Sleepiness while driving can have serious consequences. The NTSB has investigated numerous crashes in which driver drowsiness played a role. Today marks the first anniversary of one of those crashes.
On March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip to South Padre Island, Texas. At about 1:57 pm, the driver lost control of the car, crossed the center median, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a truck-tractor semitrailer. The driver was seriously injured and her three friends died. The Board determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.
NTSB investigators learned that, in the 24 hours before the crash, the driver had very little opportunity for sleep—only about 5 hours on the morning of the crash.
In a recent AAA Foundation study, many drivers who understood the risks of drowsy driving admitted they had, nonetheless, driven while fatigued. Specifically, the AAA survey found that 96 percent of drivers see drowsy driving as a serious threat and a completely unacceptable behavior; however, among that same group, 3 in 10 admitted to driving when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
Lack of sleep slows reaction time and makes us more susceptible to forgetting or overlooking important tasks. A few seconds is all it takes to drift out of the lane or to miss a stopped vehicle ahead.
Although it’s not always possible to predict when you will become drowsy behind the wheel, there are several steps you can take to help avoid this risk. Today, to call attention to the risk posed by driving drowsy, the NTSB is releasing a new Safety Alert, Drowsy Driving Among Young Drivers.
Jana Price, PhD, is a Senior Human Performance Investigator in NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety.
“Every 33 seconds a child is involved in a crash.” “6 out of 10 car seats are installed improperly.”
For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is the proper use of age-appropriate child safety seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there—and maybe not the same technical background or experience—how do you know if you’re making the right decisions for your children?
Today, I wanted to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers.
Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?
A. Until they properly fit an adult seat belt, they should always ride in the back seat, and they should always use the right child safety seat or booster seat! But different-size children need to be protected differently – read on.
Q. Which child car seat is the safest?
A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards. But car seat designs vary. That’s why it is critical that you look for a seat that is recommended for your child’s height and weight.
Q. So just buy the right car seat?
A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step. But, it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.
Q. How do I install and use a child safety seat?
A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. It’s important to read both, as they provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.
Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?
A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. Even for children older than age 2, it’s recommended that they remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.
Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?
A. Not until the adult seat belt fits them properly – usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone.
Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits them properly?
A.seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face.
Q. What are the common mistakes to look out for in using the car seat?
A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:
using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than one inch at the belt path;
allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.
To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat.
Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined); properly use the internal harness, chest-clip and buckle; and determine how best they should fit to protect your child.
Q. Can I get hands-on help?
A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week. Child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals will host events nationwide, where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, installed and being used properly. (Such help is also available year-round.)
Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. As a parent and a technician myself, I encourage you to find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.
Saturday, September 24, is National Seat Check Saturday. To find an event in your community, visit www.safercar.gov.
Stephanie Shaw is a NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.
I had the privilege of moderating a day-long NTSB roundtable pertaining torail tank car safety on July 13, 2016, in which more than two dozen rail-car manufacturers and owners, union representatives, and transportation safety associations discussed the rail industry’s progress and challenges on implementing new federal safety standards for tank cars that carry flammable liquids. The event provided rail industry leaders an open forum to discuss the logistics of replacing the existing tank car fleet in flammable liquid service to meet new federally imposed deadlines, and to identify ways in which government and industry can overcome roadblocks they face to meeting those mandates.
The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) is requiring shippers to address the oldest, higher risk tank cars first: DOT-111 tank cars – which historically have been the most common type of cars to carry crude oil and ethanol. Shippers using legacy DOT-111 tank cars to haul crude oil must decide to either retire or retrofit them to new standards by March 2018, at the latest. For the DOT-111 tank cars that haul ethanol, shippers have until May 2023.
The deadlines set by federal officials for compliance are more relaxed for newer, modified version of these tank cars, called CPC-1232s. Deadlines to get CPC-1232s out of service for shipping crude oil and ethanol (or retrofitted to meet DOT-117 standards) extend as far into the future as May 2025. For shipping other Class 3 flammable liquids, shippers have until May 2029.
