Category Archives: Drowsy Driving

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.

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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: Wake Up to Drowsy Driving

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

Drowsy driving isn’t just a teen driver problem—it’s an every driver problem. However, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that young drivers are at the greatest risk of being involved in a fatal drowsy driving crash.

From early sports practices and school start times to the demands of classwork, homework, and after-school activities, school days leave little time for sleep. It’s no surprise teens are skipping sleep to keep up—how else would they have time to balance extracurriculars, schoolwork, classroom hours, and socializing?

Getting behind the wheel a bit drowsy is probably part of your child’s daily routine, and you’ve likely accepted it as an occupational hazard of the ever-increasing to-do list your high schooler faces. What you may not know is that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as alcohol‑impaired driving. For example, on March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip to South Padre Island, Texas. About 1:57 pm, the driver crossed the center median, lost control of the car, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a tractor trailer.

The driver was seriously injured and her three passengers died. In the 24 hours before the crash, the driver had a window of only about 5 hours to sleep. The crash also happened at a time of day when most people commonly experience a dip in alertness and performance; in fact, the three passengers in the car were all either asleep or dozing at the time of the crash. We determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

Do your best to ensure that your teen gets the right amount of sleep each night. For example, discourage your teen from using a cell phone late at night or during the night; these inhibit falling asleep and affect sleep quality. Also, limit driving time, especially between the hours of midnight and 5 am, when the body is accustomed to sleeping—this is the period of time in which the greatest number of drowsy driving crashes occur. For more ideas on ensuring your teen gets the right amount of sleep to stay alert behind the wheel, see our safety alert, Drowsy Driving Among Young Drivers.

As with all road safety lessons, it’s beneficial to lead by example and avoid driving while you’re tired. However, make sure your teen understands that adults generally need less sleep than teenagers, who are still growing and developing. While you may feel rested after 7 hours of sleep, teens need between 8 and 10 hours each night to avoid suffering the effects of fatigue. Keep in mind that your teen may have no idea how fatigued he or she is. The statement, “I only slept 4 hours last night, but I feel fine to drive,” should sound like a warning siren, not a reassurance. We are all notoriously bad judges of our own fatigue.

Work with your teens to help them manage their time so they’re getting the sleep they need. During the summer, teens’ sleep schedules often become irregular, so as they begin to plan their upcoming school schedules and enjoy their final weeks of summer vacation, teens should make sure sleep and relaxation find a prominent place on their priority list. Make sure your children know it’s not only okay, but also biologically necessary to sleep. And be aware that it’s not only acute sleep loss but also chronic sleep debt that can precede a drowsy driving crash. Losing a little sleep every night for a long time is dangerous for all drivers, but in young drivers, “minor” sleep losses over multiple nights can add up when combined with their bodies’ greater need for sleep.

Teen drivers have a lot on their plates: social life, after-school work and activities, the school day itself, homework . . . the list goes on. Older teens preparing for college may also be consumed by scholarship and college applications and test preparation, and overwhelmed by academic pressure. By encouraging youth to stay out of sleep debt and away from acute sleep deprivation, we can guarantee safer and more alert young drivers behind the wheel.

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.

 

Understanding the Dangers: Motorcycle Safety Advocacy

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

MAMMay is Motorcycle Safety Awareness month and, for those of us who don’t have the privilege of riding year-round, the season is upon us. You may have heard that new data from the state highway safety offices show that motorcyclist fatalities were down 5.6% in 2017—a difference of 296 lives—which the Governors Highway Safety Association estimates means about 4,990 people were killed on motorcycles last year.

All of us in roadway safety have a common mission and goal: To reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the roads. Motorcycles are disproportionately represented in fatality statistics, and the NTSB has long been concerned with motorcycle safety.

In 2007, we issued Safety Recommendation H-07-39, calling on states and territories to require that all riders wear an FMVSS 218-compliant helmet while on a motorcycle. Although wearing a helmet is a rider’s best protection in the event of a crash, currently only 16 states have motorcycle helmet laws. Several others that once had helmet laws have repealed them.

