By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division
May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness month and, for those of us who don’t have the privilege of riding year-round, the season is upon us. You may have heard that new data from the state highway safety offices show that motorcyclist fatalities were down 5.6% in 2017—a difference of 296 lives—which the Governors Highway Safety Association estimates means about 4,990 people were killed on motorcycles last year.
All of us in roadway safety have a common mission and goal: To reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the roads. Motorcycles are disproportionately represented in fatality statistics, and the NTSB has long been concerned with motorcycle safety.
In 2007, we issued Safety Recommendation H-07-39, calling on states and territories to require that all riders wear an FMVSS 218-compliant helmet while on a motorcycle. Although wearing a helmet is a rider’s best protection in the event of a crash, currently only 16 states have motorcycle helmet laws. Several others that once had helmet laws have repealed them.
Repealing a helmet law is like taking the seat belts back out of cars and selling them at roadside stands to those drivers who want one. It’s making the road user’s best protection optional. Riders are 29 times more likely than car occupants to die in a crash; they should be required to use the best possible protection.
There are many other instances where we’ve emphasized the importance of motorcycle safety.
We continue to advocate for motorcycle safety by testifying before state legislators, educating the public, and working with advocacy groups to raise awareness about the issue. And we’ll continue to do so until we reach zero rider fatalities.
I’ve heard people say that a helmet law or a seat belt law takes away their freedom. But I’ve also heard people say a helmet or a seat belt saved their life. So, if you’re a cager, please buckle up, every seat, every trip; or, if you’re a rider, put on that FMVSS-218–compliant helmet, because I’ve seen what people look like after a crash when they haven’t made that choice and I don’t want that to happen to you.
Personally, I like having a reminder written into the law (and backed up by a hefty penalty), because when the sun is shining, and the weather is fine, sometimes I want to feel as free as possible. But the laws of physics are the same on all days, and they can’t be repealed. I’m thankful for helmet laws, just like seat belt laws; I’m glad they’re there, helping shape my habits. Helmet laws reinforce lifesaving habits that all riders benefit from.
During this Motorcycle Safety Awareness month and Memorial Day weekend, many messages deserve to be spread—Ride your own ride. Don’t ride impaired or fatigued. Share the road. But, when all else fails, the one message you don’t want to miss is “wear a helmet,” whether the law in your state requires it or not.
I don’t know about you, but it seems that every day I see more and more people traveling by bicycle; whether they’re riding for exercise, taking a fun ride with family and friends, or commuting to work. It’s exciting to see a growing population using bicycles to get from place to place. People are also bicycling year-round, in all types of weather, across the United States. As someone with a background in public health, I’m glad to see that The League of American Bicyclists reports that bike riding is an increasing trend. Personally, I always look forward to participating in Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day each May during Bike Month.
I love my bike. It isn’t anything fancy, but it gets me where I need to go, and it was even recently featured in the New York Times. My family and I ride our bikes as often as possible. Some of my colleagues at the NTSB (you can see some of us in the photo) have been biking to work for years. Many of us are lucky to live in Bicycle Friendly Communities where it is easy to travel by bicycle around town.
The NTSB is known for investigating every civil aviation accident and significant accidents in other modes of transportation—highway, rail, pipeline, and marine. Our goal is to help people get around—in whatever form of transportation they choose—as safely as possible. One of the tools we use to achieve this goal is the “Most Wanted List” of transportation safety improvements (MWL). Although neither our investigations nor the MWL have a specific focus on bicycles, many of our recommendations and the MWL items can improve safety for bicyclists. For example, when decisions are made with the safety of all road users in mind, such as following NTSB recommendations for a safe systems approach to setting speed limits or lowering the per se BAC limit to 0.05 g/dL to prevent drinking and driving, those of us who ride bicycles are safer. Additionally, when we make roads safe for the most vulnerable users, such as people who walk and bike, everyone benefits.
I encourage anyone curious about commuting by bicycle to give it a try this Bike to Work Week. You’ll be in good company (and if you see one of us from the NTSB on our bikes, be sure to say hello). According to the League of American Bicyclists, many people who participate in the Bike to Work Day promotion for the first time become regular bike commuters! Give it a try—map your route, get your bicycle tuned up, and always remember to wear your helmet!
By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division
May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, a time where communities come together to bring more awareness to safety issues impacting teens on the road. GYTSM, which began as National Youth Traffic Safety Month, was expanded to support the United Nations’ 2007 Global Road Safety Week, because teen driving crashes are a worldwide safety problem requiring global solutions.
Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to London to address an audience concerned about young driver safety. Although the United Kingdom has far fewer road deaths per capita than the United States, the country loses more teen drivers than drivers in any other age group each year.