DOT-117 tank cars are a safer means of transporting flammable liquids because these tank cars are less likely experience a puncture (and therefore, a product release) because of several safety specifications that DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars do not have.
Newly manufactured DOT-117 tank cars are built with a thicker shell that is nine-sixteenths of an inch thick, which is 28 percent thicker than legacy DOT-111 tank cars and most CPS-1232 cars. DOT-117 cars also have thermal and top fittings protection; an extra layer of 11 gauge (approximately 3 mm) steel surrounding the shell, known as a tank jacket; and full-height head shields, which add an extra one-half inch of protective steel on each end of the tank cars. Also, there is improved protection to the bottom outlet valve handle to guard against inadvertent opening during a derailment.
Two main points are relevant when considering whether shippers can meet these new deadlines. First, can tank car manufacturers supply enough cars to meet demand? We were encouraged to hear that manufacturers felt they could.
There are, however, more complex considerations on the demand side. With the recent decrease in domestic oil production, some in the industry see steep price tags for new and retrofitted cars as being prohibitive. “This is a game changer for shippers,” said Gabe Claypool, with Dakota Plains Holdings, Inc., during the roundtable.
John Bryne, of the Railway Supply Institute, agreed. He said economic factors heavily influence the decision making process when it comes to the timing of the legacy tank car phase out. “Industry has done a good job at meeting voluntary improvements for better packaging, but more needs to be done. Also, there needs to be some sort of incentive for the shippers to act more quickly.”
Without those incentives, Bryne warned that progress toward swifter compliance with federal deadlines could be stifled, although the deadlines themselves can be met. This leads to the next point: one hurdle toward quick implementation of these needed changes are, in a sense, the deadlines themselves. With some of the due dates extending nine years or more, shippers and those who currently lease tank cars can wait several more years before the recommendations to phase out older tank cars become absolute law.
While these considerations may make sense from a business perspective, from the NTSB’s perspective, the sooner these changes are made, the better – a belief that is fueled by numerous accidents we have seen involving breached tank cars. In the past decade, there have been 28 significant accidents in the U.S. and Canada involving flammable liquids transported by rail, in which nearly 5 million gallons of crude oil and ethanol have spilled. In each of these accidents, legacy DOT-111 or CPC-1232 tank cars were used to transport flammable liquids. If past performance is a predictor of future performance, continuing to transport crude oil and ethanol in DOT-111 or CPC 1232 tank cars poses an unacceptable public risk.
Several roundtable participants expressed optimism that the deadlines could be met.
Robert Fronczak, assistant vice president of the American Association of Railroads, provided statistics showing the number of legacy DOT-111 tank cars in crude oil transportation has steadily decreased since 2013 – from a peak of more than 21,600 three years ago, to just 708 through the first quarter of this year.
Kevin Neels, Ph.D., a transportation and research consultant with The Brattle Group, stated those numbers are a sign industry is headed in the right direction. “A lot of the riskiest cars are going out of service. And that’s good. We need to continue to monitor this to ensure that risk-prone tank cars stay out of service. In due course, we’ll see a much safer fleet hauling these materials.”
In next week’s blog, we will discuss how the industry is monitoring its progress and the available options for meeting the earliest federal deadlines.
There’s an old saying, “everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Well, this week, the NTSB intends to do something about it.
Tomorrow and Wednesday, June 21 and 22, NTSB will have a forum on pilot weather reports (PIREPs). Why is this topic important? We became interested in PIREPs by accident – several of them, in fact. As our accident investigators will discuss in the forum, after several years of weather encounter-related accident and incident investigations, we found that there were too many instances where weather information had been observed but had not made it into the cockpits of those who needed it most.
One such event occurred in March 2012, in Anchorage, Alaska. A Learjet 35A encountered severe in-flight icing conditions that exceeded the capabilities of the airplane’s windscreen anti-ice systems, and the airplane’s windscreen abruptly iced over. As a result, the flight crew lost all forward visibility, and the airplane veered off the runway during landing and came to rest in a snow bank.
