Category Archives: Highway Safety

Toward a Brighter Future

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy

As Chief of the NTSB’s Safety Advocacy Division, I firmly believe in taking time to visit with young and novice drivers and promoting safe driving habits in line with the NTSB’s safety advocacy goals. Last week, I addressed students at Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) Annual Conference.

Each year, the conference features a visit by Corporate Round Table (CRT) members to a local high school. There, team members engage high school juniors and seniors, educating and empowering them to pursue professional development, foster individual strengths, and strive for excellence.

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In this photo taken December 4, 2019, Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division (top right) is pictured with students from Stranahan High School and National Black Caucus of State Legislators Corporate Round Table members.

The NBCSL’s CRT has a rich history of working with schools across the country to provide high school students with essential insights and knowledge about careers and professional development. CRT members have long positively impacted the youth with whom they work. The theme for this year’s CRT visit was “L.E.A.D: Leadership, Excellence, Attitude, Determination.” Team members discussed the importance of leadership today, and the importance of cultivating leadership skills necessary to succeed tomorrow.

But, as I told the students at Stranahan High School, what’s most basic to all these aspirational goals is to live long enough to build that bright future for themselves and others.

My part in the presentation was to make the young audience aware of the many dangers and challenges they may face on the road, and to arm them with the right driving habits to actually arrive at adulthood. Just as youth must first make it safely to adulthood to have the chance to tackle the leadership challenges to which they aspire, they must also learn to lead themselves before they can successfully lead others. As John C. Maxwell once wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” The first step in the leadership journey is self-leadership.

That goes double for making our roads a safer place for all.

In 2018, more than 36,000 people died in traffic crashes. For young people like those I talked to last week, the best chance to stay alive to adulthood is to not be involved in a traffic crash, either as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, cyclist, or motorcyclist. The deadly effect of traffic crashes on teenage lives will only change when our culture around road safety changes, and the only way that shift can take place is if we each personally embody the change we wish to see in the world.

Driving sober, disconnecting from our phones and other devices, buckling up, and obeying the speed limit are all simple—and safe—practices. However, making the right choice consistently takes integrity (doing the right thing even when nobody is watching). In road safety, knowing the way is not always the hard part. The ability to consistently go the way, and to show others the way, separates leaders from followers.

Holding ourselves accountable for our conduct on the road is the first step toward the cultural shift we need to ensure our nation’s youth make it to adulthood to fulfill their goals.

For previous blogs on the NBCSL school visits, see the links below:

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2017/12/08/inspiring-youth-safety-leaders/

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/looking-for-leaders/

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/talking-transportation-safety-with-black-and-hispanic-state-legislators/

Safe Travels This Holiday Season

At the NTSB, we determine the cause of transportation crashes and accidents, and issue safety recommendations that, if implemented, could save lives and minimize injuries. Unfortunately, we see far too many tragedies that could have been easily prevented. As we head into the holiday season, Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg and Member Jennifer Homendy share some travel safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe on our roads, on our rails, on our waterways and in the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distracted Driving

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who use a cell phone every day while driving? It’s so convenient, but it’s also potentially deadly. Thousands of people across the nation will lose their lives this year to this preventable public health problem. Tens of thousands more will suffer life-altering injuries, ranging from internal organ damage to permanent paralysis. A recent AAA survey found that 97 percent of drivers indicated that texting or email on a cellphone while driving was very or extremely dangerous and nearly 80 percent indicated holding and talking on a cellphone while driving was perceived as very or extremely dangerous.  Yet, a majority of those drivers admitted to using their cellphone while driving. Why?

Most people believe that they are above-average drivers and multitaskers. However, the science says otherwise. The human brain, a single-core processor, does not multitask—it processes sequentially. Depending on the complexity of the tasks we’re attempting, our ability to keep up with multiple tasks drops due to overload. You see it on the road every day: poor lane-keeping, running red lights and stop signs, not moving when the light changes or failing to keep pace with traffic. Distraction too often manifests in a collision with another vehicle, an object, or a pedestrian. The science says that some people are literally addicted to their devices, and while most addictions are just detrimental to the user, with distracted driving, both the abuser and the innocent drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists near them are in jeopardy.

On the spectrum of distraction, talking on a cell phone, even with a handsfree device, is bad, but texting is even worse. Take your eyes off the road for more than 3 seconds, and the odds of a bad outcome go up quickly. In fact, a naturalistic driving study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or near crash by as much as 23 times. A car traveling at 55 mph goes about the length of a football field in those 3 seconds, and, let’s be honest, it takes most people far more than 3 seconds to send a text. Each extra second multiplies the danger.

Driving fast with a sport car

In 2011, we recommended that all states ban the use of personal electronic devices, for nondriving tasks, when the vehicle is in motion. Today, although most states have laws against texting and driving, two still don’t: Missouri and Montana. Why not? Those who oppose a ban in these states often argue that they don’t want yet another law interfering with their already over‑regulated lives. They insist it’s a matter of personal freedom.

We recently held a distracted driving round table in Missouri where we heard from survivor advocates, advocates, experts, and legislators on the need to enact a law to address the distracted driving problem in the state. The survivor advocates who have lost loved ones would tell you that a comprehensive distracted driving law could have prevented the life-altering tragedy they’ve endured that no one should have to experience.

Polls show that Americans typically support restrictions on device use, which is why most states have already enacted laws, but a few legislators are uneasy about passing laws that might be perceived as over‑reaching. A vocal minority believe their convenience outweighs the public’s right to safety on the road; however, no one has the right to put another person at risk. The reality is, distracted driving is no different than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They’re both intentional acts that cause crashes that can result in death and life-altering injuries to innocent people. Safety advocates tell drivers they can either drink or drive; they also should be telling drivers they can either text or drive.

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While states continue to debate the extent of their personal electronic device bans, you can act on your own to save a life, regardless of the law in your state. Put the phone down when your vehicle is in motion. As we work toward a future where using a cell phone while driving is as unacceptable as driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, we all have a personal responsibility to help eliminate the deadly distractions on our roadways.

The New Car Assessment Program

By Member Jennifer Homendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The State of Distracted Driving in Missouri

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By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe Trucking is Good Business

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading Back to School Safely

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

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

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

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

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

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