Category Archives: Highway Safety

The New Car Assessment Program

By Member Jennifer Homendy

In 2017, 37,133 people died on our nation’s roadways in preventable crashes. One way to prevent or mitigate these tragedies is by implementing proven and effective vehicle technologies, such as collision-avoidance systems. We know these systems can save lives, and our current Most Wanted List includes “Implementing Collision Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles.” We want to see these technologies installed as standard equipment on all vehicles, and we want consumers to know which systems offer the best protection when they are buying a car.

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That’s why, in a 2015 special investigation report, we called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) 5-star rating system to include collision‑avoidance system ratings, and to post those ratings on the new-vehicle window sticker. The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) also required that crash-avoidance information be presented next to crashworthiness information on the window sticker. The NCAP 5-star rating system—which the United States pioneered in 1979— provides valuable information to consumers about crashworthiness, including protection from frontal and side impacts and vehicle rollover. This information can lead to consumers making safer choices, which will motivate manufacturers to design safer cars—it’s a win-win for consumers and for public safety! But NCAPs are most effective when they continuously raise the bar and, while NCAPs in other nations have progressed, the US NCAP has not made any significant program updates in more than a decade.

In recent years, NHTSA has sought public comments on a potential plan to update and modify the US NCAP. For example, in 2015, the agency discussed potentially updating its crashworthiness testing to add a crash-avoidance rating that would incorporate the effectiveness of multiple safety technologies and to create an overall 5-star rating that would encompass crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and pedestrian protection. The NTSB knew that it was possible to incorporate collision avoidance and other safety features into NCAP ratings because other NCAPs around the world had already done so, and we publicly supported these plans to expand the NCAP rating system. We encouraged NHTSA to move forward.

In our 2017 safety study on speeding, we called on NHTSA to consider using the NCAP to incentivize passenger vehicle manufacturers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems, and in our 2018 special investigation report on pedestrian safety, we recommended that the agency incorporate pedestrian safety systems, including pedestrian collision-avoidance systems and other more passive safety systems, into the NCAP. As of today, these recommendations remain open.

Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death and injury in the United States. We want to see more vehicles using collision-avoidance systems to save lives—but they can only save lives if people know they exist and understand how to use them. This makes the NCAP, a successful program on which car buyers already rely, the perfect avenue for increasing consumer awareness of the latest safety technology and, ultimately, making our roads safer.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the US NCAP program, let’s take advantage of the program’s success and use this moment to make it even stronger. Our nation’s road users deserve it.

 

The State of Distracted Driving in Missouri

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By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

In today’s world, distractions are everywhere. From the electronic device in our hands to the infotainment options built into our vehicles, we are surrounded by hundreds of things vying for our attention every day. Even if we try to block out these distractions, despite our best efforts, our minds are not capable of multitasking like we think they are. When distraction happens on the road, the consequences can be deadly. What distracted-driving crashes leave behind are families and loved ones struggling to cope with sudden, tragic loss. Distracted driving is a serious threat to the safety of everyone on the road, and the NTSB is committed to eliminating it. This issue has been on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 2011, but it remains a serious problem.

As technology becomes more ubiquitous in our lives, distraction risks increase—not only for drivers and passengers in cars, but also for cyclists and pedestrians, as well. Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia have tried to reduce distracted driving by prohibiting all drivers from texting while driving. Unfortunately, Missouri is one of the two states without a cell phone restriction that would prevent drivers over the age of 21 from texting while driving. As a result, 841 people have died in crashes related to distracted driving since 2010, when we recommended that states enact legislation prohibiting the nonemergency use of personal electronic devices for all drivers. The Missouri Department of Transportation reported that, in 2018 alone, 19,239 motor vehicle crashes involved distracted drivers. Those crashes resulted in 79 fatalities and 7,345 injuries. Until the law in Missouri is changed, these crashes will continue to happen. Only by completely removing the distraction will the roads become a safer place.

Any use of a cellphone or other electronic device will always come with increased and unnecessary risk. This includes hands-free devices; just because our hands are on the wheel doesn’t mean our minds are focused on the road. Science has repeatedly shown us that holding a conversation using a hands-free device still creates a cognitive distraction that makes us more likely to be involved in an avoidable crash. There is no such thing as safe cellphone use on the road, and, unfortunately, many people learn this the hard way, when it’s ultimately too late.

On October 29th, the NTSB, in partnership with StopDistractions.org, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, and the University of Missouri, will host our fourth roundtable on distracted driving. The even will bring together researchers, state and federal government officials, victims’ families, and other safety advocates to discuss strategies to prevent distracted driving. For more information about this roundtable event and to register, visit our website.