My hosts were interested in hearing the perspective of a US safety advocate as they consider implementing a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system. Just as the United Kingdom has much to teach us on many roadway safety topics, we have much to share about GDLs and factors that combine with them to make them even more effective. For example, in 1993, the NTSB recommended keeping young drivers off the road at certain times, particularly from midnight to 5 a.m. In 2002, we recommended that:
a supervising adult driver be 21 or older;
states that did not already have a three-stage graduated licensing system implement one; and
states with a GDL program prohibit young drivers from carrying more than one teen passenger without adult supervision.
And it wasn’t just the NTSB that was looking at GDL systems and their effect on teen drivers. By 2011, researchers associated with the National Institutes of Health found that GDL laws reduce crashes among drivers 16 and 17 years old by 8 to 14 percent. They also found GDL laws to be most effective in combination with at least five of these seven factors:
A minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit
A mandatory waiting period of at least 6 months before a driver with a learner’s permit can apply for a provisional license
A requirement for 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving
A minimum age of 17 for a provisional license
Restrictions on driving at night
A limit on the number of teenage passengers allowed in a car
A minimum age of 18 for a full license
US states are often called “laboratories of policy.” This is a grim prospect when it comes to setting a single, high safety standard, but, as I told my hosts in London, it also allows researchers to review what works best and where we can still improve. Opportunities to share lessons learned across national borders are another important tool in combatting roadway deaths and injuries.
According to the World Health Organization, 1.25 million people die each year around the world in traffic crashes. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among people age 15 and 24 years old. In the fight against roadway deaths and injuries, our youngest and most vulnerable drivers are counting on us to help them emerge victorious, not only during Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, but every day. Until roadways around the world are safe for them, our work will continue.
My British counterparts are committed to winning this war with us. And we agree that, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, we shall never surrender.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. First introduced in 1987 by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., this time is set aside to increase public awareness for alcohol-related issues and to encourage communities to focus on ways to address this public health problem. In 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,497 people across the United States were killed by drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 g/dL or higher. That means that every 50 minutes, a person is killed in an alcohol-impaired crash in the United States.
At the NTSB, we find this tragic and unacceptable, because every one of these crashes is preventable.
Next week, the Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities will take place in San Antonio, Texas. More than 2,000 highway safety professionals from across the United States will gather to meet, learn, and share their proven-effective programs to increase the safety of America’s roadways, including implementing impaired driving prevention programs, improving enforcement strategies, and encouraging legislative changes. I’m especially excited to be attending the conference this year, not only because it’s being hosted in my home state, but also because I will be speaking on a panel focused on lowering the illegal BAC from .08 to .05 percent in states across our nation. A take-home message that I hope all Lifesavers attendees will remember is that a .05 BAC is a broad prevention strategy which deters even drivers with high BACs from getting behind the wheel.
Reducing drinking and driving deaths takes a comprehensive approach, and lowering the illegal BAC limit is just one part of the impaired-driving-prevention equation. Other important solutions can be found below, through our past blogs, safety recommendations, and efforts to address alcohol-impaired driving. With one-third of all traffic fatalities related to impaired driving, and more than 10,000 American lives lost every year, our work is far from over.
We have accomplished a great deal when it comes to reducing alcohol-impaired driving, but there is much more to be done to save lives and prevent injuries. The way I see it, the solution—this month and every month—is simple: if we separate drinking from driving, we will save lives.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a time set aside to raise awareness about the dangers surrounding distracted driving. We continue to see far too many crashes in all transportation modes involving cognitive, visual, and manual distraction. Almost every driver has a portable electronic device, and if those devices are used while a person is driving, they pose a significant risk—not only to that driver, but to the public, as well.
Although distraction has always had the potential to interfere with vehicle operation, new technologies have made it easier to become distracted, and therefore easier to become a risk to ourselves or others. William James wrote in 1892 that “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” Today, constant connectivity has become a mass of habits for many. But when it comes to driving, our eyes, minds, and hands should be on the driving task.
Distraction causes thousands of lives to be lost every year on our roads and it contributes to hundreds of thousands of injuries. We began calling for a ban on driver use of portable electronic devices in 2011. See the links below for some of the other steps we’ve taken to raise awareness about distracted driving and facilitate solutions.
The ability to multitask is a myth. Humans cannot operate a vehicle while doing other things without risking the safety of themselves and those around them. Hands-free is not risk free—research shows a driver’s level of cognitive distraction is about equal for hands-free or hand-held communication.
Changing attitudes and behavior takes a sustained awareness effort, better laws, and high‑visibility enforcement of those laws. This combined approach has resulted in widespread seat belt use and gains against drunk driving. We’ve begun to make an impact on the distracted driving habit using these techniques, and you can do your part just by disconnecting for the drive.
