Category Archives: Highway Safety

When Safety Should Take the Back Seat

By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Image collage for strengthen occupant protection Most Wanted List Issue.As a public health professional, I have spent my career working in the United States and internationally to prevent injuries and deaths. At the NTSB, one of my primary roles is to advocate for the changes needed to prevent transportation accidents.

Significant advancements have been made to improve the safety of occupants in the front seats of passenger vehicles, including the development of advanced restraint and airbag systems, safer seat designs, and structural improvements to minimize injury due to intrusion. Today, 32 states have adopted legislation that requires front-seat passengers to use a seat belt, and we can celebrate that we have achieved a national daytime average seat-belt-use rate of 90 percent for front-seat passengers.

But what about rear seats? We have not seen similar technology advances in rear seats, and research shows that rear seat belt use is considerably lower, at 83 percent. How can research, engineering, and advocacy make an impact in increasing rear seat belt use?

In 2015, after decades of decline, the United States experienced the largest increase in motor vehicle crashes and resulting deaths. Another historic increase is expected for 2016.  In examining such a complex issue, we at the NTSB found ourselves asking the following: why aren’t people buckling up when they sit in the rear seat, and how can research, engineering, and advocacy increase rear seat belt use?

To answer these questions, we reached out to occupant protection experts drawn from the auto industry, the research community, safety advocates, and the government to participate in a workshop to help us find ways to strengthen occupant protection in the rear seat of passenger vehicles.

During the workshop, we discussed the current knowledge about rear seat occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and how these occupants utilize existing vehicle safety systems, such as seat belts.  We examined how the rear seat environment is different from the front, both in design and user demographics. The workshop also addressed advanced vehicle and emerging seat belt technologies, innovative seat designs, as well as areas of needed research and education.

Our workshop was designed to allow the sharing of experience and knowledge, as well as to encourage participants to collaborate on inventive strategies. As a result, in the detailed summary we are publishing today, participants identified short- and long-term goals that will require a greater amount of collaboration, engineering, design, and advocacy to achieve.

Together with researchers, automobile manufacturers, legislators, regulators, and safety advocates, we are identifying practical, real-world applications and opportunities to make rear seats safer for everyone.

For more information about the workshop, presentations and the summary document visit https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2016_rss_WS.aspx.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

By Leah Walton

Super Bowl LI is Sunday, and the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons undoubtedly have their game plans in place.

What’s your game plan?Graphic: choose one: Drink or Drive

The players aren’t the only ones that need to be prepared on game day. Fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston, at Super Bowl parties, and at sports bars must have their transportation plans lined up before kickoff to ensure a safe and enjoyable day.

Super Bowl Sunday is thought of by some as a national holiday, and, like many other holidays in the United States, many Americans celebrate with food, friends, and alcohol. This means that, like other holidays, we often see an increase in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle fatalities. Such a day of healthy competition, camaraderie, and celebration should not end in tragedy due to something that’s 100% preventable.

That’s why I say the best defense is a good offense—not only for football players, but also for fans. And a fan’s defense on Super Bowl Sunday should be to choose—in advance—to either drive or drink, but never both. Impairment begins with the first drink, and taking a chance on driving because you “only had a few” is a risky play that could endanger your life and the lives of others.

By designating a sober driver as a key part of the game-day festivities, safety is increased and the likelihood of being in a crash is significantly reduced. Sometimes everyone wants to celebrate, and that’s OK, as long as everyone has a sober ride home. In this day and age, there are many ways to get home safely, whether by taxi, public transportation, or by using NHTSA’s Safer Ride app. Or, go for the MVP title this year and volunteer to be the designated sober driver for your squad, making sure everyone arrives safely at their destination postgame. That’s a guaranteed win!

Remember: you can drink responsibly, you can drive responsibly, but you can never drink and drive responsibly. Make your choice, stick with it, and enjoy the game!

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.

#NoExcuses This New Year’s Eve

By Leah Walton 

By now, you likely have your New Year’s Eve plans in place. Maybe you’ll go to a big party. Perhaps you’ll meet friends at a local bar or host a small gathering at your house. Maybe you’ll just spend a quiet night in. But whatever your plan may be, if it involves alcohol or other drugs, it should also involve a sober ride home.

Most of us know someone whose life has been impacted by an impaired-driving crash. These accidents occur at an alarmingly high frequency and yet, they’re totally preventable.

