Category Archives: Fatigue

This July 4, Travel Safely—Don’t Put Unnecessary Strain on First Responders and Hospital Staff

By Dolline Hatchett, Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

COVID-19 has affected every American, and the NTSB has adapted to respond to the effects of the pandemic. As the agency’s Director of Safety Recommendations and Communications (SRC), I know how important it is to keep the industry, elected officials, and the advocacy community briefed on transportation safety; that’s why I decided to take advantage of this platform to try to reach as many of my fellow citizens as possible.

As we approach the July 4th weekend, with travelers expected to hit the roadways even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important to remind the traveling public to drive safely. Motor vehicle crashes continue to constitute a chronic national health care crisis, resulting in 35,000 or more deaths and millions of injuries each year. Highway crashes create an enormous demand for medical services, year in and year out. At the same time, an emergent crisis, like COVID-19, demands those same resources, and they start to get stretched thin.

SRC works not only to inform, but also to advocate for safer personal transportation choices. Although much of the country has been shut down for the past few months, the agency continues to craft and track safety recommendations, and it’s up to my office to publicize safety advances when we close recommendations.

Throughout the lockdown, SRC has continued to facilitate communication with state and national policy makers, upon request, about transportation safety issues that are relevant to legislation they may be considering. The difference these days is that the office responds to these requests in writing, rather than in face-to-face testimony. We’ve also responded to requests from federal congressional staff to provide information on our recommendations to help them develop a surface transportation bill. And of course, we continue to make safety publications available to the public and to respond to queries about ongoing investigations.

But perhaps the most innovative response we’ve had during this pandemic is our Safety Reminder campaign, which launched just before Memorial Day with a public service announcement. This outreach was important; surprisingly, while most of the country was on lockdown leading up to Memorial Day weekend, a nationwide speeding trend emerged. We decided to proactively remind the public about safe transportation across all modes as the nation began to re-open.

I believe it’s important to re-emphasize safe road travel ahead of the July 4th weekend, especially because stay-at-home orders have eased throughout the country, and we may see even more road travelers this holiday weekend than we did over Memorial Day weekend. Despite  being away from our physical offices, SRC continues to keep the public informed of the agency’s work as we advocate for safety improvements across all modes of transportation. We’re the conduit between the technical expertise at the agency and our stakeholders—the traveling public, lawmakers, and industry—and it’s up to us to effectively communicate the vital safety improvements that come out of our investigations, reports, and studies. There’s no better time to convey that important information than now, just before a holiday weekend during which many Americans will be taking to the roads, perhaps for the first time in months.

So, before the start of the holiday weekend, when you’re picking out your mask and planning socially distant celebrations, remember how your actions behind the wheel relate to this pandemic and those directly affected by it. Don’t drive impaired. Don’t drive distracted or fatigued. Don’t speed. Whether you’re a passenger or a driver, always wear your seatbelt.

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Let’s work together to avoid further strain on our health care system; every ambulance not called, every unit of blood not transfused, every bed in an emergency department not filled because of a crash, is one more resource made available to fight our emergent crisis.

 

Teen Drivers: Don’t Take Your Return to the Road for Granted

By: Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

We recently announced the launch of a new #SafetyReminder campaign to provide the traveling public with a few friendly reminders as unprecedented stay-at-home restrictions are eased and we slowly resume air, rail, road, and marine travel.

During this return to “normalcy,” we’re especially concerned about young drivers. That’s why we partnered with Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) to host a virtual get together to reach out to teen drivers and their parents.

It’s an understatement to say that 2020’s young drivers have seen a lot in a short time. Like the rest of us, teens have done their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus through self-quarantine, protecting both themselves and others. Now that the country is slowly reopening, it’s time to return our focus to what’s most deadly to young drivers and their peers. It’s time to think not only about socially distancing ourselves, but also about isolating our cars from hazards like vulnerable road users, roadside obstacles, and even other cars. It’s time for a reminder about the biggest threat to teens’ lives: traffic crashes.

Parents have always passed the car keys to the next generation with trembling hands, and for good reason. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for every age group between 1 and 44. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of fatal injury for people between the ages of 15 and 44. So, when it’s time to return to the road, we all need to be aware of the “danger zones” for young drivers:

  1. Inexperience
  2. Driving with teen passengers
  3. Nighttime driving
  4. Not using seat belts
  5. Distraction
  6. Drowsiness
  7. Impairment
  8. Reckless driving

Although it’s good for young drivers—and their parents—to refresh their knowledge of all the danger zones, they should be aware that our recent isolation may have increased risk in certain danger zone categories. For example, stay-at-home orders have hampered new drivers’ ability to gain experience and start to internalize many of the actions that will become second nature with more time behind the wheel. Any skills even the most seasoned driver had before lockdown will be rusty; that’s compounded for new drivers who have had far less time to practice behind the wheel. Beyond that, young drivers may not weigh risk as carefully as their adult counterparts, and the excitement of getting back on the road may easily manifest as risky behavior.