The NTSB is releasing a series of blogs highlighting the progress the transportation community is making in each mode to advance issues on our 2017–2018 Most Wanted List. This series sheds light on the progress made and what needs to be done going forward to improve transportation safety. This is the second post of the series.
We’re now midway through the 2017–2018 Most Wanted List cycle, and we’re eager to learn how this year will measure up to previous years. The past 2 years have resulted in an increase in highway traffic fatalities—from 32,000 roadway deaths per year in 2014 to more than 37,000 in 2016—so clearly, improvements are vital. We checked in with stakeholders on the progress they’re making to address the most pressing issues, and they’ve updated us on their successes and struggles. Here’s where we stand.
Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
Expand recorder use to enhance safety
Strengthen occupant protection
End alcohol and other drug impairment in transportation
Require medical fitness for duty
Install Collision Avoidance Technologies
Collision avoidance technologies can reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the nation’s roadways now. Today, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and forward collision warning systems already work to reduce rear-end crashes in equipped vehicles, and we’ve been working to encourage industry and vehicle manufacturers to adopt such systems. In 2017, we cohosted a roundtable with the National Safety Council on commercial vehicle (heavy-duty truck) use of advanced collision avoidance technologies and learned that truck manufacturers are beginning to see high customer demand for forward collision avoidance systems on their trucks. During the roundtable, one manufacturer indicated they were making the technologies standard on their trucks, while another mentioned that over 60 percent of their customers purchase vehicles with technology. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is making progress on evaluation and testing collision avoidance technologies. We continue to advocate for connected vehicle technology because these technologies can further aid in collision avoidance, especially in situations where vehicle resident sensors are weak. Safety should never be considered a barrier to innovation, but rather, an integral component of it.
End Impairment in Transportation
In 2017, we saw progress on reducing alcohol impairment in transportation. Utah became the first state in the nation to pass a law setting a .05 percent blood alcohol content per se limit, and Nebraska and Oklahoma passed all-offender ignition interlock laws. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule establishing the Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, and NHTSA developed training programs addressing the full range of responses to alcohol impairment, from enforcement through adjudication. Yet, we still need more states to strengthen their impaired driving laws and enforcement. We also need improved “place of last drink” (POLD) data to help law enforcement officers deter future violations, and we need better methods to measure impairment by drugs other than alcohol.
Require Medical Fitness, Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
In terms of medical fitness, we’ve criticized both the FMCSA and the Federal Railroad Administration because they have withdrawn their advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding obstructive sleep apnea, which could have led to a rulemaking to address this important issue for people in safety-critical positions. In the highway mode, untreated moderate‑to-severe sleep apnea disqualifies drivers from operating large commercial vehicles because it affects driving safety, yet clear guidance is needed to assist medical examiners in identifying the condition. Nevertheless, the FMCSA has made notable progress by developing a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners that lists all medical professionals who are qualified to certify drivers. This is a step in the right direction.
The FMCSA took another important step to improve safety when it implemented the electronic logging device (ELD) rule in December 2017. The rule requires the use of technology to automatically track driving and duty time. The NTSB advocated for such devices for many years because they enable better enforcement of hours-of-service regulations and can lead to reductions in drowsy driving among truck and bus drivers.
Our roundtable earlier this year, “Act to End Deadly Distractions,” brought together survivor advocates and experts throughout industry and government to discuss progress on state laws. We are beginning to see states consider legislation that would completely ban the use of hand-held devices, which highlight manual and visual distraction, but public awareness of the cognitive distraction that can result from hands-free device use remains very low.
Strengthen Occupant Protection
The good news this year on occupant protection is that motorcoaches are now built with lap and shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions. Now we’re focusing on all motorcoach passengers properly using those belts and using them every time they ride. We are urging primary enforcement of seat belt laws for all vehicles, including large buses equipped with belts, at every seating position, and we’re calling for safety briefings on motorcoaches similar to those delivered on commercial flights that explain seat belts and other safety features. As for passenger vehicles, some states, such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire, are considering joining the 34 states that already have primary enforcement of mandatory seat belt laws. Primary enforcement of mandatory seat belt laws is proven to increase seat belt use and, thereby, reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the roads. Regarding motorcycles, we are concerned that some states are repealing their helmet laws, because we know reduced helmet use will lead to more traumatic brain injuries and deaths.
Critical topics that touch on these highway safety issues are speeding and roadway infrastructure. Our recent safety study on speeding establishes what many of us already know but may not always apply: speeding increases the risk and severity of a crash. Here again, along with other safety recommendations, we’ve identified available technologies that can save lives but are not currently in use. The importance of infrastructure was highlighted recently by our highway accident report on a motorcoach collision that killed 2 people and injured 14 others. An unrepaired crash attenuator, an unmarked gore area, and out-of-compliance signage were cited in the report, in addition to the lack of seat belt use by most of the occupants.
