Category Archives: Highway Safety

Are you Making the Right Choice?

By Stephanie Shaw

Did you know that motor vehicle-related deaths are a leading cause of unintentional death for children in the United States?

Did you know that in 2015, nearly 500 children under age 7—many of whom were unrestrained—were killed in motor vehicle crashes?

Did you know that children are safest when using a child safety seat or booster seat, but nearly half of child car seats and booster seats are used incorrectly?

For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is to properly use age-appropriate child car seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there and so many options for child car seats and booster seats, how does the average parent choose the right one?

Today, I want to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers regarding car seats and booster seats.

Q. Which child car seat is the safest?

A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards, but car seat designs vary. That’s why it’s critical to look for a seat that’s recommended for your child’s height and weight.

Q. So, I just need to buy the right car seat?

A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step, but it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.

Q. How do I install and use a child car seat?

A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat, and also consult your vehicle owner’s manual; both provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.

Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?

A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. It’s recommended that even children older than age 2 remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.

Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?

A. Children aren’t ready to ride like adult passengers until the adult seat belt fits them properly; usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone. But don’t be in a rush to move your child into a booster seat or seat belt! Children are best protected when using a car seat with an internal harness.

Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits a child properly?

A. A seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the user’s upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the user’s shoulder and chest without crossing the neck or face.

Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?

A. Until your child properly fits an adult seat belt, he or she should always ride in the back seat, and should always use the right-sized child car seat or booster seat. Different-sized children need to be protected differently (read on!).

Q. What are common mistakes to look out for when using a car seat?

A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:

  • using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
  • installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than 1 inch at the belt path;
  • allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
  • placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.

To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat as well as your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat. Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined) and properly use the internal harness, chest-clip, and buckle.

Q. How can I get hands-on help?

A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week, so child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals are hosting events nationwide where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, and that it is installed and being used properly. Saturday, September 23, is National Seat Check Saturday; to find an event in your community, visit www.safercar.gov. And help is also available year-round, too. Find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.

Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. Be sure you’re making the right choice to protect your child!

Stephanie Shaw is an NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications and a certified child passenger safety technician.

Back-to-School Tips for Teen Drivers

By Stephanie Shaw

It’s hard to think of back-to-school season as anything other than an exciting new beginning. A new school year means new opportunities to learn, grow, and gain some independence; it’s also a new chance to make safe and healthy choices on and off the roads. The choices you make to achieve optimal health and safety can be simple—small changes to your everyday routine can create the greatest impact!

Guarantee a safe start to the school year by adopting a safety strategy that ensures you are rested, informed, and protected on and off the road. We’ve created some strategy tips for you that will contribute to a safe and healthy school year.

  1. Ride the school bus as often as possible.

Did you know that students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking the school bus than when traveling by car? The school bus is the safest method for getting to and from school and, when possible, it should be your preferred method of transportation. Before stepping foot on your journey to the bus stop, refresh your knowledge of safe school bus practices. Sit facing forward in your seat when the vehicle is in motion, buckle up if the bus is equipped with seat belts, and be aware of traffic on the roads when it’s time to hop off.

  1. Get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night.

Although extracurriculars are important, don’t forget to factor sleep into your schedule after the school day is over. Research shows that teens should get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night to guarantee they feel rested and refreshed for school in the morning. Make sleep a top priority on your schedule! Be sure to set bedtimes and stick to them. Checking your cellphone, watching television, and searching the Web on your laptop disturbs your sleep patterns and contributes to insufficient or interrupted sleep. If good grades and great school days are something you hope to achieve this school year, uninterrupted, quality sleep is key.

  1. Avoid all distraction on your morning and afternoon commute.

If you drive to and from school, remember that driving safely requires all your attention. Between 2014 and 2015, fatalities in distracted-driving–affected crashes increased by over 8%. Send your text messages, make phone calls, set your music playlist, and mute your cellphone before you put the key in the ignition. It’s also important to keep your morning routine activities in the house and off the road. Eat breakfast at the table, not in the driver’s seat, and put your makeup on in the bathroom mirror, not the rearview mirror. To reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths, you must disconnect from all distractions and focus all your attention on the road.

  1. Limit the number of passengers in the car on your way to and from school.

Extra passengers in the car create distractions. Driving with friends significantly increases the risk of a crash, which is why it’s important to limit the amount of people in your car as much as possible. Statistically, two or more peer passengers more than triples the risk of a fatal crash when a teen is at the wheel. You may become distracted by your peers’ conversations or actions in the car, and you may also be influenced to engage in risky driving behaviors when you know you’re being observed by others. Avoid driving with extra passengers, and you’ll avoid an extra distraction on the road.

Just a few simple changes to your daily routine can create a safer environment for you and your peers. Not only will these small changes help you achieve and succeed this coming school year, but you’ll also be creating safer roads for your family, friends, and community.