Here’s another consideration that teens and their parents might overlook: driving with teen passengers not only makes it harder for teen drivers to keep their concentration on the road, but it also flies in the face of social distancing. We understand that it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten together with people outside our homes, and teen drivers are probably the most eager of anyone to reunite with their friends. But reunions don’t belong in the same car, where distraction can be as contagious as a virus. Nothing good is going to come from getting behind the wheel if those reunions involve illegal use of alcohol or other drugs, or they go late into the night, or a driver is running on little sleep.

While distraction from passengers is one risk to avoid, driving while distracted by personal electronic devices—which was deadly before the pandemic—is potentially even deadlier now, given how accustomed we’ve become to practicing virtual contact. The always-connected world that helped us be resilient during this isolating time can also make us vulnerable to danger if we continue that constant connection while behind the wheel. No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.

Even age-old risky behaviors, like speeding, that have always been a pitfall for young drivers pose an increased danger following isolation. The roads have been emptier for months, and some drivers have taken advantage, driving unimpeded at breakneck speed. Even on nearly empty roads, drivers need to leave the lead foot at home and keep an eye out for those who treat the less-crowded roads like their personal speedways. Most importantly, drivers need to make sure they—and their passengers—are always using seat belts, in case the high-risk driver in the next lane makes a bad decision.

Teens, for all your admirable resilience in the face of today’s challenges, you are still our most vulnerable and inexperienced road users. You’re going to be a great generation of adults before long; let us help make sure you make it there.

Parents and guardians, don’t send your teens back out on the road unprepared. Talk to your teens about the key components of driving and set the example for safe driving. A study by Liberty Mutual and SADD found that parents are setting a poor example for teens by engaging in unsafe driving behaviors, such as texting and driving, and are not listening to their kids’ warnings. Forty-one percent of teens say their parents continue these unsafe behaviors even after their teens ask them to stop, and 28 percent of teens say their parents justify unsafe behavior.  Take a moment to consider how to keep your young drivers safe, how to help them make good choices, and what example you’re setting. Take time to outline the key risks of driving. If you need a reminder, visit the websites of expert organizations like NHTSA and the CDC. And remember: your example is the most powerful instructor. Teens learn by example.

It’s been said that insisting on one’s rights without accepting one’s responsibilities is not freedom but adolescence. As somebody who works in youth safety outreach, I assure you, that’s an insult to today’s adolescents, who have used their voices and actions to demonstrate that they understand the role of conscience, mindfulness, and selfless service. I have no doubt this resilient group—many of whom gave up rites of passage, like prom and in-person graduation, to self-quarantine and protect those around them—can come back to the driving task with a renewed understanding of their profound responsibilities behind the wheel.

Our virtual joint event with SADD will take place on May 27, 2020, and we want to hear from parents and youth about the challenges and successes of returning to the road. We’ll also discuss resources that everyone can use to promote safer driving, whether they’re talking to peers, parents, or teens.

NTSB & SADD Transportation Safety Youth Leader Check-in

Teens, take care as you reenter the roadway. Don’t let your freedom from isolation end in unnecessary injury or death—for you or those around you. I know it will feel amazing to get back to some kind of normal, but don’t let your sacrifices of the past few months be in vain.

Returning to Travel with Safety on the Mind

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

Normally this time of year, the transportation safety advocacy world would be buzzing with annual calendared campaigns, like these more well-known ones in the highway safety world:

• Global Youth Traffic Safety Month
• Motorcycle Awareness Month
• 100 Deadliest Days of Summer
• NHTSA’s “Click it or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement campaign

As the weather gets warmer, students learning to drive, fly or even operate a boat would gather for educational awareness-raising events or training seminars and conferences. Driver-educators and safety advocates would be working to pour their hearts and souls into reaching teen drivers on stages around the country, hoping to convince some to avoid the bad choices that would put them at higher risk of traffic crashes. Flight schools would be gearing up for the busy summer flying months, and the US Coast Guard and other organizations would be prepping for summer safety on our waterways.

But it is different this year. This year, the country is in large part sheltering in place because of a global public health pandemic.

In terms of traffic safety, the dark cloud might have a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times reports that crash incidences have reduced by half due to the virus; however, Streetsblog.org questions whether this silver lining in the form of reduced numbers of crashes will come with another dark cloud in the form of higher rates of crashes. We will have to wait for the statistics to be compiled a year or more from now to get a clearer picture. Although advocacy messages no longer reach students face-to-face, young people have less freedom—and reason—to drive. Will those two factors cancel each other out? Will drivers of all ages remember to drive sober and without distractions? Only time will tell.

General aviation continues to operate, though in a slightly more limited fashion, but we at the NTSB continue to investigate crashes. Boaters have not been out, due to shutdowns and weather, but with summer coming, things will change.

The big question I find myself pondering is, what will transportation safety look like once we are all able to move about freely again?

I like to think that Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that the best way to predict your future is to create it. I wonder about the new normal that we could strive to achieve in transportation safety on the other side of this pandemic. I also find myself worrying about re-emergence shock on the highways.

I recall from my time in the Marine Corps that when we’d return from duty on ship for an extended period without driving, traffic safety advocates would come on board to remind us what we would be facing returning home. That type of reminder would be helpful now after this long period of reduced driving. Have our skills gotten rusty? Will our road awareness be slow to return?