Legislation and enforcement are critical to making our roads safer, but, ultimately, it comes down to people taking personal responsibility. We have the power to make choices that can positively or negatively affect ourselves as well as others. Choose to put aside that temptation to send one more message, make a quick call, or post an update or photo. Your right choice could end up saving not only your own life, but someone else’s. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life. Visit the links below for more NTSB blogs on the dangers of distracted driving, and check out our Most Wanted List for more information on distracted driving.

We must act now to end preventable distracted driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities—in Missouri, and nationwide.

Safe Trucking is Good Business

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Trucks move the economy, and they do a superb job. One- and two-day delivery wouldn’t be possible without the nation’s truck army. But when trucks are involved in a crash, the results are often disastrous. How do we make trucking even safer?

I recently spoke to the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), which represents about

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Vice Chairman Landsberg at the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) 2019 Safety Conference

50 percent of the truck fleets in the United States. This meeting was devoted to—what else?— safety. This group is driving hundreds of millions of miles every year so the potential for catastrophe is high.

A quick statistic from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): In 2017, there were just shy of 4,900 fatal crashes involving large trucks. That works out to about 13 crashes a day, or one every 2 hours. In almost every case, these were not accidents or unforeseen events— they were preventable crashes. Lives are lost and survivors suffer life-changing injuries. Most times, we know what happened, why it happened, and what could have prevented the crash. Why, then, don’t we see a reduction in the number of crashes?

The vast majority of trucking companies make safety their top priority; however, there are some that intentionally operate vehicles with out-of-service brakes, bad tires, too much load, or other issues, or they knowingly use drivers with poor safety records. These deliberate decisions affect the safety of everyone on the road. But even drivers at conscientious companies can crash when they suffer a lapse in judgement, become distracted, fail to get enough rest, or drive when ill or affected by prescription or over-the-counter medications. The good news is that crashes really are easily preventable.

So, how can truckers—and their employers—ensure a safe trip each time they drive?

  • Set reasonable hours of service. A tired driver is unsafe! There are many excuses as to why a driver should be allowed to run to exhaustion; all are indefensible.
  • Complete pretrip inspections. Mechanical equipment fails, usually in predictable fashion and often at the worst possible time. Checking on your rig’s tires, brakes, and other equipment before your ride is not only required, it’s critical.
  • Ensure drivers are fit for duty. Incapacitating illnesses or impairment can interfere with a driver’s ability to do the job safely. Sleep apnea is a particularly troubling problem for too many drivers.
  • Embrace automation and driver-assist technology. Full automation, despite the marketing hype, is still some distance away—maybe very far away. But speed control, adaptive braking, stability control, and advanced driver-assist safety features, such as collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning, are currently available and make a big difference in mitigating driver mistakes. As the aviation industry has embraced pilot-assisting technologies, it’s become remarkably safer; the trucking industry could learn from this willingness to use available automation tools in its operations.
  • End distraction. Cell phone use—including texting—should be prohibited, except for emergency use. Many companies make it a firing offense to use a cell phone while a vehicle is in motion. Federal regulation already prohibits call phone use in company vehicles, but companies need to ensure their internal cell phone policies make this clear to their drivers. At the same time, many companies could do a better job implementing cell phone policies and tracking drivers’ cell phone use.
  • Develop a safety management system and strong safety culture. In almost every accident or crash we investigate, there was also a management failure. The safety mindset isn’t something that’s “bolted on” after the fact, but rather, it’s something that’s embedded in a company’s, driver’s, and leadership’s DNA. Ongoing management support and accountability makes a huge difference. Owner-operators must ensure that they have safety management controls in place.
  • Verify that your drivers are being safe. Trust, but verify! Install inward- and outward-facing cameras to help assess driver performance. Review the recordings—not with the intent to punish, but with an eye toward improving driver education and training.

Good business means caring about your drivers and other drivers on the road. It’s also a value that can prove economically sound; after all, it takes only one crash to put a business out of business. In the bigger picture, a mark against one operator is a mark against the entire industry. The aviation industry recognized that trend and established the Commercial Aviation Safety Team to assess risks and evaluate safety concerns related to commercial airline operations. The trucking industry could consider doing something similar.

From what I heard after meeting with the NPTC, it’s clear that NPTC members are working hard to make their good record even better. How about you?

Heading Back to School Safely

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

 It’s nearing the end of August. Gone are the days of lounging by the pool or on the beach, or running around and playing outside. Soon, crowds of children will be waiting on the street corner for their school bus to arrive. It’s almost Labor Day, and the back-to-school season is upon us.

