awareness, tough laws, and high-visibility enforcement).

This year many more loved ones will be lost to distraction, but surveys tell us that most people think distracted driving is a bad idea. Until, that is, we have to put our own phone down. Hypocritical? It couldn’t possibly happen to me – I’m too good a driver! The numbers prove otherwise.

Time, tide and tech wait for no man or woman, to coin a phrase. By the end of today a thousand more families will be dealing with tremendous loss and pain.

This month, the NTSB will host its third Roundtable on Distracted Driving: Perspectives from the Trucking Industry. During the roundtable, members of the trucking community, victim advocacy groups, the business community and legislators will come together to discuss the problem of distracted driving and potential countermeasures. We also hope to hear about new efforts to close Safety Recommendation H-11-47.

To kickoff Distracted Driving Awareness Month, on April 3, we will also host, with Impact Teen Drivers and the California Highway Patrol, the Western States Teen Safe Driving Roundtable to talk about the state of teen driving and the proven strategies for preventing teen-driving related crashes.  Now, what are you going to do about it?

Why?

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to address more than 150 driver educators at the Dori Saves Lives Driver Education Conference, a meeting at which I first spoke in 2015. The conference is named for Dori Slosberg, who died in a 1996 traffic crash along with four other teens. She was only 14.

2019 Dori Slosberg Foundatin Event
Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division, addresses attendees at the 2019 Dori Saves Lives Driver Education Conference

Today, more than 20 years later, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for young people ages 5­–24. That’s why the work of the Dori Slosberg Foundation and others around the nation is so important.

Compared with earlier generations, Millennials are quick to look at the world as they find it and ask why? This is a good habit; you can’t improve in any endeavor—from education, to manufacturing, to transportation safety—without looking at the status quo and asking why things are the way they are.

We know why young drivers are involved in crashes—most often because of inexperience, distraction, speed, and impairment. And we also know that those risky behaviors are often coupled with low seat belt use rates. So why are young drivers getting behind the wheel impaired or driving distracted? How can policy address risks like inexperience and speed in this age group? Some of the most important voices in traffic safety are young survivor advocates who have refined the raw why? of intolerable loss into the thoughtful and lifesaving why? of policy change.

At the conference, I welcomed the last of the millennials to the traffic safety fight in their new roles as young driver educators. I asked them to never stop asking “why,” just as the NTSB never stops asking that same question to determine probable causes of transportation accidents and crashes. And I challenged them to act on the proven solutions that will prevent traffic crashes—comprehensive laws, education, and enforcement.

Last month, we released our 2019­–2020 Most Wanted List, which includes some of these proven solutions.

For previous blogs about outreach to Dori Saves Lives and driver educators, visit:

 

Most Highway Crashes Are Not Accidents

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Traffic crashes that claim the lives of one, two, . . . maybe even five people don’t seem that severe. Would there be more urgency to address highway safety if per-crash fatalities were higher? Suppose a family member or a friend was the one killed or injured? Typically, it’s not until someone we love is hurt that we realize most highway crashes are not accidents at all, but are thoroughly preventable. “Accidents,” on the other hand, are unforeseen and unpredictable.

Fatal crashes can often be attributed to the all-too-human failings of trying to get somewhere just a bit quicker than traffic or road conditions will safely allow, not planning for alternative transportation after a few drinks, being distracted by a text message, or choosing to get behind the wheel after a night of too little sleep. We know how to stop this—the solutions aren’t new or complicated. The NTSB has been advocating for effective countermeasures for decades. Last month, we issued our 2019­–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements, which highlights the actions needed to prevent transportation accidents and crashes. Guess what’s on the list? Distraction, fatigue, and medical fitness. Speed and impairment are also included.

MWL List

All drivers—private and commercial—are supposed to be medically fit to drive. Professional drivers who are prone to seizures, who may be suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, or who are at risk of another sudden-onset, incapacitating illness shouldn’t be operating big rigs or motor coaches until they’re treated and under a physician’s care. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has made some progress in improving its medical oversight system, but too many drivers continue to obtain licenses despite medically disqualifying conditions. Is this acceptable?

Fatigue is another huge problem on our roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015, 90,000 police-reported crashes, which led to an estimated 41,000 people injured, involved drowsy drivers. In 2017, nearly 800 fatalities resulted from drowsy driving, and these numbers are certainly and significantly undercounted. Undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea affects both professional drivers and the public at large. Drivers who aren’t sleeping well should see a physician about underlying causes of insomnia. Fatigue is proven to have the same deadly effects as alcohol consumption.

Finally, distraction! It’s been conclusively proven that humans are lousy multitaskers, and our ability to self-assess our skills to the contrary is likewise flawed. (I’m really good, and if you don’t believe it, just ask me!) Studies have consistently shown that mobile phone use also leads to about the same level of impairment as—you guessed it—too much alcohol (the NTSB has recommended that all states lower legal DUI levels to .05 percent blood alcohol concentration). Texting while driving can increase the crash risk up to 22 times. In 2016, more than 3,100 fatal crashes involving distraction occurred on US roadways (again, this number is likely much underreported). In this age of constant connection, it’s beyond time to ask ourselves, is it worth the cost?

And it’s not just portable devices that are causing distraction, either. Auto manufacturers want to sell the most fun-to-drive products with the best infotainment systems. But too much button pushing and menu navigation means too much heads-down time in complex traffic environments. Let’s use our technology and knowledge to stop the carnage.

A balance of regulation and common sense is needed on both sides of the regulatory divide. Ultimately, it comes down to the cost of human life versus the cost of doing business. It all depends on who’s doing the calculation, but the real cost of lives lost, and collateral damage go well beyond insurance settlements and lawsuits.  Is that phone call, text, minutes saved, or extra drink truly worth it? The upside is minimal, the downside horrendous—possibly life-ending or financially ruinous. But it won’t happen to you or anyone you know, right?

By midnight tonight, another 100 friends, neighbors, and family members will have died on our roads. In just one day, several thousand more will have been badly injured, many with no full recovery. This statistic will repeat every day this year, and the next, and the next. And not one person in those crashes, whether they were at fault or innocent victims, started out that day thinking it would be their last. So, what are you going to do about it?