A potential benefit that could come from this pandemic, though, is that many of us have become much more mindful of how our behavior affects others. Will our mindfulness stay with us when we head back out on the roads, or jump back into our cockpits, or warm up our boats?

The present crisis knocked us out of our 24/7, “go-go-go” lifestyle suddenly and shockingly. Now, it is finally sinking in that returning to that normal will not happen soon or suddenly; rather, it will happen step by step. How can we rebuild transportation safety in our new normal? Tens of thousands of lives are lost on our roads every year. For too long, we have accepted this as normal. Perhaps this pandemic will wake us up to the fact that it does not have to be this way.

The step to transitioning back to our new normal will be to remember all the little safety lessons that might not have been front-of-mind these last few weeks or months. Returning to safe driving, flying, and other transportation operations will require renewed focus. To help us return to safe operations, the NTSB and other transportation organizations will launch the #SafetyReminder campaign with a Twitter chat @NTSB, May 21, 2020, at 12pm EDT.  You can join the conversation by mentioning @NTSB in your tweets to questions and comments or simply follow the conversation using #SafetyReminder.

SafetyReminder Announcement 1

I encourage you to follow the campaign and brush up on some of the things you may have forgotten before we all get back out on the road. When it comes to transportation safety, we really are all in this together.

Ensuring Transportation Safety, Even During a Crisis

By Member Jennifer L. Homendy

For the past few weeks, I’ve woken up every morning to a text message from the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) updating riders on its continued service and modified schedule. It’s hard not to think of all the VRE and Amtrak locomotive engineers and conductors that I’ve come to recognize (or know by name—Hi, Willie and Samantha!) over the years, and how dedicated they are to continuing to serve the public during this national emergency. You and your colleagues across the country are heroes. Thank you for all you do.

The safety of transportation workers across all modes is extremely important especially during times of crisis. Our nation’s transportation workforce is essential to getting critical goods to states and local communities and to ensuring that those serving on the frontlines of this pandemic, like medical personnel, grocery store employees, and other essential personnel, are able to continue the fight against COVID-19. Without all of them, we’d be in a much more dire situation. Still, we need to make sure that the transportation workers who are putting their lives at risk daily to make deliveries or get people to work are also safe. That not only means providing them with necessary personal protective gear, but also ensuring any regulatory waivers do not jeopardize their safety or the safety of others.

Since the start of this national emergency, many transportation entities facing staffing shortages due to illness and the need to quarantine have requested emergency relief from certain safety regulations. These entities cite concerns about their ability to deliver critical goods and materials necessary for the country’s welfare while meeting regulatory requirements for inspections, training, and maintenance, to name a few. Although regulatory relief from certain requirements may be necessary during this difficult time, I urge the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to carefully review each request and put measures in place to ensure that the safety of transportation workers, and all others who must travel, remains a priority.

We are all being challenged in ways that we could not have imagined a month ago. People are staying safe by traveling only when absolutely necessary and maintaining a safe social distance from others. Those in the transportation industry are also doing what they can to stay safe while continuing to do the important work of moving the people and goods that keep our nation pushing forward during this crisis.

It’s important that any regulatory relief the DOT determines is appropriate is only temporary. This crisis can seem overwhelming, but as a nation, we will prevail. It’s important that when our lives start to take the path back to “normal,” safety regulations—many of which the NTSB has long advocated for following tragic crashes—are reinstituted. Temporary measures to address a crisis should not become the new normal. An efficient transportation network is key to our nation’s success during this challenging time, but we must not forget the importance of ensuring the safety of transportation workers and the traveling public both now and in the future.

Do You Have a Super Bowl Transportation Game Plan?

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

Super Bowl LIV is almost here! Whether you’re a diehard 49ers or Chiefs fan, or you simply watch for the commercials and halftime show, the play clock is just about to hit 0. For many football fans, driving will be part of the game plan both before and after the Super Bowl, regardless of if they’re driving over 3,000 miles to Hard Rock Stadium or simply going across town to a playoff party. Either way, safe transportation plans must be part of every driver’s Super Bowl game plan.

Football is a game driven by statistics. As Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid takes in stats for his Super Bowl game plan, consider these highway safety facts as you prepare your own playbook.

Driving fast with a sport car

So, what should your Super Bowl transportation game plan look like? First, drive sober or designate a sober driver. Recognize that even a moderate amount of alcohol or certain drugs will make driving unsafe. If you don’t have a designated driver, a taxi, public transportation, or rideshare charge will be a minor cost compared to a DUI—or worse. Second, don’t drive fatigued. Immediately after the game and before work the next day, check yourself to see if you are rested enough to drive safely. If you got less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep, recognize the need to take breaks, take a nap, or find another mode of transportation. Third, don’t drive distracted—the postgame highlights, commentary, and selfies can wait until you safely arrive at your destination.

Whether you’re rooting for the 49ers, Chiefs, or simply a good game, make sure you have a designated sober driver in your Super Bowl lineup, and follow this gameday rulebook!