Category Archives: Fatigue

When Will it Finally Click?

By Leah Walton

The Crash Test Dummies, Vince and Larry, made their big debut in 1986, telling America, “You could learn a lot from a dummy . . . buckle your safety belt.” Based on the following increase in seat belt use, this public service announcement campaign became legendary and impacted many, and saving lives as a result. The amazing work that these dummies did earned Vince and Larry a retirement spot at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

And yet, even today, not everyone buckles their seat belt, even though it has been proven over and over that a seat belt is the best lifesaving measure in the event of a crash. People still get citations during the highly advertised “Click It or Ticket” National Seat Belt Enforcement Mobilization campaign, which takes place over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the seat belt usage rate in 2015 was 90.1%—which is great, except that the remaining 10% equals 27.5 million Americans who are not buckling up. That means 27.5 MILLION people are choosing to be unprotected in their vehicle. Buckling up is such a simple action, it only takes about 2 seconds. So, when will it finally click for everyone to buckle their seat belt?

The National Safety Council predicts that 409 people may be killed on America’s roadways over the upcoming 2017 Memorial Day holiday period. I can’t predict every crash, but I can imagine that many of these potential deaths will occur because people chose to not buckle up. For them, it hasn’t clicked that seat belts save lives.

Other safe behaviors still haven’t clicked with many drivers, either. Driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, driving distracted, and driving while drowsy also contribute to the loss of life on our roadways. Simple solutions like driving sober or designating a sober driver, putting the phone away, and getting a full night’s rest would make the roads safer for everyone. When will all of this click for drivers?

Memorial Day is a time to reflect and honor those who have fallen for our country. And, however you choose to observe the day—at the beach, at a bar-b-que, alone or with friends—I hope it finally clicks and you make safe choices to get safely to and from your destination.


Leah Walton is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Today’s Actions, Tomorrow’s Consequences

By Nicholas Worrell

In the past 2 months, several occasions have raised awareness about the dangers we face in highway safety:

  • National Distracted Driving Awareness Month
  • Public Health Awareness Week
  • Impaired Driving Awareness Month
  • Click It or Ticket National Enforcement Mobilization
  • Global Youth Traffic Safety Month
  • Bicycle Safety Month
  • Global Road Safety Week
  • Motorcycle Awareness Month

Naturally, the NTSB has played a role in many of these initiatives in support of our highway safety recommendations; but it is often the work of advocates and brave legislators around the country that move states toward action on our recommendations.

Unfortunately, despite these national and global initiatives, the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. After years of decline and plateau, the number of traffic deaths per year spiked in 2015 and 2016. When the 2016 numbers are tallied, it’s reasonable to assume that they will be the highest in a decade.

The cultural shift we need to stop this trend will take greater education, legislative, and enforcement efforts. In our April 26 roundtable, “Act 2 End Deadly Distractions,” we brought together advocacy groups, insurance companies, survivor advocates, and law enforcement representatives to discuss the problem and identify specific solutions. Survivor advocates went away with new tools and contacts, as well as with information on how to take more effective action to move the public, state and local governments, employers, and law enforcement. The assembled advocacy groups announced an alliance, the National Alliance for Distraction Free Driving.

NTSB Highway Investigator Kenny Bragg talks with students at the Prince George’s County (MD) Global Youth Traffic Safety Month event

Earlier this month, the NTSB’s Advocacy Division collaborated with Prince George’s County (MD) Police Department, the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), and Freedom High School in Virginia to educate youth about driving hazards. Together, we kicked off our Global Youth Traffic Safety Month social media campaign, #1goodchoice, to promote teen driver safety.

Last week, I represented the NTSB at the International Road Federation’s 6th Caribbean Regional Congress. At the meeting, I emphasized the “service” part of civil service and shared what NTSB Advocacy has learned in promoting action for safer driving and safer roads.

