Category Archives: Distraction

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?

 

 

 

Add a Day of Remembrance for a Balanced Holiday Season

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Every year, I hear that the holiday season has gotten too long—that holiday music, commercials, and sales begin too early. Traditionally, the season starts on Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November.

 

I think the season should actually start even earlier this year—on the third Sunday in November, World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Why? Because to truly give thanks for what we have, we have to imagine losing it. Around the world, about 1.3 million people lose their lives in automobile crashes every year; 20 to 50 million more survive a crash with injuries, many of which are life-altering. Here in the United States, annual traffic deaths number around 37,000—more than 100 a day—and a motor vehicle crash is the single most likely way for a teen to die.

WDR-Logo-FB

If you’ve lost somebody to a crash, you probably need no special reminder. Your loved one will be missed at the holiday dinner table, on the way to the home of a friend or out-of-town relative, and throughout the holidays. But for the rest of us, the Day of Remembrance is a time to think of those needlessly lost on our roads.

I encourage us all to go beyond remembering those lost in highway crashes, to thinking of victims of transportation accidents in all modes who won’t be joining family and friends this holiday season. Before we give thanks next Thursday, let’s take a moment to remember those who have been lost, and then take steps to make our own holiday travel safer.

By Car

Fatigue, impairment by alcohol and other drugs, and distraction continue to play major roles in highway crashes. Here’s what you can do to keep yourself and those around you safe on the road.

  • If your holiday celebrations involve alcohol, ask a friend or family member to be your designated driver, or call a taxi or ridesharing service.
  • In a crash, seat belts (and proper child restraints) are your best protection. Always make sure that you and all of your passengers are buckled up or buckled in!
  • Make sure to use the right restraint for child passengers, and be sure it’s installed correctly. If you have doubts, ask a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • Make sure you’re well rested! A fatigued driver is just as dangerous as one impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
  • Avoid distractions. In this video, survivor-advocates share their stories of personal loss—and the changes they’re working for now.
  • Don’t take or make calls while driving, even using a hands-free device. Set your navigation system before you start driving. If you’re traveling with others, ask them to navigate.

By Bus or Train

We’ve made recommendations to regulators and industry to improve passenger rail and motorcoach operations and vehicle crashworthiness, but travelers should know what to do in an emergency.

  • Pay attention to safety briefings and know where the nearest emergency exit is. If it’s a window or roof hatch, make sure you know how to use it.
  • If you’re unsure of where the exits are or how to use them, or if you didn’t receive a safety briefing, ask your driver or train conductor to brief you.
  • Always use restraints when they’re available!

By Air or Sea

Airline and water travel have become incredibly safe, but these tips can help keep you and your loved ones safe in an emergency.

  • When flying, make sure that you and your traveling companions have your own seats—even children under age 2.
  • Don’t forget your child’s car seat. The label will usually tell you whether your child car seat is certified for airplane use; the owner’s manual always has this information.
  • If you don’t know the rules for using a child’s car seat on your flight, call the airline and ask what you need to know.
  • Pay close attention to the safety briefing! Airline and marine accidents have become very rare, but you and your family can be safer by being prepared.
  • Whether you’re on an airplane or a boat, know where to find the nearest flotation device.

This holiday season, no matter how you plan to get where you’re going, remember that, for many, this time of year is a time of loss. Honor survivors and remember traffic crash victims by doing your best to make sure you—and those around you—make only happy memories on your holiday travels.

Back-to-School Safety Series: Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel, Minds on What Matters

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

 Parents and teens, please read this blog together (not while you’re driving!).

Driving fast with a sport carWhen you hear “distracted driving,” you probably immediately think of the endless “don’t text and drive” campaigns across the nation each year. This is not without good reason—texting and driving is certainly one of the deadliest forms of distraction. Reading or responding to a text takes your eyes from the road for 5 seconds. If you’re traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to drive the entire length of a football field.

Today’s teens have grown up with near-constant access to social media. Some teens text and drive, even though they acknowledge it’s dangerous. According to a recent AAA poll, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway. Modern teens are often inseparable from their phones. It’s hard to think of a scenario in which a teen isn’t pulling out a device to text, take a selfie, or access social media. Most of the time, this is a minor annoyance to those competing for a teen’s attention, but this habit playing out behind the wheel could kill someone.

Distracted driving can be as deadly as driving impaired—the law supports this fact. New laws are being implemented across the nation to curb distracted driving; for example, an Oregon law that went into effect July 1st punishes distracted drivers with consequences akin to those incurred by DUI offenders. And, like many of the other topics we’ve covered in our Back-to-School Safety Series—impairment, drowsy driving, and seat belts—“Eliminate Distractions” is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

But what many fail to realize is that distracted driving is more harmful for teens than DUI—teens who text and drive are involved in 6 times more car accidents than their drunk‑driving counterparts, making it statistically even more dangerous to drive distracted than to drink and drive (and that’s saying something, considering the common knowledge that drinking and driving is an often fatal, horrible idea). Distracted driving kills more teens than drunk driving. A 20-year-old’s reaction time while talking on a cell phone is equal to the reaction time of 70-year-old. Texting while driving increases crash risk 23 times over for drivers of all ages. Texting while driving now accounts for 1.6 million crashes a year—that’s 25% of all car crashes. It’s a bigger issue than a few typed words on a little cell phone screen would seem.