More Resources:

DriveitHOME

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS)

Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD)

Keeps Kids Alive DRIVE 25

Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)

Governors Highway Safety Association

Impact Teen Drivers

 

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

Back to School Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

By Leah Walton

IMG_3957Do you live within the school walk zone for your child’s school? If you do, that generally means that there is no school bus that serves your neighborhood, and you need to find an alternative form of transportation to get your child to and from school. If walking or bicycling is part of your child’s school transportation plan, be sure to prepare and plan ahead so your child will arrive safe and ready to learn.

Walking to School

Will your child walk to and from school? Children should walk with an adult or an older sibling until they are 10 years old. Map out the best and safest route for your child before school is back in session, and practice it a few times. This will get your child familiar with the route and with any crosswalks or intersections that may need negotiating. If possible, select a route with sidewalks, and try to avoid busy roads with high levels of traffic. Demonstrate safe walking behaviors by finding marked crosswalks or other designated crossing areas, stopping at any curbs and looking LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT before crossing the street. Check out the Safe Routes to School resource Teaching Children to Walk Safely as they Grow and Develop to guide children of all ages as they develop safe walking behaviors.

Bicycling to School

National Bike to School DayYour child is going to school to develop his or her brain; be sure to protect that brain with a helmet! Helmets are the most important piece of safety equipment for bicycle riders. Just as with walking, it’s also important to help your child select the safest bicycle route before starting the school year. This guide of bicycle skills a child should have before riding to school from Safe Routes to School can help you prepare your child for bicycling safely to and from school.

Safety Education is Continuous!

Whether your child is entering kindergarten or senior year, pedestrian and bicycle safety is a subject that can always be reviewed, practiced, and reinforced to ensure safe road behaviors continue throughout your child’s life.

More resources:

Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian Safety Tips from SafeKids Worldwide

Consejos de Seguridad para los Peatones from SafeKids Worldwide

Walking Safely from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Bicycle Safety

Bike Safety Tips from SafeKids Worldwide

Consejos de seguridad para ir en bicicleta from SafeKids Worldwide

Bicycle Safety from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

 

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

Teens and “Sleep Debt”

By: Dr. Jana Price

(This blog is also featured on NOYS.org.)

As young people’s schedules become busier and busier, it’s easy for sleep to fall off their priority list. Getting plenty of sleep helps youth complete tasks more efficiently, think clearly and creatively all day long, and stay alert while driving.

Although people generally recognize that sleep plays a significant role in ensuring they’re safe behind the wheel, many still admit to driving while fatigued. A recent AAA Foundation study found that 96 percent of drivers consider fatigued driving to be a serious threat and unacceptable behavior; however, nearly 3 in 10 of these same drivers admitted to driving drowsy. We believe that young drivers can avoid drowsiness if they better understand the importance of sleep, a sleep routine, and sleep debt.

Sleep is necessary for health, safety, and well-being. It helps the brain prepare for the upcoming day and allows new neural pathways to form that improve learning and memory. How much sleep do young drivers need? According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens ages 14 to 17 need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.

When people don’t get enough quality sleep, they begin to accumulate “sleep debt.” This can result from a late night of studying, getting up early for sports practice, or fragmenting sleep by using a cell phone during the night. Sleep debt accumulates over time and, ultimately, can affect a person’s ability to think and perform, negatively affecting tasks like driving. Sleep debt is also linked to high-risk behaviors, such as texting while driving, drinking and driving, and not wearing a seatbelt.

At the NTSB, we have witnessed the effects of unpaid sleep debt on teen drivers. On March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip at South Padre Island, Texas. About 1:57 p.m., the driver crossed the center median, lost control of the car, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a truck-tractor semitrailer. The driver was seriously injured and her three passengers 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. We determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

What can teens do to reduce their risk of falling asleep behind the wheel? It’s important that youth get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to be rested and rejuvenated. They should resolve to create a good sleep environment, which includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule and keeping screens out of the bedroom. If a teen has built up a sleep debt by skimping on rest, he or she can pay it back by getting a good night’s sleep for several days in a row. Finally, teens should avoid driving during the night and early morning hours when sleep typically occurs.

As teens begin to plan their upcoming school schedules and enjoy their final weeks of summer vacation, they should make sure sleep and relaxation find a prominent place on their priority list. By encouraging youth to stay out of sleep debt, we can guarantee safer and more alert young drivers behind the wheel.