Repealing a helmet law is like taking the seat belts back out of cars and selling them at roadside stands to those drivers who want one. It’s making the road user’s best protection optional. Riders are 29 times more likely than car occupants to die in a crash; they should be required to use the best possible protection.

There are many other instances where we’ve emphasized the importance of motorcycle safety.

We continue to advocate for motorcycle safety by testifying before state legislators, educating the public, and working with advocacy groups to raise awareness about the issue. And we’ll continue to do so until we reach zero rider fatalities.

I’ve heard people say that a helmet law or a seat belt law takes away their freedom. ButMotorcycle Image I’ve also heard people say a helmet or a seat belt saved their life. So, if you’re a cager, please buckle up, every seat, every trip; or, if you’re a rider, put on that FMVSS-218­–compliant helmet, because I’ve seen what people look like after a crash when they haven’t made that choice and I don’t want that to happen to you.

Personally, I like having a reminder written into the law (and backed up by a hefty penalty), because when the sun is shining, and the weather is fine, sometimes I want to feel as free as possible. But the laws of physics are the same on all days, and they can’t be repealed. I’m thankful for helmet laws, just like seat belt laws; I’m glad they’re there, helping shape my habits. Helmet laws reinforce lifesaving habits that all riders benefit from.

During this Motorcycle Safety Awareness month and Memorial Day weekend, many messages deserve to be spread—Ride your own ride. Don’t ride impaired or fatigued. Share the road. But, when all else fails, the one message you don’t want to miss is “wear a helmet,” whether the law in your state requires it or not.

How Employers Can Make Our Roads Safer

By Member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH 

“Safety should not be a competitive advantage.”

That’s the message I keep in mind every time I visit groups that represent employers, like the Network of Employers for Transportation Safety (NETS) which focuses on highway safety, or when I meet with the executives at individual companies, who may use many different modes of transportation for their businesses.

The NTSB is a unique federal agency because we are completely independent. Our agency has one simple but noble purpose: to prevent transportation-related deaths and injuries. We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to investigate accidents, assist victims’ families, develop factual records, and recommend changes to make transportation safer. Unlike many government agencies, the NTSB has no regulatory authority, and we have no financial incentives to promote our safety recommendations. Our daily decision-making is guided by our values of integrity, transparency, independence, and excellence. We undertake investigations and make recommendations for the sole purpose of preventing future transportation disasters.

CMVSInfographicEmployers are uniquely positioned to meaningfully advance the recommendations that we make at the NTSB.  Over the years, we’ve issued over 14,000 safety recommendations to over 2,300 recipients, many of which are employers or groups that represent them. We know that if employers voluntarily implement our recommendations, our transportation system will be much safer. We’ve issued business-relevant recommendations related to installing recorder technology, developing fatigue management plans, requiring medical fitness, and many more—most of which are on our Most Wanted List (MWL).

Employers have a responsibility to address transportation safety. Nowhere is this more evident than for employers with vehicle fleets.  Many employers develop policies and procedures to keep their staff safe on the roads because they know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among workers in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2003–2015, there were more than 23,000 work-related motor vehicle deaths in the United States. The issues on our MWL, if addressed by employers, can help reduce this unfortunate statistic.

One way employers have helped advance safety—and can continue to do so—is by promoting evidence-based interventions like lowering the illegal BAC (blood alcohol concentration) to .05 (g/dL) or lower and implementing primary seat belt laws in the communities they serve. More than 10,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes every year. We’ve recently received attention because of our efforts to end impaired driving and our recommendation to change BAC laws from .08 to .05 BAC or lower. Many peer-reviewed studies have shown that such a law would prevent impaired‑driving crashes. While commercial drivers already are required to comply with a .04 BAC limit, employers can be an important influence in the lives of their employees, as well as in the communities in which they operate, by educating their employees and spreading the word about the effectiveness of a .05 BAC law.

Safety-conscious employers were some of the first and most vocal supporters of preventing distracted driving, long before distraction was a popular topic. Good companies didn’t just talk about distracted driving, they took action—as I’ve seen firsthand—to educate their employees and to change polices to prevent distracted driving.