As we mentioned in our introductory blog, if children grow up watching their parents drive distracted without major incident, they’ll see the danger as slight and the behavior as acceptable. But what your children don’t know is that whether it’s the first time or the fiftieth, at any moment the statistics can catch up to you. The good news is that 62 percent of teens say they don’t text and drive when their parents remind them not to—so, starting now, remind your kids about the dangers of distracted driving, and then practice what you preach.

Take a moment now and talk about it. Make a family rule on distraction and hold each other accountable.

Ten Years Later: Remembering Chatsworth With Action

By  Member Jennifer Homendy

Ten years ago today, September 12, 2008, a Metrolink commuter train filled with passengers in Chatsworth, California, collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train. The collision took the lives of 25 people and injured 102 others. The cause: A texting engineer. A human operator making a human error.

On this 10th anniversary, we offer our condolences to all those who lost loved ones or were injured in the Chatsworth tragedy.

 

Photo of the Collision of Metrolink Train 111 With
Union Pacific

Although I was not a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board at that time, I was working tirelessly as the Staff Director of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials in the U.S. House of Representatives to mandate implementation of technology, called positive train control (PTC), which could have prevented the Chatsworth accident from occurring.

PTC is designed to automatically stop a train when a human operator fails to. Human error is the leading cause of all train accidents. Frustratingly, the NTSB has been recommending that railroads implement PTC to address human error-caused accidents for nearly 50 years.

In the wake of the Chatsworth collision and a number of others investigated by the NTSB, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which required freight, intercity passenger, and commuter railroads to implement PTC by the end of 2015. As the deadline approached, Congress extended it to 2018, with the possibility of further extensions until 2020. Now, as the new deadline approaches, PTC is still not fully implemented.

We know from railroad reports to the Federal Railroad Administration, the agency charged with regulating the railroads, that PTC is operational on only a small fraction of the railroad network.

Accidents, however, continue to occur. Since 2008, the NTSB has investigated 22 accidents that could have been prevented by PTC. Together, these accidents have resulted in 29 deaths, more than 500 injuries, and more than $190 million in property damage.

Tomorrow, Chairman Sumwalt will testify on Capitol Hill regarding the need to finish the job without further delay. Regrettably, nothing that the NTSB does can turn back the clock and change a tragic outcome; we can only urge that others be spared such an outcome in the future.

As the newest Member of the NTSB, I will continue to advocate for full implementation of PTC and for the safety recommendations we made as a result of the Chatsworth crash so that a similar tragedy is prevented in the future.

In the meantime, there is something you can do as we remember Chatsworth: eliminate distractions while operating a vehicle. Distraction continues to play a significant role in accidents.

Distracted driving kills thousands and injures hundreds of thousands every year. On the railroads, PTC is an effective backstop in case an operator is distracted, fatigued, impaired, or otherwise unable to take the right action. But operators must still adhere to strict procedures to minimize the chance of an accident.

On the highways, collision avoidance systems—forward collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking—are beginning to play a similar role to PTC. We think that these systems should be on every car, and we are working toward that outcome. But even without a collision avoidance system, you can take control by doing the right thing. Don’t send a text, make a call, or update your social media while driving. Strict laws aimed at preventing the use of portable electronic devices while driving and high-visibility enforcement can help, but ultimately, it’s up to each driver to drive attentively.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Chatsworth collision, we still have a long way to go to ensure the same kind of accident doesn’t happen again. But there are things we can do. We can insist railroads complete PTC implementation on all their tracks. We can choose vehicles with collision avoidance systems, and we can refuse to drive distracted.

Fatal collisions don’t end on impact; they echo through communities for years after the moment of a crash. But there can be hope as well as mourning in the echoes—hope for change that will prevent future tragedies. It will take all of us in transportation—professionals and the general public—to ensure the lessons learned from the Chatsworth tragedy result in that change.

 

Back-to-School Safety Series: A Child’s Best Teacher

By Paul Sledzik, Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

Labor Day marks the end of the 100 Deadliest Days of summer. Like the summer heat, the frequency of traffic crashes involving teens will decline. Although the number of people killed in crashes involving teens spikes an estimated 14% from Memorial Day to Labor Day, that sobering statistic shouldn’t overshadow the fact that traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for all teens, all year long.

Whether it’s July or February, pervasive issues like fatigue and distraction compromise the safety of not just our roads but of our sidewalks, as well. As you prepare to send your children back to school, make sure the first lesson they get is a transportation safety conversation with you. And starting now, review what you show your children every day, by your own actions.

