Category Archives: Highway Safety

Wear a Motorcycle Helmet — It’s Safer and It Saves Money

By Christopher Hart

Motorcycle RidersOn Monday, I traveled to Pennsylvania’s state capital, Harrisburg, to attend a press conference to voice the NTSB’s strong support for the legislation that State Representative Dan Frankel is introducing to make it mandatory for all motorcycle riders in Pennsylvania to wear safety helmets.

I pointed out that the NTSB’s primary focus is improving safety, and improving safety is the most important reason for wearing a safety helmet.

In Pennsylvania, in the two years after the 2003 repeal of its helmet law, the state saw a 30 percent decline in helmet use. At the same time, the state saw a 66 percent increase in head-injury deaths and a 78 percent jump in head-injury-related hospitalizations.

Since the 2003 repeal, more than 1,400 motorcyclists have died on Pennsylvania roadways.

Continue reading Wear a Motorcycle Helmet — It’s Safer and It Saves Money

Raising Safe Teen Drivers – Talking Parent to Parent

By Robert Sumwalt

Parent with a teen driverMany people have a fear of flying, and nothing rocks the aviation world’s collective psyche like a tragic airline crash, but did you know that almost 95 percent of transportation-related fatalities occur on our highways? In 2010, more than 32,000 lives were lost in traffic crashes, compared with fewer than 500 in aviation.

Furthermore, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers — more than cancer, more than guns, and more than drugs. This really hits home, since I have a 16-year-old daughter who recently started driving.

Before I started at the NTSB, I did not fully appreciate how dangerous our roads can be, especially for teen drivers. Nor did I know the term “graduated driver licensing,” which means introducing driving tasks to young novice drivers in controlled environments and then “graduating” them to more responsibility as they gain experience.

Knowing what I know now, when my daughter reached driving age I made sure she practiced her driving in controlled situations. Now that she has a license, I insist that she not carry more than one teen passenger at a time. She is also not to text or call on the cell phone while she’s driving. I’m sure she considers me a real drag, but her safety is more important to me than whether she thinks I’m cool.

May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month. This is a great time for us parents to pause and consider how to keep our children safer on the roads, how to teach them to be better drivers, and how to help them make good choices. Through the teen years, our children are growing into adulthood, but it’s still our responsibility to guide and protect them as best we can.


Member Robert Sumwalt Robert L. Sumwalt has been a Member of the NTSB since 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the blog.

Improving Child Safety, One Seat at a Time

By Debbie Hersman
Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician since 2004

40,000th child safety seat check at Fitzgerald Auto Mall
Fitzgerald Auto Mall's 40,000th child safety seat check

As a mother of three children, I’ve had lots of practice installing child seats. Unfortunately, snugly attaching these devices to cars is not easy, and every year, there are new child seat designs and new vehicle designs which can further complicate the process. That’s what makes permanent fitting stations, where parents are educated on best practices for transporting children and techniques for installing child seats, so important.

For the last 12 years, Fitzgerald Auto Malls has provided this service in the Washington, D.C. region. Jack Fitzgerald is committed to child passenger safety, and his volunteers are some of the most dedicated and capable child seat technicians around. What I really admire about Jack is that his child seat inspections are not just for his customers, but for anyone seeking to learn how to install the seat properly.

Today, Jack and his volunteers reached an amazing milestone, checking their 40,000th child safety seat! I don’t think I’ve done anything 40,000 times. It would take 55 years of brushing my teeth twice a day every day to reach that number. But month after month, year after year, Jack and his team have made countless children safer and show no signs of stopping any time soon.

I want to commend Jack and all the volunteers who participate in these life-saving child seat inspections. When Fitzgerald Auto Malls started these monthly events, the misuse rate of child seats was 97 percent; today, the misuse rate has dropped to 50 percent. They are showing how people in the community can make a real difference!

Making Roads Safer — All Over the World

By Debbie Hersman

Cars on a highway
Today kicks off the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020

Today, people are coming together worldwide to kick off the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. Proclaimed by the United Nations and coordinated through the World Health Organization, the Decade of Action provides a framework for countries and communities to take action to save lives on the world’s roads.

Each year, 1.3 million people die due to road traffic collisions. That’s more than 3,000 each day. Globally, road traffic fatalities are the tenth-leading cause of death. These are staggering numbers.

While here in the United States, highway fatalities have declined the last few years, there were still more than 32,000 fatalities last year, with many more people injured. And, in the United States, as is the case around the world, motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of death for young people.