American companies with large fleets also have been some of the most vocal supporters of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. They have worked hard to support international road safety, and have contributed to nontraditional traffic safety efforts, like helmet campaigns and infrastructure programs that improve the road environment, especially around schools.

Employers should also consider bringing vehicles with collision avoidance technology into their company fleets. Systems such as collision warning and automatic emergency braking help keep drivers safe by mitigating or even preventing crashes. Employers could install onboard vehicle monitoring systems and recording devices, such as cameras, to help monitor driving activity and unsafe practices. These technologies require an investment, but that investment will go a long way toward reducing insurance and workers’ compensation costs—and ultimately toward preventing injuries and saving lives.

There are many employers already considering and incorporating these technologies to improve safety; however, the more who join these industry leaders, the more lives will be saved. We can’t overstate the influence employers have, not just on their employees, but on their employees’ families and on their entire communities. Employer support of safety initiatives can be far-reaching. Companies that make safety a priority tend to have employees who make safety a priority. What employees learn about safety—whether related to distracted, impaired, or fatigued driving, or the value of collision avoidance technologies in vehicles—goes home to their families and spreads beyond to the entire community. Employers already have made a positive difference in many areas of traffic safety and employers will be vital to the effort to achieve zero deaths on our roads.

 

For more information on motor vehicle safety at work, visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/motorvehicle/resources/crashdata/facts.html

 

 

 

Why Teen Driver Safety Week Should be Every Week

By: Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Driving is a privilege that gives us the freedom to go where we want, when we want, with whom we want. The benefits of driving are especially attractive to teenagers. Driving is a milestone for teens, but with great power and freedom comes great responsibility.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers; more teens die in crashes than from drug/alcohol abuse, violence, or disease. In 2016, more than 3,600 teenagers died on our highways, a 4 percent increase from 2015. To address these tragic statistics, the third week of October was designated by Congress as National Teen Driver Safety Week. During this week, advocates, government agencies, communities, and educators aim to promote teen driver safety and eliminate a preventable tragic problem. Especially during this week, we all need to come together to keep simple mistakes from impacting the future of our country.

Today, the NTSB joined the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and students from Maryland and Virginia high schools for NOYS’ Youth Interactive Traffic Safety Lab. The event provided hands-on activities for students to learn about a variety of driving safety issues—from auto maintenance and work zone navigation to distracted and impaired driving. Traffic safety experts and community leaders spoke with students about what it means to be a “responsible” driver and the very real consequences of complacency. In a pre-event press conference, NTSB’s Kris Poland, PhD; Maryland’s First Lady Yumi Hogan; Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer; and NOYS Interim Executive Director April Rai reminded teens that, while motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, these crashes are preventable. One key message to teens: you have the power to change this reality.

Students also had the opportunity to talk with NTSB investigators and safety advocates to learn about our crash investigations and the safety recommendations we’ve made to improve safety for all road users—especially our recommendations for preventing teen driving crashes and their resulting injuries and deaths.

While events like the NOYS Safety Lab helps to arm students with some of the tools needed to make the right choice, we need the help of parents, other influencing adults, school officials, local government, and community leaders to help make the biggest impact. Parents, in particular, play a critical role. They should have a meaningful discussion with their new driver about the key components of driving and the thinking behind certain driving decisions. Parents must take time to outline the risks associated with driving, such as distractions, fatigue (due either from lack of sleep or fatiguing medications), other impairments, and speeding. Sometimes, making safety a priority requires establishing new priorities in the household and a shift in “family culture.” The best way to promote safety is to practice safety and treat it seriously through education, discussion, and role modeling.

 At the NTSB, we strive every day to advocate safety in the many modes of transportation. Our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements is designed to address our most critical safety issues. We are successful when people engage, learn strategies to improve the lives of themselves and those around them, and execute these strategies to save lives and prevent injuries. I urge you to become an advocate—not only this week, but every week—for driving safely.

 

If you have any questions about teen driving or NTSB advocacy activities in this area, email SafetyAdvocacy@NTSB.gov. We also encourage you to follow us on Twitter @NTSB and Facebook and Instagram @NTSBgov.