‘Tis the season for worrying about a lot of things: hunting down the best sales on school supplies and clothes, buying the right books, hoping your children will have good teachers and make new friends . . . the list goes on. It’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns, but now is also the time to discuss with your kids the safest way for them to get to and from school.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve made school transportation safety a priority. For example, although the school bus is the safest method of transportation to and from school, when a bus crash does happen, we investigate to uncover any relevant safety issues so they can be fixed. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including impaired driving, distracted driving, and fatigue-related accidents) are currently items on our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Our MWL contains what we believe to be the safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives, and these issues are among our highest priorities in our advocacy work.

So, how will your kids get to school this year? Will they take the bus? Do you have a carpool set up with another family? Do they walk or bike to school? Is your teen driving to and from school this year? Regardless of how your child gets there and home, this is a critical time for you, as a parent, to think about ways you can help keep them safe. By talking to your children about steps you can take as a family this school year to ensure a safe commute, you can do your part to help make transportation safety a priority.

Check out some of our back-to-school blog posts for some conversation starters and tips for keeping your children and their peers safe on the roads.

Don’t Drive High This 4th of July

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

When I started my career with Mothers Against Drunk Driving 20 years ago, I never imagined I would still be advocating to eliminate impaired driving in 2019. I wasn’t so naïve to believe we’d have flying cars by now, but I did think that, surely in 20 years, Americans would shift their attitudes and behaviors to routinely separate drinking and driving. After all, impaired driving is 100% preventable with smart choices and planning for a sober ride home.

We should have zero fatalities when it comes to impaired driving, and yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 10,000 people die in alcohol-impaired driving crashes every year. That means one-third of all traffic fatalities are caused by impaired driving. What’s more, those numbers are limited to alcohol impairment at the 0.08-percent BAC level or higher. If we include all alcohol-involved fatalities, that statistic increases to over 12,000.

As if that number wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t even include other drug-impaired driving. We don’t have accurate statistics for those yet because there’s currently no common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing (although NHTSA is making progress toward implementing this NTSB recommendation).

Impairment is impairment, regardless of if someone is impaired by alcohol, marijuana (for recreational or medical use), illicit drugs, or even prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Instead of seeing that attitude and behavior shift I had hoped for years ago, today, an estimated 14.8 million drivers report that, in the past 30 days, they got behind the wheel within 1 hour after using marijuana, according to a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey. The AAA survey also revealed that 70% of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while high on marijuana. Those folks are in for a sad surprise, as more law enforcement officers are being trained in the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) programs, and many are being certified as drug recognition experts (DREs). This means traffic officers have been specifically trained to detect and identify impairment—by alcohol or other drugs—with a high level of accuracy.

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The 4th of July is one of the deadliest holiday periods of the year when it comes to impaired-driving crashes. But it doesn’t have to be. Drive sober. Choose—or volunteer to be—a designated driver. Use a ride-sharing app or public transportation. There’s never an excuse to drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Don’t drive high this 4th of July.

Developing Future Safety Leaders

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Author and leadership expert John Maxwell once said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Leadership is at the core of all we do, whether it’s in our professional organizations, community groups, or personal lives. Success depends on sound leadership.

Earlier this week, I represented the NTSB to more than 200 members of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). SADD’s mission to empower, engage, mobilize, and change is the very essence of youth leadership, and that leadership is desperately needed. The number one cause of death in teens ages 15 to 19 remains motor vehicle crashes. It’s fitting that I would speak at SADD during the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer, where we lose hundreds of teens on our roads to motor vehicle crashes. In order to save lives, it will require a change in our attitudes toward safety, and that’s a lesson best taught at an early age.

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The SADD students I spoke to had already taken a major step toward this shift in thinking, simply by attending the event. Our nation’s youth must learn not only how to practice safe behavior, but also how to become the next generation of safety leaders. With that in mind and understanding that strong leadership begins with self, I urged the SADD attendees to develop their own internal leadership qualities, stressing that increased knowledge of self would help them to empower others.

As a safety advocate, I know that a big part of my job is to provide support to those who will one day fill my shoes. I used my opportunity with SADD to plant the seeds that will yield the world’s future safety advocates. It’s important that today’s adults—professional safety specialists or not—work together to train, grow, and prepare today’s youth to be strong, effective leaders that we can one day confidently hand the baton to in the name of safety.

Got Plans?

By Chris O’Neil, Chief, Media Relations Division

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

As a motorcyclist, I know there’s a lot that goes into being a safe rider. There’s training and experience that help build and sharpen our riding skills. There’s equipment designed to help us avoid crashes and equipment designed to protect us when things go wrong. There are awareness campaigns to remind us that distraction, impairment, and speed kill. And there are reports and safety recommendations, developed from our investigations, that often make headlines and create discussion within our community.