Children going back to school will undoubtedly receive some transportation safety tips during their school hours. Younger kids will be told to look both ways before crossing the street and, before they’ve ever touched a steering wheel, teens will be taught that drunk driving kills. Students may spin around with their heads on baseball bats, then try to walk a straight line in health class to demonstrate the dangers of being impaired. They might see videos of families who describe the tremendous pain that follows the loss of a loved one in a preventable traffic crash.

The bulk of your children’s transportation safety training, however, will fall to parents and role models outside the classroom; those who can model real-world examples of safe behavior. Unfortunately, many adults fail to consider the impact their own behavior has on the children around them. Children will adopt both the safe and the unsafe behaviors their parents and other adults model.

If your children grow up watching you drive distracted without major incident, they’ll see this as an acceptable, safe way to behave. If they see you ignore a crosswalk and instead cross in the middle of the street, why wouldn’t they cut the same corners? The connection between your behavior and your children’s starts the moment you secure them in a car seat and continues until (and beyond) the day they’re the ones buckling up behind the wheel. Fifteen minutes of warnings in a driver’s ed class and a rushed “Look both ways!” cannot counteract 15 or 16 years of watching and internalizing the silent message of a safety practice ignored. What you do is at least as important as what you say. Children’s ability to spot hypocrisy is innate; they’ll discount any message that the messenger themselves doesn’t practice.

So, aside from modeling safe behaviors, how can you, as a parent or a role model, help the children in your life practice transportation safety? This blog is the first in our Back-to-School Safety series, which is intended to help you guide your loved ones toward safe transportation practices as they commute to and from school. This month, we’ll provide resources to help parents, role models, and children spot and overcome the challenges of a safe commute, whether they’re passengers, pedestrians, or drivers.

For now, take the initiative to buckle up, put your phone away, obey the speed limit, and use crosswalks, and stay tuned to the next several blogs to learn how to make children safer as they head back to school.

 

The #InMyFeelings Challenge: Don’t Drive Distracted

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Here’s a reminder we thought we’d never have to give: Don’t jump out of a moving vehicle to dance in the street.

Recently, the #InMyFeelings challenge introduced a new safety challenge to road users. It began with a fan dancing to the Drake song “In My Feelings” and posting a video of his moves. Then, fans began hopping out of cars as they rolled along in neutral to dance to the lyrics “Keke, do you love me? Are you riding?” Often the driver is the one doing the recording. Sometimes the driver was even the one who got out and danced.

Believe it or not, the NTSB was ready for the #InMyFeelings challenge. Sort of.

NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements 2017-2018

Driver distraction has been a target of our Most Wanted List (MWL) for years, and just taking a video while driving invites tragedy. Thousands die, and hundreds of thousands are injured in distraction-related crashes every year. This specific trend is too recent—and, with any luck, will be too short-lived—for us to learn something new by investigating any crashes, injuries, or fatalities it may cause. However, the unnecessary risks inherent in the challenge should not simply be overlooked.

Driver distraction features prominently in this viral challenge, but the more obvious risk is the poor decision to hop out of a moving vehicle to dance. Although “Bad Decision Making” is not on our MWL, we have seen a variety of crashes attributable to making poor choices. We have also studied the particular challenges faced by teen drivers, and we have long focused on graduated driver licensing laws in part to gradually introduce young and novice drivers to the roadway environment. Now, it appears that certain drivers and passengers are intent on being introduced to that environment in a more literal way.

NTSB investigators see needless suffering in crashes that are caused by everything from fatigue to alcohol and other drug impairment, from mechanical failures to poorly maintained road markings and signs. Although we can’t undo a roadway tragedy for the victims, we can improve safety for the world that they far too often leave behind. In addition to our rigorous investigations and carefully considered recommendations, we also have to look at potential precursors to crashes, like a viral dance challenge, to try to stop tragedies before they occur.

My division, Safety Advocacy, educates teens on safety risks they may not have knownTeen Driver Advocacy Compilation about or understood as dangerous. We are passionate about driver safety because we know the facts: Motor vehicle crashes take more than 37,000 American lives each year. Almost all roadway deaths are preventable, but sometimes the paths to prevention are complex, requiring advancements in law enforcement, technology, or the roadway environment. Preventing death or injury from #doingtheShiggy is comparatively simple: Don’t jump out of a moving car for a meme. That’s it. It’s foolish, it puts other road users at risk, and, it’s an excellent way to suffer road rash, legal penalties, or worse. By posting such a video, you’re providing evidence not just of your dance moves, but of any laws you may be breaking. In a recent roundtable on distracted driving, we heard survivor advocates’ ideas about getting tougher on drivers using their phones (like the driver-cameraperson in this challenge). Part of getting tougher includes increasing enforcement of distracted driving laws. If your local law enforcement agency is among the many cracking down on distracted drivers, the last thing you want to do is post evidence of you and your friends breaking the law.

Avoid becoming—or causing—an #InMyFeelings fatality. All you have to do is not jump out of a moving vehicle. Crashes happen fast, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Driving distracted is dangerous and can be deadly. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life. No dance is either. In my feelings, that’s a pretty simple ask.