The NTSB found that the severe icing conditions had been conveyed about 15 minutes before the Learjet encountered them.
A pilot in an F-16 conducting an approach to an Air Force Base about 7 miles northeast reported “severe icing on final” and initiated a go-around to “wait until his windshield…cleared.” The controller handling the F-16 shared this information with the controller who later handled the Learjet; however, the controller handling the Learjet did not relay the urgent PIREP to the Learjet flight crew.
In this case, the NTSB determined that the approach controller’s failure to relay the PIREP was a contributing factor to the incident.
The problem doesn’t lie solely with ATC not disseminating weather information. As a former airline pilot and line check airman, I know that sometimes pilots do not relay weather information to ATC. And, when they do, the information is prone to inaccuracies, especially regarding time, location, and weather intensity.
To their credit, many people have been trying for years to get the PIREP system to work better, and many of them will be participating in the forum. That’s precisely why we wanted to have this event – to bring together key players with knowledge of the PIREP system to begin a conversation about improving it. And we hope that this conversation continues, planting the seed for collaborative action.
The forum will be open to the public and will also be webcast. We hope you can join us, either in person or online.
Aviation enthusiasts and pilots have gathered every year since 1974 for the annual Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-in and Expo. This extraordinary experience features many events of interest to the general aviation community and is attended by thousands of people.
Last week the National Transportation Safety Board again brought its message of safe flying and accident prevention to the general aviation community and Sun ‘n Fun attendees.
Aviation safety investigators discussed a variety of safety issues one-on-one with the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of visitors to the NTSB exhibit booth during the six-day expo. The booth featured video vignettes of aviation accident investigations, safety alerts, brochures on general aviation safety, the 2016 Most Wanted List, and the new ntsb.gov/air brochure, “A Guide to NTSB Aviation Information Resources.” NTSB employees at the booth helped visitors access the NTSB’s online investigative products including NTSB reports, accident dockets, and animations.
In advance of this year’s annual fly-ins, the NTSB issued a new Safety Alert (SA-053), Arriving at a Fly-in Event, Keep Your Focus on Safety. This safety alert was intended to directly engage general aviation pilots who fly-in to events such as Sun‘n Fun and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AirVenture, the largest convergence of pilots in the U.S. The NTSB believed the safety alert was merited as the agency has seen several crashes at fly-ins as pilots are exposed to the unique challenges associated with these events, including high-density traffic, special flight and communication procedures, a rapidly changing environment, and changes to air traffic control separation standards.
NTSB Board Member Earl Weener and air safety investigators also gave presentations on pilot reports, amateur‐built aircraft construction errors, flying into large airshows, and inflight loss of control prevention (an issue on the 2016 Most Wanted List). The hour-long presentations, which included Q&A sessions, were held at the Sun ‘n Fun FAA Safety Center and at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, a charter high school.
The considerable gathering of aviators at events like Sun ‘n Fun and the upcoming Air Venture present an excellent opportunity for the NTSB to engage pilots and convey important safety information. Training, technology, and situational awareness are all factors that can improve safety in general aviation. Safety is the NTSB’s focus – and should be a focus for all in aviation.
I have a great appreciation for the training and skill it takes to fly a helicopter. Rotorcraft are vital to our transportation system; they have remarkable agility and go where no other transport vehicles can go. They often serve the common good and help our economy by providing medical care, fighting fires, assisting law enforcement, serving as “aerial cranes” in construction, transporting workers to inaccessible locations, and generally doing work that no other vehicles can do.
Helicopters have personal significance for me, too. Before I was born, an American-trained Choctaw CH-34 pilot saved my parents and three older brothers by flying them to safety during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. One of those brothers, now a surgeon, has been able to help traffic crash victims, thanks to the emergency medical helicopters that transport him to those who are injured far from his Level 1 trauma center.
