Category Archives: Highway Safety

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.

Act to End Deadly Distractions

By Robert L. Sumwalt

Every year, more than 3,000 people are killed—and 100 times more than that are injured—in accidents caused by distracted drivers. Whether the distraction is due to a driver using a hand-held personal electronic device or engaging in a wide range of other activities that take a driver’s attention off the road, the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities resulting from distraction is on the rise. It will take a concerted effort by lawmakers, law enforcers, and transportation safety advocates to end this deadly trend.

Save the date card for the "Act to End Deadly Distractions" eventThis year marks the ninth time that the NTSB has included “eliminate distractions while driving” on its Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Although it’s not a new issue, ending deadly distractions in all modes of transportation is again on our signature priority list because it is one of the most critical issues facing the traveling public today.

More must be done to raise awareness about this issue, which has appeared on the MWL for far too long. To that end, the NTSB, in partnership with StopDistractions.org, will host a roundtable, titled “Act to End Deadly Distractions”—its second such event in 25 months aimed at shedding light on the issue of distracted driving and focusing on practical and measurable solutions to this growing problem. This upcoming roundtable will build off the momentum from our first distraction roundtable in March 2015, and will examine existing public policy and laws in several states that have reduced the number of crashes attributed to distraction. Our panel of participants will highlight ways that advocates and community influencers can work with law enforcement to continue to ensure distracted driving laws are enforced consistently. And, perhaps most importantly, victims’ families will speak about how they’ve been affected by these preventable crashes.

I have the pleasure of hosting this year’s event, which will be held on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the NTSB Conference Center in Washington, DC. More details can be found at the Act to End Deadly Distractions Roundtable webpage. The roundtable is open to the public and will be live streamed on the Web.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month; this roundtable comes at the perfect time to raise awareness and spur action toward eliminating distraction.

One fatality due to a distracted driver is one too many. We know what it will take to eliminate these tragedies, and we are confident that the upcoming roundtable will be a step that direction.

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.