Category Archives: Distraction

Ride for Cause

photo of Rolling Thunder being saluted.
taken by Luis Gomez at Rolling Thunder 2010.

By Nicholas Worrell

Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, the moment I publicly longed for in my winter blog. It’s been a long winter, and it’s great to get the bike back on the road and feel the open air. This weekend always features some outstanding events where riders reconnect with some old buddies, meet new ones, enjoy the road together, and come back with some stories to tell.

But in 2012 we lost almost 5,000 riders nationwide, 13 people each day who won’t be able to make new memories and share old stories. I am not okay with that – and here’s why.

For several years my buddies and I, from various rider clubs, have packed our bikes, hitched our trailers, and taken that long journey from Washington, DC to Myrtle Beach Bike Week to enjoy a week of riding and fun. I can hear the patient if ominous deep idle of the Harleys, the buzzing roar of Suzukis, and every now and then the signature sound of a Ducati dry clutch. I can feel as much as hear the bikes, all sizes, colors and shapes, thundering through the streets. And I can see the smiles on every rider’s face, smiles that look like relief from Old Man Winter. I can feel the cool breeze hitting my face as I cruise the stretch of Atlantic Street with riders I’ve known for years.

And I want to see each and every one of them the next year. I don’t want our group missing any of those bikes’ sounds, or any of those faces I’ve gotten used to seeing.

In the Washington area, every year Rolling Thunder brings hundreds of thousands of bikes roaring through the streets in commemoration of servicemen and women who have sacrificed for our freedom. The dedicated bikers at Rolling Thunder ride in remembrance of those who gave everything to protect us.

With all that they sacrifice for us, it’s a shame when we don’t protect ourselves.

As a United States Marine Corps veteran (OORAH), I am not shy about standing up for one more noble cause: motorcycle safety. (Repeat after me: “This is my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine…”) And I want everyone to realize that motorcycle safety isn’t just riders’ business – it’s everybody’s.

So here are some of the dangers and safety measures we should all take into consideration during this Memorial Week and the rest of the summer.

    1. Drivers: Share the Road and Pay Attention. For riders one of the biggest concerns is for drivers who are not focused on the task at hand. The distracted driver who simply can’t wait to place that call, send that text or update that Facebook posting, and the impaired driver who is too intoxicated to focus on the road, endanger everybody, but riders have less protection. If you ask most riders their number one concern, they’ll say “lack of respect by drivers” (or perhaps stronger words to that effect). So listen up drivers: share the road, don’t drive distracted, and don’t drive impaired.


    1. Riders: There’s a time and a place. Too many of us have done it, even though we shouldn’t have; we’ve taken those corners a little too fast, or performed a trick on a crowed highway. There is a time and place for those types of stunts, and it’s not where you’re taking risks with the lives of other riders or drivers.


  1. You’re not invincible. Gear up. Long-time riders will tell you that road-rash is no fun, and it can get way worse than that. I am amazed every time I see riders in shorts and a tee shirt, not realizing that at any moment they can take a fall from a simple pebble or piece of gravel in the street. Then there are riders who would never drive without a seat belt but ride without a helmet. A helmet is your best defense against head injuries when, not if, you fall off the bike. Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41-percent for motorcycle passengers.

If you still have to gear up, get it done now, so the rest of the summer is a safe one.

  1. Ride for a Cause. Safety first. I’ve been waiting all winter to ride, but I’m not gunning the engine the first chance I get. I’m going to ride at safe speeds. I’ll be in a DOT-compliant helmet. And you won’t find me drinking and riding, because those two are a bad mix. If you live to ride, like me, you also have to ride to live.

Riders, respect the road and the power of your bike. And drivers, have a little consideration for the riders; put away the distractions and keep your eye out for that rider sharing the road with you.



Nicholas Worrell is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Communications.

Traffic Safety is #NoAprilFools

By Debbie HersmanInterstate 80, seen here in Berkeley, California, is a freeway with many lanes and heavy traffic. Photo: Wikipedia

Practical jokers around the world are rejoicing today–a day dedicated to them!  They’ve been planning for weeks and some even months for ways to fool their family, friends, co-workers, maybe anyone that crosses their path today in the name of fun.  For me, however, April Fool’s Day is a reminder of the more serious type of foolish decisions people make that can lead to criminal behavior with sometimes deadly consequences.