To learn more about this critical problem and how to help prevent teen drowsy driving crashes, join us for our Wake Up to Teen Drowsy Driving: Don’t Send Them Back to School in ‘Debt’ webinar.  To register for the webinar: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2417579063773167107

 

Jana Price, PhD, is a Senior Human Performance Investigator in the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

 

 

 

ADAS Must be Implemented in CMVs Now

By Rob Molloy, PhD

On July 24, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a roundtable discussion that addressed strategies to increase implementation of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) —or collision avoidance systems—in the trucking industry. Many of the truck crashes we have investigated may have been mitigated or even completely prevented if the vehicles involved were equipped with ADAS. Considering that these technologies have been available in some shape or form since the 1990s, this conversation was long overdue. (See our Special Investigation Report and Most Wanted List fact sheet for more details.)

We joined forces with the National Safety Council to bring together some of the key players in the industry to discuss how we can increase ADAS implementation throughout trucking fleets. The benefits of technologies like collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) are nearly indisputable, as shown in a number of published studies.

Dr. Robert Molloy leads roundtable discussion

Joining us at the table were technology suppliers, truck manufacturers, fleet owners, government officials, researchers, trucking associations, and highway safety advocates. One universally agreed-upon takeaway from this group was that the technology is improved and effective enough now that there is no reason more truck fleets shouldn’t have it in their vehicles. As one roundtable participant noted, “Don’t let what-ifs hold up proliferation of these technologies; this technology is ready to go . . . and the longer we wait, the more crashes will happen.” In response to concerns about occasional false alerts, another noted, “We can’t wait for the technology to be perfect.”

We talked about the current state of industry, driver training and acceptance, the challenges to implementation, the benefits of regulation versus voluntary compliance, and, ultimately, we identified ways to increase implementation.

So, what did we learn?

  • Strong cases exist for accident reduction and positive return-on-investment, and they need to be shared more. For example, Schneider reported a 95-percent reduction in accident severity and a nearly 70-percent reduction in frequency in vehicles with ADAS technology. The legal costs of accidents are tremendous and also serve as an incentive for ADAS adoption. “It only takes one accident to put a small fleet out of business,” one participant noted. We must keep reminding businesses of this.
  • We are talking about driver assistance systems, not driver replacement systems. Driver acceptance and training is key. Drivers must understand what certain alerts mean and the systems’ limitations. Performance standards will be a necessary component for more universally understood systems.
  • Regulations would speed the implementation process and will eventually be needed to reach all fleets and create a level playing field. In the meantime, there is also a model for voluntary compliance that works, such as the passenger vehicle AEB commitment made last year. In fact, at our roundtable, Volvo Trucks reminded us of their announcement to make a suite of ADAS standard on all of its newly manufactured trucks. Although Daimler Trucks hasn’t taken the step to make such systems standard yet, its representatives did note a doubling in the take rate of ADAS technology to 66% in their newly manufactured trucks.
  • Data from these systems can be used to develop better systems, validate their benefits, and understand driver activities. Much work needs to be done regarding the retention and use of this data.
  • ADAS technologies are only as successful as the underlying braking and stability systems with which they are integrated. Brakes must be properly maintained, and the electronic stability control mandate must be implemented.

Although this event was targeted toward truck fleets, the general public should care, too. Why? Because truck crashes, as compared to passenger vehicle crashes, disproportionately result in fatalities. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased by 8 percent, from 3,749 to 4,050, and the number of large trucks involved in injury crashes was 87,000. The traveling public—the ones in the cars in front of, beside, and behind these trucks—should be leading the drum beat to ensure all trucks are equipped with the technology that could stop the vehicle if the driver can’t, or warn a driver if another vehicle suddenly stops or gets into their lane.

As I mentioned, late last year, passenger vehicle automakers committed to installing AEB in all passenger vehicles by 2022—some even earlier, so I challenged the trucking industry to do the same, with the NTSB facilitating the effort. The trucking industry should step up to this challenge now and send a message that this is an industry concerned with safety. From the many conversations that I have had with truck operators and drivers, this is a story I already know is largely true: the truck industry—one so vital to our economy—cares about the safety of its drivers and the overall safety of vehicles on our roads. A commitment toward using available technology in all its operations will drive that point home.

 The recording of the roundtable event is available on YouTube. Also see the NTSB website page for more details on the event.

 Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Preventing Crashes with Technology

By Erik Strickland

I’m a transportation geek. It’s an odd niche, but I’ve decided to own it. I’m also a fan of the latest-and-greatest when it comes to technology. I normally can’t afford to be an early adopter, but I keep an eye on things and jump in when the tech has started to prove itself.

This is how many vehicle manufacturers look at transportation safety technology, as well. They may develop a piece of tech, do tons of tests on it, and then roll it out on limited, trim levels; applying it first only to high-end models. That’s great for that new widget that makes the windshield wipers automatically kick on, but some things, like safety technology, need to be on all vehicles, not just on the high-end models. Last fall, we held a forum to discuss the importance of getting safety tech (like automatic emergency braking and collision avoidance systems) into passenger vehicles. It was a great discussion, and folks were amazed at how many vehicles lack these safety advancements.

