Category Archives: Distraction

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.

Roundtable Discussion About Loss of Control in Flight Yields Some Important Ideas

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

On April 23, I had the privilege of moderating an important roundtable discussion on preventing loss of control (LOC) in flight in general aviation (GA), the leading factor of general aviation accidents and an issue on our Most Wanted List. LOC involves the unintended departure from flight and can be caused by several factors, including distraction, complacency, weather, or poor energy management.

IMG_8676 (1) Full Group
NTSB Chairman Sumwalt and Member Weener with LOC roundtable participants

 

I can say unequivocally that the NTSB LOC roundtable event—held in our Board Room and Conference Center at our Washington, DC, headquarters and webcast live—was a resounding success. We achieved what we aimed to do: bring together leading experts in government, industry, and academia to identify training and cockpit technology solutions that could make a difference, as well as dig into the challenges of implementing these solutions.

And I was thrilled to hear that about 1,000 pilots and GA enthusiasts watched our discussion, with many receiving FAA WINGS credit.

At our event, we saw an honest, open sharing of ideas among GA safety experts, as well as a willingness to collaborate to address and overcome the challenges associated with this problem, which is the cause of nearly 40 percent of all fixed-wing general aviation crashes. The 18 industry and government participants included a NASA astronaut, a world-famous aerobatics champion and trainer, GA associations, tech companies, the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as our own investigators and Board Member Earl Weener. I was also thrilled to welcome to our roundtable two bright young minds, Thomas Baron and Justin Zhou—high school students from Virginia. Baron and Zhou (Remora Systems) won the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Founder’s Innovation Prize for a product they developed for pilots to help avoid LOC. Their fresh, Generation Z perspectives on this issue enhanced our discussions.

The NTSB’s Director of the Office of Aviation Safety John DeLisi kicked off our discussion with these experts by reminding us that more than 1,500 people have died in the last 10 years due to loss of control and that “we are here to save lives.”

 

Our roundtable experts—all leaders in their organizations—discussed both the challenges and solutions to reducing LOC accidents, especially in the area of training and technology. I will recap just some of their key insights:

 On Training . . .

  • Address pilot weaknesses and skills requirements; pilots should always continue to improve their skills.
  • Reward pilots for additional training taken and ratings achieved, and incentivize new instructors to make sure pilots are taught correctly.
  • Teach students the importance of maintaining situational awareness during their initial training. The first 10 hours that new pilots spend with instructors can be some of the most important training time.
  • Recognize that technology is not a substitute for basic stick skills, nor should it compensate for poor training.
  • Incorporate more realistic scenarios into flight training regarding stalls. Ensure pilots have the confidence to do stall recovery.
  • Train for the startle factor so it doesn’t happen at low altitudes. The stall warning might be too late to recover.

 On Technology . . .

  • Find a responsible role for cockpit technology; it can make a big impact on safety.
  • Continue to responsibly innovate.
  • Reduce angle of attack (AOA); this is the key to recovery. AOA indicators can help.
  • Continue to quickly certify new technologies in a variety of plane types.

Other ideas . . .

  • Use data to improve GA safety; data monitoring programs can help us standardize safety.
  • Establish mechanisms where industry and government can continue to collaborate to collectively find solutions.
  • Recognize that regulation and mandates aren’t always the answer; education and outreach may be a better approach.
  • Utilize pilot social networks and type clubs to learn and grow.
  • Get involved in working groups; study best practices and incorporate outcomes.
  • Be aware of the limits of the airplane; pilots should not fear the capabilities of their planes.
  • Change the way we do outreach. Unifying around a single topic like LOC helps.

The statistics are trending in a good direction, thanks to the FAA’s and industry’s efforts to address LOC. However, from NTSB accident investigations, we know that much more can—and should—be done to accelerate the improvements in training and technology, because one death for what is largely a preventable problem is one too many.

For more information on the LOC roundtable, including the topics covered, participant’s list, and our LOC resources, see our events page.

 

Global Perspectives on Youth Traffic Safety

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, a time where communities come together to bring more awareness to safety issues impacting teens on the road. GYTSM, which began as National Youth Traffic Safety Month, was expanded to support the United Nations’ 2007 Global Road Safety Week, because teen driving crashes are a worldwide safety problem requiring global solutions.