So, with that background, I was particularly excited to attend my first HAI Heli-Expo, the world’s largest helicopter conference and exposition. An annual event sponsored by the Helicopter Association International (HAI), this year’s event took place in Louisville, Kentucky, and was attended by nearly 20,000 owner-operators, pilots, mechanics, manufacturers, and helicopter vendors. A key focus of the event, as usual, was safety.
I came to this Heli-Expo to learn. I wanted to know about the safety issues and concerns for the industry. I also came with a message from NTSB to the helicopter community: Thank you for your strong efforts to improve rotorcraft safety, and let’s continue to work together to address important safety issues.
At the Safety Symposium prior to the official start of the conference, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and members of the International Helicopter Safety Team/US Helicopter Safety Team (IHST/USHST) discussed crash rates and how safety affects the bottom line. While helicopter safety is not a standalone issue this year on NTSB’s “Most Wanted List” of transportation safety improvements, I reminded folks that helicopter safety is still a key component of many of our Most Wanted List issues, such as recorders, impairment, fatigue, distraction, and occupant protection.
In 2015, the NTSB investigated 127 U.S.-registered helicopter accidents in the United States, and 18 of them were fatal (resulting in the deaths of 29 people). Nine of those fatalities came from helicopter air ambulance (HAA)/helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS).
As we can all agree, any fatality is one too many.
I am pleased that this “vision zero” is also the driving theme of the IHST/USHST, which announced a goal of working (for as long as it takes) to achieve zero helicopter accidents, with a particular focus on fatal accidents. The HAI is also advancing safety through its new safety accreditation program certifying safety programs from different types of helicopter operations and by working with academia under a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop a flight data monitoring program that assesses data from the industry to identify trends and make safety improvements. With all these efforts underway, the industry will take a giant leap toward improved safety.
I am confident that helicopter safety will continue to get better and better, with the leadership of industry groups like HAI and the voluntary efforts of owner-operators to implement safety improvements, even before federal regulations have passed.
Take, for example, the flight training school owner-operator I met from Colorado. In our Safety Symposium session, he talked about proactively implementing safety management systems and risk assessment programs, investing in high-quality scenario-based simulator training for pilots-in-training, and implementing flight data monitoring systems in all of his helicopters. He also changed the flight pattern to enable safer landings and takeoffs around his school. While this owner-operator focused on safety because it was the right thing to do, and despite expecting to lose money, he saw a financial return in many areas, such as insurance savings, earned media, employee retention, and student simulator rental. Perhaps, most importantly, he lowered the risk of accidents and injuries to his instructors, pilots-in-training, and passengers.
It is inspiring to hear from hardworking business owners that safety improvements can – and should – be made, and that, in the end, such initiatives save both lives and money.
The lifesaving improvements we talked about at Heli-Expo are all recommendations the NTSB has made over the years to the helicopter industry, most recently to public and HAA/HEMS-category helicopters.
During the conference, we discussed the importance of recorder technology in improving safety. Over the last decade, the NTSB has made more than 30 recommendations to the FAA and industry requiring the installation of crash-resistant flight recorder systems on all newly manufactured helicopters not already equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. “Expand Use of Recorders to Enhance Transportation Safety” is on our 2016 Most Wanted List. Had recorders been installed in many of the tragic crashes we have seen in recent years, the industry might have had more information and data about how and why accidents happened.
I was also proud to see the presentations given by our Aviation Safety team regarding another of our very important recommendations: requiring crashworthy fuel tanks in all newly manufactured helicopters – not just those designed before 1994, when the original standard was issued by the FAA. Those who survive accidents should not have to succumb to post-crash fires, a tragedy we have seen in our investigations, such as the HAA/EMS crash in Wichita Falls, Texas, in October 2014, and the July 2015 accident in Frisco, Colorado.