In my years at the Board, I have a met victims of distracted and impaired driving crashes.  I have heard their stories about how some of their happiest days became their worst days.  Graduation days on which loved ones were killed.  Days with friends at an amusement park that ended with many of those friends dying.  The lingering scars-both physical and emotional-could have been prevented had someone not made the choice to use a cell phone while driving or get behind the wheel after drinking. 

April Fool’s pranks are typically harmless and fun, but distracted and impaired driving is not harmless, not fun, and more than foolish.  Every year, tens of thousands of lives are tragically taken or altered forever because drivers failed to consider the consequences of their actions.  When people choose to drive impaired or distracted, that foolishness can become criminal and result in the deaths and injuries of mothers, fathers, children, co-workers, grandparents and friends.  This April Fool’s Day, remember:  don’t be a fool . be safe behind the wheel!

Distraction is in the Head, Not the Hands

MunfordvilleBy Debbie Hersman

In the early morning hours of March 26, 2010, a van carrying 12 people bound for a wedding in Iowa was traveling northbound on I-65 when a tractor-trailer crossed the highway median and collided with it nearly head-on. Ten people in the van and the truck driver were killed, making it the worst crash in Kentucky in more than two decades.

The NTSB found that the truck driver lost control of his vehicle after becoming distracted by the use of his cell phone. While it could not be determined whether the driver was holding his phone or using it in a hands-free mode, numerous studies have shown that the crash risk between hand-held and hands-free conversations is almost identical.

That’s why in 2011, the NTSB recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibit commercial drivers from using a cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle. The FMCSA did take steps to ban texting and the use of handheld devices when driving. However, the same restrictions are not applied to hands-free devices, based on FMCSA’s determination that hands-free operations are not a safety risk.

Studies and accident investigations tell a very different story. Just yesterday, another study on cognitive distraction was released, which found “significant impairments to driving from the diversion of attention.” That research, conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, rated the use of hands-free and hand-held cell phones as almost equal sources of cognitive distraction.

The NTSB saw just that in its investigation of a motorcoach accident when a cognitively distracted driver using a hands-free cell phone collided with the underside of a bridge overpass in Virginia after failing to notice clearly visible low-clearance signs. Not only did he miss the signs, he said he didn’t even see the bridge.

The evidence is clear: Distraction is in the head, not the hands.

Just Drive

By Debbie Hersman

texting driverLast week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued voluntary guidelines to auto manufacturers, saying they should limit the time that drivers take their eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and twelve seconds total. The guidelines also recommend limiting the ability to text, browse the Web, watch video or view social media unless the car is in park.

At the NTSB, our investigations have long highlighted the danger and deadliness of driver distraction. So I commend NHTSA for bringing additional attention to the issue. Now, it is up to the auto manufacturers to get behind these voluntary guidelines.

After completing an investigation of an Aug. 5, 2010, highway crash in Gray Summit, Mo, where a pickup driver, who had been texting, plowed into the back of a tractor trailer and set off a series of collisions that killed two people, the NTSB issued its strongest recommendation yet to end driver distractions from portable electronic devices (PEDs). The NTSB has called on the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of PEDs (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.

This year, eliminating distraction in transportation is one of the ten issues on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation  safety improvements.

Distraction is complicated and we are still learning what the human brain can and cannot handle. And important research continues to come to light; last week, a new study found that voice-to-text systems offer no real safety advantage over manual texting.

There is one startlingly simple safety solution that cuts through the entire debate: Just drive. No text, no call, no post is worth a human life.

Distracted Driving: Awareness and Prevention


By Debbie Hersman

Erica Forney, from Fort Collins, Colo., should be 13-years-old now. She might be wearing braces, playing sports, gossiping with girlfriends and looking forward to and maybe also worrying about going to high school next year.

None of that will happen for Erica. She was killed in November 2008. She was 9 and riding her bike home from school. A driver, looking down at her cell-phone, never saw the child in her path.