Nicholas Worrell talks with attendees at the International Road Foundation’s 6th Caribbean Regional Conference

Even as safety features become more and more common, our driving behavior has not become safer. We must change behavior to make a real difference, and that change in behavior starts with ourselves. The first step to making this change is realizing that those who die in highway crashes are not some “other people”—they’re somebody’s loved ones. They were somebody, themselves. They could have been us. You can take action to increase awareness—your own as well as that of those around you. Turn away from messages about how much we can drink before driving, for example, and think instead about separating the two behaviors. Realize that, whether you’re speeding to make a red light or glancing at your phone while driving, it can wait. Get enough sleep before driving. Wear a helmet when you’re on a motorcycle. Be alert to pedestrians and bicycles, and be alert as a pedestrian and a bicyclist. Reach out to people you know, either through social and traditional media or by simply having a face-to-face conversation with your loved ones and friends about the behaviors they need to change when they’re on the road.

Act to end distractions by joining the conversation at #Act2EndDD. You can talk about your one good choice (#1goodchoice). If you’re a survivor advocate, you can get in touch with the National Alliance for Distraction Free Driving for tools and ideas on how to put an end to distracted driving.

If each of us changes our own behavior, we will create a safer world. We must all take responsibility and act to keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists alive.

Teens and Drowsy Driving

Teens and Drowsy Driving

By Dr. Jana PriceTeenager sleeping after prepare for Exam at the Home. Focus on the Clock

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.

According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that one in five fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver. Other research shows that drivers aged 16 to 24 are at the greatest risk of being involved in a drowsy driving 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.

What’s your teen’s sleep routine?

By Stephanie Shaw

Sleep Duration RecommendationsIf you’ve spent any time with parents of infants or toddlers, you know that their lives likely revolve around the napping and bedtime schedule of their child. During those early years of life, caregivers make their children’s sleep a priority. We have special nighttime routines to ensure that young kids are relaxed and ready for a restful night’s sleep. Some of us even celebrate as if we’ve just won the lottery when our kids finally sleep through the night.

But as our children get older, getting a full night’s sleep just isn’t the priority it once was—for us or for them. Years pass, and before we know it, that small child is suddenly a teen. But that teen still has special sleep needs on top of a greater exposure to risk.

On March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip at 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.

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. 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. The Board determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

Young drivers (ages 16 to 24) are at the greatest risk for being involved in a drowsy driving crash. Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. A recent AAA Foundation study looking at drivers of all ages found that losing just 2 to 3 hours of sleep in one night can significantly elevate crash risk. Attention, reaction time, and decision-making can all be affected. For teens, getting 7 or fewer hours of sleep increases the likelihood that they will engage in high-risk behaviors, like not wearing a seat belt or drinking and driving.

When my son was a teen driver, I made sure to talk to him about the dangers of underage drinking, driving distracted, and driving with his friends in the car. I reminded him often to wear his seatbelt—his best defense in the event of a crash. But I never talked to him about the dangers of drowsy driving. Like most high school students, he had a full schedule—early mornings for class, practice or games every day after school, homework and studying. And that didn’t include the time he spent with friends. Time for sleep was not high on his list of priorities.

In our 24/7 culture, many parents also fail to make sleep a priority, but let’s take the time to teach our teens to prioritize it! It’s important that teens get 8 to 10 hours of good-quality sleep; so, just like when they were little, help them create a good sleep environment, free from electronic devices. Talk with teens about planning for a safe ride to and from school and activities if they have a late night studying or an early-morning event to get to.

As our teens inch closer and closer to adulthood, avoiding drowsy driving is one more life lesson we can instill in them so that they remain safe until they are out on their own—and beyond.

Stephanie Shaw is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Sleepless America: The Deadly Cost of Fatigue in Transportation

By Mark Rosekind

When you step onto a bus, airplane, or train there is a sacred trust that the operators have taken all reasonable measures to ensure you arrive safely at your destination, every time. When you turn the ignition on in your own vehicle, you join this sacred trust, to ensure that you, your passengers, and those around you will arrive safely at your destinations, every time. Next week, America prepares to turn its clocks ahead and collectively as a nation we each lose an hour of sleep. In one night, this will generate a 300 million-hour national sleep debt and in the few days it takes our bodies to adjust, our nation will accumulate over a billion hours of lost sleep. In transportation, this lost sleep kills, injures, and costs billions of dollars.