Data show that impaired-driving crashes occur more frequently over weekends, on holidays, and at night. This New Year’s holiday falls on a weekend, making it likely that we’ll see a higher-than-usual number of impaired-driving crashes—a very tragic start to 2017.

impaired2According to a recent report by the National Safety Council, we can expect to see more than 360 crash fatalities over this 3-day New Year’s holiday period. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 40 percent of all fatalities during the Christmas and New Year holiday periods have occurred in crashes in which at least one of the drivers was alcohol impaired. That means that approximately 145 people could be killed from drunk driving over this New Year’s weekend.

Let’s not accept this gloomy statistic.

On the eve of 2017, there really are no excuses to operate a vehicle while impaired, or to travel in a vehicle operated by an impaired person. The truth is, impairment starts with the first drink. With the ability to easily find a ride with a few swipes of our phones, and the wide availability of public transportation and sober ride programs on nights when drunk driving crashes are at their highest, there’s no reason for anyone to drive impaired.

Since the 1980s, transportation safety advocates have been working tirelessly through education programs, increased enforcement, strengthened legislation, and emerging technology, such as breathalyzers, to stop impaired driving. And, without a doubt, improvements have been made. In the early ‘80s, more than 21,000 people were killed each year as a result of alcohol-impaired driving. In 2015, that number was down to about 10,265. Lives have been saved because of improvements in safety culture and safety technology.

However, even with that improvement, every impaired driving death is still unacceptable, because, in the end, it’s a decision, not an accident.

No one goes out on New Year’s Eve expecting to die or be injured in an impaired-driving crash. New Year’s Eve is about celebrating the close of one year and welcoming the hopes of a new year ahead. Everyone has the ability to experience the new year when they make plans to get home safely, whether that means driving sober or designating a sober driver.

impairedIt is our hope at NTSB that everyone will make it home safely and that no one will have to start the new year off with a phone call that a loved one was killed in an impaired-driving crash. Let’s prove the statistics wrong, because, nowadays, there really are #NoExcuses for driving impaired.

Leah Walton is a safety advocate in NTSB’s Safety Advocacy Division.

 

Looking for Leaders

By Nicholas Worrell

nbcslI recently spoke to a group of student leaders at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) 40th Annual Legislative Conference. My audience was full of sharp young people who were eager to learn, succeed, and lead.

I had gone to talk about safety—especially transportation safety—as it affects both our personal lives and our public policy. But I knew that this driven group would want to a leadership lesson, as well. According to business writer John C. Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” Undoubtedly, the biggest transportation safety challenge for youth drivers today is one of leadership, and safety is often a matter of finding one young person to stand up and say “no.” Driving while distracted? No. Driving while impaired? No. Driving while fatigued? No. That one young leader must then encourage others to make the same commitments, and on and on.

More than 35,000 people are killed every year in motor vehicle crashes. From childhood through young adulthood and into middle age, the most likely way for any of us to die is on our roads and highways, and the vast majority of these crashes are preventable. However, making the choice to say “no” to unsafe driving requires a behavioral change in American drivers, especially young ones. Teens and young adults often take their cues from whatever seems normal among their friends. They tend to “go with the flow.” That’s why it’s so important for us to educate and influence young leaders who can take charge and redirect unsafe trends among their peer group. We need to inform the new generation of leaders.

The young leaders at the NBCSL Youth Congress are ready and willing to change the world. My message to them was that they could make a big impact by acting as leaders in transportation safety. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” In the same way, for the 35,000 people who die on our roads every year, safety too long delayed is safety denied. I encouraged my young audience to step up to the challenge, not only to be futures leaders, but to be transportation safety leaders today, because the life that they save might be their own.

Helping Consumers Understand Collision Avoidance Technologies

By Member Earl F. Weener, PhD

Panelists at , Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

On October 27, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Safety Council (NSC) hosted an expert panel discussion, Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

NTSB and NSC came together to educate drivers about the benefits and capabilities of currently available collision avoidance technologies (or “advanced driver assistance systems”), which can prevent many common types of crashes. This issue appeared on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List in 2016 and remains on the 2017–2018 list because increasing the implementation of these technologies is a priority for us.

Crash avoidance technologies have improved and become widely available, and automakers have worked hard to get that message to potential buyers. As a result, consumers have been increasingly bombarded with a variety of safety technology-focused marketing campaigns. Our joint panel looked at ways to help consumers understand the functionality, benefits, and limitations of these technologies.

The full-day event featured presentations from policymakers, auto manufacturers, researchers, media and trade press writers/reviewers, industry associations, and safety advocates. The discussions covered technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning—to name a few—and what they mean for safety. We also focused on how we could all work together to better promote these technologies to consumers. By the end of the day, we could all agree that these technologies save lives, and more must be done to incorporate them into every vehicle and educate consumers about them.

Deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes increased by 7.2 percent in 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this is the highest increase in 50 years. This is a move in the wrong direction and is potentially the beginning of a very troubling trend. We believe that crash avoidance technologies could have prevented many of these deaths and that advanced driver assistance systems can play a significant role in saving lives.

Over the past 20 years, we have advocated for the use of driver assistance safety technologies and have issued 14 recommendations on collision avoidance technologies to date. We believe that, like seatbelts before them, these next-generation technologies will move vehicle safety forward, helping safeguard drivers and passengers.

When considering these safety-improving systems in your vehicle, it’s important to remember that they do have limitations. In other words, they are driver assisting, not driver replacement, systems. We have not yet reached a stage of autonomous—or driverless—vehicles, so drivers are, and must remain, in full control. These technologies are designed to work with a driver who is sober, well-rested, and fully engaged with his or her vehicle.

Reaching Zero Crashes was part of our effort to inform the public of the important aspects of collision avoidance technology. By bringing together interested safety advocates, we moved the dialogue forward and discovered new ways of promoting the technology.

I was impressed by the variety of related consumer education campaigns underway. For example, the AARP announced it would expand its Smart DriverTEK, a new and innovative vehicle technology education program specifically for seniors, developed jointly with The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. With the goal of encouraging adoption, the program uses in-classroom workshops and pop-up events to educate drivers on current and evolving vehicle technologies and how to use them.

In 2015, the NTSB urged NHTSA to expand its New Car Assessment Program 5-star rating system to include a scale that rates the performance of forward collision avoidance systems. At our event, I heard how NHTSA will, in fact, review some of these safety technologies as part of its 5-star safety rating program. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who also participated in the event, this week announced it would also be reviewing and rating vehicles for a TOP Safety Pick+ if they had good headlight systems and autobraking, among other factors. These are all promising developments for consumers.

Representatives of the media and trade press from such publications as Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, and US News and World Report discussed how seriously they take their jobs to provide consumers critical information about these technologies before buyers arrive at the dealership. Representatives from these outlets were testing, reviewing, and writing features for new buyers—and planned to do more in 2017.

Advocacy groups, academia, industry, media, the NSC, and the NTSB can—and must—take the message to consumers and lawmakers about how these technologies work and why they are beneficial. At our event, the NSC discussed its “My Car Does What” education program, a terrific online tool designed for all age groups that provides an overview of available technologies and how they work. Dealer groups, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, have committed to using these tools to educate dealers and consumers as they sell or buy vehicles with these features. Dealers will play a significant role in promoting these technologies.

Vehicle safety technology has come a long way over the past few decades, and these advances provide an opportunity to significantly reduce the unacceptable number of injury and fatality crashes each year.

If you were not able to join us for the event, I encourage you to watch it via our recorded webcast to learn more about these technologies. You can also find the complete event transcript on our webpage.

NTSB Takes Safety Message to North Carolina’s Catawba County Youth

By Nicholas Worrell

Photo of Nicholas Worrell and students at NCNAACPWhen I asked the audience at the Catawba County Branch of the North Carolina NAACP in Maiden if they could identify the leading cause of death in teens, they replied with silence.

After waiting in vain for an answer, I told them. “Motor vehicle crashes,” I said, and explained that teens are 1.6 times more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes than adults.

NTSB Safety Advocate Stephanie Shaw and I were invited to this November 13 meeting by the chapter’s youth director, Lacolia Mungro, whose experiences driving an 18wheeler have encouraged her to spread the message about the risks of distracted driving.

I told the audience that 35,092 people died on US roadways in 2015, which is more than 10 times the population of Maiden. That number is on track to be even higher this year, which has prompted the NTSB to include issues like distracted driving, impaired driving, and fatigue on our 2017–2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. We emphasize outreach to teens because that demographic, overrepresented in highway crashes, has more to lose than older drivers, considering the years of life ahead of them and the milestones they have yet to experience, like graduation, job success, marriage, and raising children. Missing out on those life experiences is a stiff price to pay because of one bad choice made early in life.

We also seek out opportunities to speak to teens because they represent tomorrow’s road safety culture. It’s essential to instill safe driving practices in teens who have not yet accumulated a lifetime of unsafe driving habits.

In 2014, 40,650 crashes in North Carolina involved teenagers; 95 were killed and 10,491 were injured. As I told the group in Maiden, a properly worn seat belt is the greatest protection against injury and death in a vehicle accident. Of those 95 teens killed in 2014, 33 were not wearing seat belts.

“No call, no text, no update is worth a human life,” I told the audience. Then I encouraged them to join our advocacy efforts by buckling up and turning off their phones or putting them out of reach, because no one should have to miss out on life because of one bad decision made in youth.

Nicholas Worrell is the Chief of NTSB’s Safety Advocacy division