So many lives cut short underscores the immediate need for action. Walt Disney said it best: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

At the NTSB we have a host of safety outreach efforts underway. Yesterday, we began a 2-day forum on truck and bus safety. Next month, we are scheduled to announce our new Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, highlighting critical transportation safety issues. Look for highway safety to be represented!

Yes, it’s a Decade of Action, but every step every day is important. Ensure everyone in your car uses a seat belt – every time. Use a DOT-compliant helmet when you ride a motorcycle. Make sure children are properly restrained. And when you are the driver, hang up the phone. Make good choices.

Exploring Ways to Improve Truck and Bus Safety

By Robert Sumwalt

Truck & Bus Safety Forum LogoToday, I had the privilege of chairing the first day of the NTSB’s public forum on Truck and Bus Safety. We heard an outstanding exchange from a diverse array of organizations representing federal and state oversight agencies, the trucking and bus industries, safety advocacy groups, and labor organizations. I was especially pleased this morning to welcome Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro since much of our first panel on Carrier Oversight focused on implementing the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.

We began by noting that injuries and fatalities from accidents involving heavy vehicles are at an all-time low. Clearly, much progress has been made in improving highway safety since the Board last held a motor carrier forum in 1999. As evidenced by the Board’s ongoing investigations into an October 2009 tanker explosion in Indianapolis and a March 2011 tour bus crash in New York City, however, much work remains to be done. The subject matter experts speaking today advocated a comprehensive approach to safety, involving a more robust system of carrier oversight, active management of driver fatigue, and adoption of safety management systems. Although some of our panel experts may have disagreed about the best tools available to advance motor carrier safety, each agreed on the need to reach that particular goal.

Tomorrow, the forum will focus on drivers and vehicles. We will hear from several motor carriers implementing novel programs to improve driver health, as well as companies developing groundbreaking technologies to mitigate – and even avoid – truck and bus accidents. I expect another day of lively debate on the state of safety in the trucking and bus industries.

Member Robert SumwaltRobert L. Sumwalt has been a Member of the NTSB since 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the blog.

Graduated Driver Licensing – We’ve Come a Long Way

By Robert Sumwalt

Teen Driver
May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month

Talk to people who have been driving for 20 or 30 years and ask them what it was like to get their drivers license. You will realize quickly that things are really different now. Back then, you could go to your local DMV on your 16th birthday, pass a test, and walk out of there with a license that gave you full, unfettered driving privileges. It was as simple as that. In fact, you could leave the DMV, go pick up a carload of your friends at the high school, and celebrate your birthday until late that night. It was great! Or was it?

A lot has changed since those days, I think for the better. Many states today have graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs in which new drivers attain full driving privileges in stages. After completing one stage, a novice driver “graduates” to the next stage, gaining more responsibility, such as driving without a supervising adult or driving at later hours.

Continue reading Graduated Driver Licensing – We’ve Come a Long Way

Having Fun, Staying Safe

By Christopher Hart

A DOT-approved helmet is a key piece of safety gear.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. As the days get longer, bikers across the country are getting their Cruisers, Sport Bikes, Street Bikes, and scooters tuned up for summer fun. Riders gather at various bike rallies, bike weeks, or round ups in places such as Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, and Daytona Beach.

If you know anything about bike rallies, they are usually about the freedom of the road. Often, that means no helmets.

I am writing this because head injuries are a leading cause of death among motorcyclists. Too many bikers perish on our roads each year. Yes, motorcycle riders are exposed to the elements and that’s part of their appeal. Yet, if something goes wrong, riders do not benefit from the solid surroundings they would have in a car or truck so are at greater risk for injury. In a crash, a rider’s single greatest defense against debilitating injury or death is a DOT-approved helmet.

Some riders who don’t use helmets argue that helmets interfere with their ability to see or hear, cause injuries, or can’t be that effective since helmeted riders also die in crashes. Research shows these claims are not true. Just recently, researchers reviewed more than 40,000 cases in the National Trauma Data Bank® and found that compared with non-helmeted riders the riders who wore helmets had lower odds of experiencing a cervical or traumatic brain injury after a crash.

So, please enjoy your motorcycle. Have fun. And, if you wear a helmet, science and safety will be on your side.

For additional information, see our Motorcycle Safety Questions & Answers.


Honorable Christopher Hart, Vice ChairmanChristopher A. Hart was sworn in as a Member of the NTSB on August 12, 2009 and designated by the President for a two-year term as Vice Chairman of the Board on August 18. Member Hart joined the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a Member of the NTSB.