National Sleep Awareness Week, March 3 through 10, highlights the tragedies that result from sleep loss and operating vehicles while fatigued. Just three years ago 10 people died when a truck plowed into seven cars and caused a massive pile-up on Interstate 44 near Miami, Oklahoma. It was the worst highway accident in the state’s history. The driver suffered from a deadly combination of an altered work schedule, acute sleep loss, and sleep apnea. He never even touched the brakes.

The hour we lose when clocks are set forward every spring offers our already sleep-deprived country a glimpse into the dangers of operating vehicles while fatigued. Perhaps the most basic requirement for safely operating any vehicle is to be awake, and though necessary, just being awake is not sufficient. Safe travel requires every vehicle operator to have obtained optimal sleep and be wide-awake and maximally alert, every time. There is a 17 percent increase in crashes on our roadways on the Monday following the time change. But fatigue safety risks are a life-threatening concern far beyond this annual clock change. Every year, an estimated one million roadway crashes and near-misses are likely fatigue-related, with thousands of people losing their lives and being injured. Fatigue-related tragedies are played out across every hour of the day throughout our nation’s transportation system.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long been interested in fatigue and has identified it as a probable cause or contributing factor in accidents across all modes of transportation that have resulted in many lost lives and injuries. The NTSB has issued over 200 safety recommendations focused on fatigue across all transportation modes. These safety recommendations have addressed diverse areas such as hours of service regulations, scheduling policies, education and training, diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, research, and vehicle technologies. But after all this, are we safer?

The societal “wake up call” is just beginning to be answered. For example, a little over a year ago, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new hours of service rules for pilots and the Federal Motor Carrier Administration issued new rules for commercial truck drivers. While representing the most significant changes in over 70 years, and incorporating many science-based elements, the aviation rules do not cover all pilots, and the truck rules face court challenges and fall short on addressing sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea, one cause of the Oklahoma accident. These are important developments that represent real progress, and need to be embraced and applauded. But so much more needs to be done.

Airplanes, buses, trains, trucks, and ships are complex machines that require the full attention of the operator, maintenance personnel, and other individuals performing safety-critical functions, and our lives depend on it. The sad fact is that for all the information we have on the perils of fatigue, American society still characterizes pushing the sleep envelope as “hardworking,” “results-oriented,” and “dedicated” but when it comes to operating any kind of vehicle – fatigue can be deadly. Reducing fatigue risks in transportation is everyone’s ongoing responsibility: companies, the government, individual operators, and travel consumers. And when you are behind the wheel, every moment requires you to be wide-awake and alert.

This year when we all spring forward, lose an hour in some other part of your life. Get the sleep you need and then maintain that sleep amount throughout the year. Sleep as if your life and those around you depend on it.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D. is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board and an internationally recognized expert in the field of sleep and fatigue science.

Learning, Leading and Legacy

flight 3407By Debbie Hersman

It’s been four years to the day since Colgan Air flight 3407 crashed short of the Buffalo airport runway killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground. Out of that investigation and through the tireless efforts of the family members and loved ones of those who lost their lives, air travel is safer today.

Our investigation revealed the need for improvements in a number of key aviation safety areas, including pilot professionalism, human fatigue, remedial training, pilot training records and FAA oversight. Despite their grief, I witnessed a group of families that not only wanted the industry to learn from this tragedy, but decided to lead. They became ardent and articulate advocates for real and substantial improvements to aviation safety. As a result of their tireless leadership, Congress passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010.

Four years after the crash near Buffalo, Wielinski home memorial on Long street
some 3 billion people have traveled safely on the U.S. airlines. That is a powerful testimony to learning and leading – from a terrible tragedy and creating a lasting legacy to improve airline safety. However, a great deal of work remains – 22 of 25 NTSB recommendations issued as a result of the Colgan accident have yet to be completed.