But safety technology isn’t just for passenger vehicles; it’s just as important for commercial vehicles, like heavy-duty trucks and semi-tractor trailers. Safety technologies are incorporated into commercial vehicles at a much lower rate than they are in passenger vehicles, yet when heavy-duty vehicles are involved in a crash, the damage is often more severe than what you see in a passenger vehicle crash. What’s more, although many commercial vehicles are being designed and built to accommodate the new safety technology, operators are not requesting the tech or installing it.

Technology doesn’t replace the need for a safe driver, but, just like a seat belt, it acts as a secondary line of defense in case a crash does occur. We believe operators should include new safety tech in their vehicles just as they do seat belts, and we’re not the only ones who think that.

Next week, we’re co-hosting an event with the National Safety Council that will bring together leaders from all related stakeholder groups to discuss technology in heavy-duty trucking and how we can increase adoption rates.

Check out who’s coming to the roundtable and tune in to watch it online. It’s going to be an informative afternoon, and I hope everyone walks away as excited about transportation safety tech as I am, with great ideas on how to use it to make heavy-duty vehicles safer.

 

Erik Strickland is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

Don’t Drop a Bomb: Secure Your Load

 

By Don Karol

My son and I knew the danger we faced when we headed off to war. Scud missiles . . . rooftop snipers . . . roadside bombs . . . an enemy that wanted to kill us. Making it home safely was not a sure thing.

But when 24-year-old Maria drove home from work one night, she had no idea that driving on an interstate highway could be just as perilous as being in a war zone.

You never forget the day you receive the “death knock” at your door. I had just returned to the U.S. from my tour of duty in Iraq, but was not prepared for the ominous words that would follow. It was October 6th, 2003. The US Army knocking on my door . . . regretting to inform me that my 20-year-old son was killed in action and would not be coming home.

Four months later, on February 22, 2004, Robin Abel received a similar notification. Robin was asleep at home when she got a call from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Her daughter Maria was critically injured in a highway crash and was not expected to survive.

Maria was not hit by a command-detonated bomb like my son Spencer, but was hit by something just as deadly. A poorly secured entertainment center fell from the back of a trailer in front of her. The driver of the car pulling the trailer had been moving all day and had failed to properly secure the items in the trailer. A 2-by-6-foot piece of particle board flew through her windshield, hitting her in the face. Miraculously, Maria survived. However, she permanently lost her eyesight and had to endure facial reconstruction, multiple surgeries, and trauma that will last her lifetime.

Our nation’s highways should not be like an active war zone, but they are. With over 35,000 people killed and 2.4 million injured in crashes each year, who can argue differently? Fortunately, there are warriors on the front lines—passionate safety advocates—fighting to make a difference.

About 6 years ago, I met one of the fiercest (and nicest) warriors for safety, Robin Abel. We spoke on the phone after I read her book “Out of Nowhere,” the story of Robin’s determination to rebuild her daughter’s life and change road safety laws to prevent future tragedies involving unsecured loads. As I spoke with Robin, I learned how a single voice can make a powerful difference. I saw the impact Robin made in the state of Washington and learned about how legislators adopted “Maria’s Law,” which criminalizes a person’s failure to properly secure a load that results in injury or death.

Since our initial contact, I have remained in frequent communication with Robin. As a safety leader at the NTSB, I know how important it is to have safety warriors by my side. I’ve guided Robin where I can, but most of the time I’ve stood back and marveled at her tireless efforts to educate lawmakers, businesses, and individuals about the dangers posed by unsecured loads and highway debris. Most recently, I’ve seen how she has fought to establish a dedicated day of awareness.

On Memorial Day, I took time to remember my son and all the others who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.

Tomorrow, I will take time to remember Robin’s daughter and all those who have been killed and injured in crashes involving an unsecured load. June 6th is “Secure Your Load” day; a day dedicated to raising awareness of an often-overlooked safety problem.

As a crash investigator, I have seen the tragic results of a mattress, ladder, Christmas tree, or piece of furniture falling from a moving vehicle. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, in 2010, there were about 51,000 crashes—including almost 10,000 injured persons and 440 known fatalities—involving a vehicle striking an object that came off another vehicle or an object lying in the roadway.

Recent research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that road debris played a role in more than 50,000 crashes, which resulted in over 9,800 injuries and approximately 125 deaths each year from 2011 through 2014. These numbers are staggering, especially because these crashes were preventable.

So, tomorrow, share the “Secure Your Load” safety message with everyone you know. As my fellow safety warrior Robin Abel has said on many occasions: “Secure your load as if everyone you love is driving in the car behind you.”

For more information, check out the Secure Your Load PSA.

 

Donald F. Karol is a National Resource Specialist and Senior Accident Investigator in the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.