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to London to address an audience concerned about young driver safety. Although the United Kingdom has far fewer road deaths per capita than the United States, the country loses more teen drivers than drivers in any other age group each year.

My hosts were interested in hearing the perspective of a US safety advocate as they consider implementing a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system. Just as the United Kingdom has much to teach us on many roadway safety topics, we have much to share about GDLs and factors that combine with them to make them even more effective. For example, in 1993, the NTSB recommended keeping young drivers off the road at certain times, particularly from midnight to 5 a.m. In 2002, we recommended that:

  • a supervising adult driver be 21 or older;
  • states that did not already have a three-stage graduated licensing system implement one; and
  • states with a GDL program prohibit young drivers from carrying more than one teen passenger without adult supervision.

And it wasn’t just the NTSB that was looking at GDL systems and their effect on teen drivers. By 2011, researchers associated with the National Institutes of Health found that GDL laws reduce crashes among drivers 16 and 17 years old by 8 to 14 percent. They also found GDL laws to be most effective in combination with at least five of these seven factors:

  1. A minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit
  2. A mandatory waiting period of at least 6 months before a driver with a learner’s permit can apply for a provisional license
  3. A requirement for 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving
  4. A minimum age of 17 for a provisional license
  5. Restrictions on driving at night
  6. A limit on the number of teenage passengers allowed in a car
  7. A minimum age of 18 for a full license

US states are often called “laboratories of policy.” This is a grim prospect when it comes to setting a single, high safety standard, but, as I told my hosts in London, it also allows researchers to review what works best and where we can still improve. Opportunities to share lessons learned across national borders are another important tool in combatting roadway deaths and injuries.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.25 million people die each year around the world in traffic crashes. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among people age 15 and 24 years old. In the fight against roadway deaths and injuries, our youngest and most vulnerable drivers are counting on us to help them emerge victorious, not only during Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, but every day. Until roadways around the world are safe for them, our work will continue.

My British counterparts are committed to winning this war with us. And we agree that, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, we shall never surrender.

 

 

Focus on Distracted Driving

By Chairman Robert Sumwalt

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a time set aside to raise awareness about the dangers surrounding distracted driving. We continue to see far too many crashes in all transportation modes involving cognitive, visual, and manual distraction. Almost every driver has a portable electronic device, and if those devices are used while a person is driving, they pose a significant risk—not only to that driver, but to the public, as well.

Although distraction has always had the potential to interfere with vehicle operation, new technologies have made it easier to become distracted, and therefore easier to become a risk to ourselves or others. William James wrote in 1892 that “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” Today, constant connectivity has become a mass of habits for many. But when it comes to driving, our eyes, minds, and hands should be on the driving task.

Distraction causes thousands of lives to be lost every year on our roads and it contributes to hundreds of thousands of injuries. We began calling for a ban on driver use of portable electronic devices in 2011. See the links below for some of the other steps we’ve taken to raise awareness about distracted driving and facilitate solutions.


Videos

Events

Roundtable: Act to End Deadly Distractions

Roundtable: Disconnect from Deadly Distractions

Forum: Attentive Driving: Countermeasures to Distraction

Blogs

Act to End Distracted Driving: One Life at a Time

Act to End Deadly Distractions

Today’s Actions, Tomorrow’s Consequences

Addressing Dangers on the Roads: This is no April Fools!

Protect Your Business by Protecting Your Employees

Cognitive Distraction and the Hands-Free Device Myth

Deadly Addictions


The ability to multitask is a myth. Humans cannot operate a vehicle while doing other things without risking the safety of themselves and those around them. Hands-free is not risk free—research shows a driver’s level of cognitive distraction is about equal for hands-free or hand-held communication.

Changing attitudes and behavior takes a sustained awareness effort, better laws, and high‑visibility enforcement of those laws. This combined approach has resulted in widespread seat belt use and gains against drunk driving. We’ve begun to make an impact on the distracted driving habit using these techniques, and you can do your part just by disconnecting for the drive.