Expand Recorder Use
Finally, we continue to urge all large highway vehicles be required to be equipped with recorders that capture a standard set of parameters. Event data recorders are vital investigative tools in every transportation mode—they help us do our job better and faster by providing valuable information after a crash so we can figure out what went wrong and make recommendations that prevent future injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, in crashes involving large trucks or buses, we are often left with limited data from the vehicle about the crash. We learn much more from passenger vehicles in crashes than from trucks and buses because of the standards NHTSA has developed (no such standards exist for trucks or buses). These standards are critical for large-vehicle operators, who can use recorders to train their drivers and increase safety.
The Most Wanted List midpoint mark allows us to reflect as well as plan and set new goals for the upcoming year. Although we have a long way to go to reach zero fatalities on our roadways, the efforts highlighted above, innovative partnerships and strategies, and bold actions to advance our recommendations are what we need to make America’s roadways fatality-free.
Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety.
Super Bowl Sunday is almost here! Are you rooting for the Patriots or the Eagles? Some of my earliest memories of the Super Bowl are of my three older brothers watching Tony Dorsett and Roger Staubach play (maybe it was all their boyish yelling at the TV that left such a strong impression on me!). Even though their beloved Cowboys haven’t made the playoffs in many years, my brothers still love the Super Bowl.
As for me, I have to admit, one of my favorite parts of Super Bowl weekend is all the food and drinks. If drinking alcohol figures in your Super Bowl plans, just remember to also plan to get home safely afterwards. If you’re with friends or family, help them make a plan, too, so that no one attempts to drive after drinking. Being safe doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time; it simply means making sure you have a safe ride home so you aren’t killed or injured—and so that you don’t kill or injure someone else—in a car crash after the big game. You can call a sober friend, have a designated driver, take public transportation, use a taxi or rideshare service, or simply stay over at your host’s house—you have a lot of options to separate drinking from driving!
If you follow stats, you probably know that Super Bowl LII marks only the 3rd time in history that the two teams are ranked in the top 5 for both offense and defense (one of the others was Super Bowl XIII, when I’m sure my brothers were upset that the Steelers defeated the Cowboys). Unlike football stats, though, we can all be angry about the stats for alcohol-impaired driving deaths. More than 10,000 people die in the United States every year in a crash where someone was drinking and driving—that’s almost 30 deaths every day. Super Bowl Sunday is one of the deadliest days of the year, with a 41 percent increase in deaths, which is more than the increase in deaths on New Year’s Eve.
But these deadly stats don’t have to come true this year. We can do something about it by simply separating our drinking from our driving. In these days of instant information and constant technology, we can easily call a friend, get a rideshare, find out the public transportation schedule . . . if you have a phone, you have a ride. Choose one: drink or drive. Not both. It’s really that simple, and it may save your life.
Two of my friends are vacationing in Utah and will be watching the game from there. Did you know that Utah just passed a law to lower their illegal per se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit from .08 BAC to.05 BAC? Lowering BAC limits is a safety recommendation we made several years ago as part of our Reaching Zero report, and it’s also highlighted as an effective safety measure in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s report, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities, an independent study that was published a few weeks ago. Even at .05 BAC, your coordination is compromised, you have difficulty steering, and your visual functions decline (actually, visual abilities decline starting at .02 BAC). All states have at least a .08 BAC law, but the .05 law in Utah will help further reduce the number of drunk drivers at all BAC levels, even high BACs. I’m glad my friends in Utah will be safer this Super Bowl Sunday, but what about people in other states and territories? Impairment has once again made the NTSB’s Most Wanted List, and we continue to work to save those 10,000+ lives that are lost every year across our nation in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.
This year, as we get ready for our Super Bowl celebrations, let’s not forget to separate our drinking from our driving, and remind our friends and family to do the same. Like my brothers, you’re probably making plans to watch the game this Sunday—at home, at a party, in a sports bar . . . or maybe you’re one of the lucky fans who will be watching live in Minneapolis. No matter where you will be for the game, don’t forget to make plans for a safe and sober ride afterwards.
And, regardless of whether you’re rooting for the Patriots or the Eagles, remember that all of us at the NTSB will be rooting for you to get home safely this Super Bowl Sunday.
*Did you know? The term ‘hail mary’ gained popularity when quarterback Roger Staubach described his 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the closing seconds of a 1975 NFC playoff game. A ‘hail mary’ pass is unlikely to be completed, but the successful pass will have game-changing consequences – hence the reference to prayer. You throw a ‘hail mary’ when failure is not an option, but success is vanishingly unlikely.