Summer is fast approaching and kids are pouring outside to play. Sadly, every year we hear too many news reports about children being struck and killed by a vehicle or dying from heat stroke because of being trapped in a vehicle. The statistics are sobering.
According to KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit group that works to improve child safety around cars, every week in the United States at least 50 children are backed over by a car. Forty-eight are treated in hospital emergency rooms and at least two children die. Last year, nearly 50 children died from hyperthermia after being left in a hot car – the greatest number since the statistics started being tracked.
These accidents are preventable. Education is the first step.
Fatigue has been on the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements since the List was first created in 1990. The NTSB has identified fatigue as the probable cause or a contributing factor of accidents in every mode of transportation. Based on its accident investigations, the NTSB has made more than 190 fatigue-related safety recommendations. One recent accident illustrates how fatigue can lead to tragedy.
On June 26, 2009, in Miami, Oklahoma, a commercial truck driver going 69 mph with his cruise control on ran into a line of vehicles that had stopped due to another accident. Before the truck finally stopped, it hit 6 vehicles, took 10 lives, and injured 5 more.
Last week, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse into what life is like for the professional truck drivers who drive the heavy trucks on our nation’s highways to deliver the goods — and who contribute to our economy and to our quality of life.
I learned a lot from my five teachers — Stephanie Klang, Jill Garcia, Clarence Jenkins, Angela Jordan, and Jo Carty — who safely drove me from Washington, DC, to Louisville, KY, so I could attend the Mid America Trucking Show and attend Women in Trucking’s (WIT) Salute to Women Behind the Wheel. As I told the professional women drivers at that event, I have a CDL (commercial driver’s license), but I think my biggest contribution to safety is not to drive a commercial vehicle. I leave that up to the professional drivers.
I was impressed by every driver’s commitment to safety and by their ability to handle big rigs in good weather and bad . We had all types of weather on our 632 miles, including snow, sleet, and fog! After last week’s trip, I feel safer driving on the road next to big rigs. I was also pleased with the discussions we had about the issues that the NTSB addresses in its investigations and recommendations, such as hours of service, fatigue, and government oversight.
For example, when I talked with Stephanie about the challenges of complying with hours of service, she said the rules are there to protect you. Even when they’re not in your favor, you have to respect them.
As for respect, I gained a lot more respect for these professional drivers behind the wheel and I want them to know that I will keep an eye out for them whenever I’m out on the interstate.
Late on Wednesday, I hit the road on a two-day, four-state journey from Washington, D.C. My final destination is Louisville, Kentucky, and the 2011 Mid-America Trucking Show, the world’s largest forum for the heavy trucking industry. On Saturday, I’ll have the honor of speaking with about 1,200 of America’s professional women truck drivers at the second annual Women in Trucking (WIT) “Salute to Women Behind the Wheel.” More on that in a moment.
But for now, let me tell you a bit about my journey to get there. I’ve covered some 460 of my 632 mile road trip so far. You might be asking yourself, “Why not just fly to Louisville?” Well, quite simply, it is hard to know what it is really like to be on the road from a federal office building in Washington. When Ellen Voie of WIT offered me the opportunity to “ride” to Kentucky, I jumped at the chance.
There is no better way to get a feel for the issues facing the industry than spend time in the cab with professional truck drivers. Besides, is there any better way to travel to the nation’s largest trucking show than to experience the ride, technology and accommodations in 5 different heavy trucks?
I’ve learned a lot since leaving NTSB headquarters last evening. I have listened to the drivers and they each have a different perspective and have impressed me with their knowledge and professionalism.
Let me start by telling you about my first leg of the trip. I spent the first 150 miles with Stephanie Klang, a driver from Con-Way. As we made our way out of the dark and grey city, passing monuments and cherry blossoms, Stephanie remained focused on one thing — safety. In fact, that’s the common thread that I am seeing on this trip. So far it’s been five different and diverse drivers from all over the country — all with one thing in mind — getting to their destination safely, delivering their load, doing it again and again to support their families. Stephanie carefully maneuvered through Washington’s rush-hour hour traffic and calmly faced rain, snow, and, worse yet, sleet in the dark. The entire time, her eyes were on the road. Did I mention that Stephanie has 2.74 million safe miles in her logbook?
When I speak at WIT’s “Salute to Women” event on Saturday, I’ll be saluting Stephanie Klang, Jill Garcia, Angela Jordan, Jo Carty and hundreds of other women who drive safely, every day, on our nation’s highways — delivering the goods to the rest of us.
Got to go and get back on the road again, but I will share more of my experiences soon.
It’s cherry blossom time here in Washington, and as I look out my office window, I can see the band of pink cherry blossoms that line the banks of the Potomac. These famous trees make DC a favorite destination for spring tourists. If you look a little closer, you’ll discover how the tourists get here. Behind almost every tree, as far as the eye can see are motorcoaches parked nose-to-tail. Motorcoach travel is one of the most popular modes of transportation today, and motorcoaches carry almost 750 million passengers each year.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about the safety of these large buses. Attention was drawn to the subject when in the early morning hours of March 12, a motorcoach traveling southbound on I-95 toward New York City suddenly swerved, rolled over on its side and struck a signpost, killing 15 of the passengers, and injuring all the other occupants.
Shortly after this fatal accident in NY, there was another accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. The motorcoach struck a concrete wall of an exit ramp, resulting in 2 fatalities and 44 injuries. A week after that there was another accident in Littleton, NH where the motorcoach swerved off a snowy highway, rolling onto its side and injuring 25. Three weeks: three accidents. Statisticians will tell us that this is not a trend, but the news is disturbing nonetheless.
Today, I testified before Congress (read my full written testimony) on motorcoach safety to repeat our calls for safety improvements. Right now, we have 100 outstanding safety recommendations that address motorcoach safety. That’s 100 opportunities to improve the safety of about three-quarters of a billion passengers a year. It’s time to make motorcoach safety a priority.