Our NTSB aviation experts reminded the industry not to wait for regulators to issue a mandate but to aggressively work with equipment manufacturers to identify retrofits or improvements that could reduce the possibility of post-crash fires. We know this is not an inexpensive or easy change, but we also know that, in the end, it will save lives and prevent injuries.
Additionally, one of our investigators presented two accident case studies that involved complete loss of engine power, which demonstrated the need for the pilot to enter an autorotation within 2 seconds. The NTSB has issued recommendations on the proper technique for performing autorotations, and we were pleased to hear that the FAA recently announced it has added an addendum to its Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083) that addresses our concerns.
Before leaving Heli-Expo, I had the privilege of addressing the general membership of HAI, alongside the Governor of Kentucky and the Mayor of Louisville. I thanked helicopter operators for their efforts in implementing NTSB’s safety recommendations and I applauded their unique talents and their contribution to our communities, our nation, and our world. I also was honored to take a tour of the expo floor, where I was impressed by the extraordinary display of helicopter ingenuity and the commitment to continual improvement through new technologies and services offered.
Helicopters make a positive difference in our world. I left the conference with even more admiration for the helicopter community’s passion for their work and their dedication to safety.
I look forward to working with them to keep everyone who flies in rotorcraft – whether as a pilot or a passenger – safe and sound.
As the year draws to a close, many of us are traveling to see family and friends – across town, across the country, or perhaps even across the globe. No matter where you are going or how you choose to get there, I urge you to do everything you can – such as buckling up whenever there are seat belts (yes, on airplanes, taxis, and buses, too!) – to make sure you and your loved ones are as safe as possible wherever you are going for the holidays.
Although some people will take planes, trains, ferries and boats, the majority of us will be on the roads for at least part of our trip – whether it’s using a car, motorcycle, bicycle, bus, or even our own two feet. It is clear that road safety affects us all, no matter where we are driving, riding or walking.
I was reminded of that last month when I participated in the Second High Level Meeting on Global Road Safety in Brasilia, Brazil, as a member of the U.S. delegation, which also included my federal colleagues from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office of Global Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This meeting brought together 2,000 key leaders and advocates in public health and transportation safety from around the world to take action in preventing the more than 1.2 million deaths (and tens of millions of injuries) that take place on the world’s roads every year – with more than 30,000 deaths occurring in our own country alone.
The result of the meeting was the Brasilia Declaration, which reaffirmed the goals of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and called on governments to address key risk factors related to road safety – ranging from preventing impaired driving and improving infrastructure to manufacturing safer vehicles and increasing emergency health services.
While the specific topics are many, two themes seem to run through this Declaration: (1) road traffic safety is a public health issue, so the transportation and health sectors can and must work together to reduce deaths and injuries; and (2) it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people – children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists, people with less means – so that everyone can have equal access to safe transportation.
Following this historic meeting, while still in Brasilia, I had the pleasure of meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, the Honorable Liliana Ayalde. I am truly grateful to the ambassador and her staff at the U.S. embassy in Brazil for their work to help us attend this important lifesaving conference and for their service to our country throughout the year.
Ambassador Ayalde and I share a common background in public health, and I know that public health – and the interdisciplinary collaboration among health, transportation, and other sectors – will be vital to setting and achieving our goal to save millions of lives on the roads in the coming years.
As I said in my remarks in Brazil, there is no doubt that our targets for road safety must be feasible, they must be measurable, and they must be based on sound science. But they also can – and should be – ambitious. Targets allow us to imagine what the world would be if our efforts and work were as effective as they could be. Targets allow us to imagine a world where no one dies because they were not properly restrained, where we know our cars and roads will protect us if we make a mistake, where no one thinks about getting behind the wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs, and where we can send our loved ones to school or work and know they will come home safely. Targets allow us to imagine a better, safer, and healthier world for everyone.
No matter where you are traveling as the year draws to a close, even if it is simply across town, I wish you a safe journey and a safe and healthy 2016. And, remember, there are people around the world, including right here at the NTSB, who are working hard every day to make sure we all get home safely.