Today, Erica is remembered by her family and friends, and also by the month of April, which is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Former Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO) introduced a resolution designating the month and dedicated it to Erica Forney. The House of Representatives passed the resolution 410-2 on March 23, 2010.

This April marks the third year for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is growing in importance. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 70 percent of Americans ages 18 – 64 report talking on their phones while driving in the past 30 days. About 30 percent say they texted while driving.

For years, the NTSB has seen how deadly distraction can be across all modes of transportation, but it’s on our highways where distraction claims the greatest number of lives. After investigating a crash where a pickup driver sent and received 11 texts in the 11 minutes before he ran into a truck triggering collisions that killed two and injured 38, the NTSB called for a nationwide ban on the use of personal electronic devices. This year, we put Eliminate Distraction in Transportation on our Most Wanted List.

Putting attention back in the driver’s seat requires information and outreach, like Distracted Driver Awareness Month. It also requires good laws and strong enforcement. It’s at the state level where crucial traffic safety legislation is enacted, such as the seat-belt laws that have helped save hundreds of thousands of lives. As for distraction laws, ten states and the District of Columbia ban all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving; 39 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers.

Here are two web sites where you check out where your state stands on distraction and safety:

Governors Highway Safety Association

National Safety Council

And, here are two ways to make our roads safer and save lives: Drive safely every trip by putting away your portable electronic devices and get involved.

Stopping the Senseless Tragedies

By Debbie Hersman

Just in the past week, the nation has experienced tragic losses of life on our roadways in a string of crashes involving young people, leaving a total of 15 dead.  These crashes—in Ohio, Illinois, and Texas—have left parents without a son or daughter and siblings without a brother or sister. So many lives senselessly lost.  And a report released last month shows that tragedies involving our teens are increasing.

For the first time in years, the number of 16- and 17-year-old teen driver deaths increased. And in the last decade, more than 58,000 teenagers have died in car crashes. Each year, more than 30,000 people die in car crashes in the United States, and more than 20 percent of annual U.S. highway fatalities involve teen drivers. Preventing these tragedies is a priority at the NTSB.

Our mission is to save lives and prevent injuries. Sadly, in our investigations, we see the same accident circumstances, with the same heartbreaking results, again and again. Motor vehicles are the number one killer of young people. Teen drivers are more likely to have a significant crash in their first year of driving—in fact, four times more likely than an adult or an experienced driver.  The all-too-common cause is poor judgment. Speeding, reckless driving, driving while impaired, and, increasingly, driving while distracted, divert these young drivers from the task at hand—safe, responsible driving.

Decades of crash investigations have informed our opinion that young drivers should learn to drive in a controlled environment, one that gradually introduces them to increased responsibilities.  States should implement comprehensive teen driver safety programs that include learner’s permit and intermediate driver licensing stages, with restrictions on nighttime driving, limits on the number of teen passengers, and bans on the use of portable electronic devices. These ideas aren’t new, but they are common sense and require commitment on the part of not only the driver, but also the parents and the collective community.

Driving is the most dangerous thing we let our children do. These three accidents show that our work isn’t done. Young people need to  understand the great risks and consequences of driving habits, decisions and behaviors. Education, legislation, and enforcement are all necessary ingredients to ensure that we don’t experience another fatal week for teens on our roadways.

Driving Into a Safer Future

Auto ShowBy Debbie Hersman

On Monday, Detroit opened the North American International Auto Show, showcasing new concepts, new technologies and new ideas. During our visit to the auto show, my colleagues, Earl Weener and Mark Rosekind, and I heard firsthand from automakers and suppliers about their efforts to address safety. In particular, we learned more about their investments in two of this year’s Most Wanted List areas: collision avoidance technology and distraction.

They are clearly putting their investments into technology. We saw impressive new concepts for the future of safety, but more importantly we saw safety features becoming standard equipment on many different models. No longer are backup cameras, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems found only on luxury vehicles, they are now widely available across a spectrum of makes and models.

In the future, we will see even more advanced technologies in our cars and trucks, such as collision avoidance with active braking and lane maintaining technology. Every year the technology focused on the outside of the car is helping us become safer. When it comes to distraction, we need to make sure the technology on the inside of the car is focused on making us safer, too.