We recently completed our investigation of a fatal motorcycle and pickup truck crash that happened during the September 10, 2017, “Toy Run” group ride in Augusta, Maine. Unless you’re an avid NTSB report reader or live in Maine, this report likely didn’t catch your eye, and that’s unfortunate because the probable cause speaks to the foundation of every good ride—from your lone-wolf escape, to the Saturday pick-up ride, to the organized chapter ride—every good ride starts with a good plan.

About 3,000 motorcyclists gathered at the Augusta Civic Center to participate in the 36th annual United Bikers of Maine Toy Run on the day of the crash. The intended route had the herd in staggered formation entering I-95 from exit 112B, traveling to exit 113, where they would leave the highway to proceed east on Route 3/202, then south on Route 32, to reach their final destination of Windsor Fairgrounds.

After entering I-95 and for reasons that could not be determined, a 2007 Harley-Davidson XL 1200 suddenly moved out of the right lane, traveled across the center lane, and entered the left lane in front of a 2008 Ford F250 pickup truck. The pickup truck driver attempted an evasive maneuver but collided with the motorcycle, losing control of the vehicle, due in part to the truck having “collected” the Harley. The truck veered to the right, traveling across the center and right lanes and striking four other motorcycles. The truck and the 2007 Harley traveled through the guardrail, where the truck came to rest on its passenger side and the Harley on its right side in a ditch beside the pickup. Two motorcyclists died as a result of the crash. One motorcyclist and the pickup truck passenger suffered serious injuries, while the driver and four other motorcyclists suffered minor injuries. The motorcyclists involved in the crash were not United Bikers of Maine members, and the motorcyclist who died was not wearing a helmet as required.

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Figure 1: NTSB diagram, adapted from Maine State Police diagram, detailing the initial stages of the crash sequence

We determined that the probable cause of the crash was the motorcycle operator’s unsafe maneuver in moving in front of the pickup truck. Contributing to this crash was the failure of the city of Augusta Police Department and the Toy Run event organizer, United Bikers of Maine, to identify and mitigate the risks associated with routing a group ride onto an interstate without providing supplemental traffic control or state police oversight.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time we addressed route planning for special events on streets and highways. In 2012, we investigated a crash in Midland, Texas, involving a parade float and freight train, where the city of Midland and the parade organizer failed to identify and mitigate the risks associated with routing a parade through a highway-railroad grade crossing.

In the case of the Maine motorcycle crash, we found that the event organizers and local authorities similarly failed in planning and communication. We concluded that appropriate risk assessment, involving all stakeholders, most likely would have resulted in the rerouting of the Toy Run event, so that it did not involve the interstate. Had the route remained unchanged, effective traffic control countermeasures could have been applied to increase safety. We also determined that using secondary roadways with lower speed limits for the event route, or at least providing additional oversight, including a traffic plan, and imposing adequate temporary traffic control countermeasures, would have been far more likely to result in a safe event.

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Figure 2: NTSB diagram, adapted from Maine State Police diagram, detailing the final rest positions of the crash involved vehicles.

Right about now you’re likely asking, “So how does this apply to me? My pick-up ride is about one percent of the 3,000-rider event in Maine.” Valid point. Your lone-wolf ride or pick-up ride doesn’t require coordination with local or state authorities. But your ride—just like an event ride—requires planning for safety. You need to plan your rides to “identify and mitigate the risks” associated with them.

I tend to ride a lot by myself, and although I allow myself to “explore” the countryside of the region, I at least let someone know what general area I plan to be in, when I plan to return, and if I’m planning any stops along the way. If I do a detailed turn-by-turn route plan, I’ll share that too, noting allowances for the occasional missed turn.

If I lead a pick-up ride, I do a safety brief before we go kickstands up, detailing the route, communications, hand signals, what to do if we get separated, and what to do if someone has an emergency. I try not to take my friends on roads I’ve not traveled, so I can communicate to them what to expect and highlight any potential hazards or unusual road conditions. I check weather, traffic, and other relevant environmental factors to ensure good situational awareness.

To some readers, I’m sure this sounds like overpreparation. I disagree. The moments spent going over a plan help trigger all the other safety behaviors we need to employ to keep ourselves safe on our rides.

There is a wise saying related to planning: “Nobody plans to fail, but many fail to plan.” Applying good planning principals to your rides will help you keep safety at the forefront of your activities, and is one more way to mitigate the risks we face every time we saddle up.