Today also marks the birthday of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln was remembered for overcoming many challenges, he also knew that public will was essential for change. He said, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” Learning about the accident and leading the public sentiment – that will be the legacy of the loved ones of Colgan 3407.

Thanksgiving: Too Many Empty Seats at the Table

By Debbie Hersman

This past weekend, America’s roadways were clogged with Thanksgiving travelers. But there were also hundreds of empty places at Thanksgiving tables across the country this year compared to last. That’s because each year more than 400 people die in motor vehicle crashes over the long holiday weekend.

That’s just one weekend. Add all the other days of the year and the number of annual highway fatalities totals about 32,000.

Thirty-two thousand lives ended. That’s more fatalities on our roads in one year than have perished in airline crashes since the beginning of U.S. scheduled aviation nearly a century ago.

When an airliner crashes it is page 1 news followed by tremendous public demand to find out what happened and fix it immediately so it won’t happen again.

That’s understandable. The U.S. airlines carry millions of passengers every year. But, why is it acceptable to lose 32,000 people each year on our roads? Where is the outrage? Where is the call to implement safety measures to prevent the same crashes from happening again and again?

Yes, there are a host of hard-working highway safety advocates whose efforts save lives, but why do we tolerate losing the equivalent of the student population of a large state university each year? Is there “cultural novocaine” that numbs Americans to this senseless loss of life?

It’s time for the novocaine to wear off. It’s time for Americans to address our nation’s fourth-leading cause of death. Fatalities from motor vehicle crashes are only behind heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Sadly, car crashes are the number one killer of our teens. As a mother — and as one of the nation’s top transportation safety advocates — I believe we can do better.

We must do better.

With heart disease, cancer and stroke, we know there are ways to help ensure a longer and healthier life, including lifestyle choices and proper medical care. And, there’s a lot — quite a lot — that can be done to improve highway safety. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its 2013 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. The majority of the items on the list address the nation’s fourth-leading cause of death.

Here’s the Most Wanted List item where the biggest difference can be made to save lives: Eliminate substance-impaired driving.

A generation ago, the NTSB investigated the nation’s deadliest substance-impaired crash. In Carrollton, Ky., an impaired driver struck a bus carrying a church youth group on its way home from an amusement park. That crash killed 24 teens and three adults and injured dozens more. Since that 1988 crash, more than 300,000 people have perished at the hands of substance-impaired drivers.

That’s a lot of empty seats at Thanksgiving tables.

Much more must be done to stem the losses from substance-impaired driving — including the use of ignition interlock technology and high-visibility enforcement.

Our new Most Wanted List also addresses a growing concern — distraction. NTSB investigations involving distraction go back years. In a 2002 crash in Largo, Md., a young driver talking on her cell-phone veered off the Capital Beltway, crossed the median, flipped over and landed on a minivan. That conversation ended in five fatalities.

Distractions that compete for a driver’s attention are only going to grow. Today, drivers can check Facebook, book dinner reservations and buy movie tickets, all while behind the wheel. That’s downright dangerous. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be on the road next to someone updating a Facebook page while driving.

Last December, the NTSB issued its strongest recommendation yet on distraction: a nationwide ban on the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices while driving. Some said our recommendation was extreme. You bet it was. Sometime it takes extreme measures to change cultural norms.

Technology, another issue on the new Most Wanted List, offers considerable promise for improving highway safety. For example, side-curtain air bags and electronic stability control have already shown tremendous vehicle-safety benefits. And, in the future, forward-collision warning systems can help prevent accidents due to running off the road or rear-ending a vehicle, whether the cause is an impaired, distracted or fatigued driver.

With all those fatalities, shouldn’t these safety technologies be standard on every vehicle?

Each year, too many people get those phone calls and notifications that no one ever wants to receive. If we don’t act now, next year, there will be at least 32,000 more empty seats at Thanksgiving tables. There’s even more cause for concern since U.S. highway fatality estimates are up 9 percent for the first half of this year compared with last year.

One of those empty seats could be at your table. Is that when you’ll start to care about highway safety?