Category Archives: Highway Safety

Put the Brakes on Fatalities

By Debbie Hersman

Monday was Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day. It’s a day to be ambitious and work toward zero fatalities on our nation’s roadways — one day at a time. This campaign brings together State, Federal, private industry, and safety advocates from across the country to spread the message on what causes transportation fatalities, especially highway deaths, and how we can avoid them. As in years past, this year’s education efforts focused on driver behavior, vehicle safety, and roadway improvements to reduce traffic deaths across the country.

This campaign is supported by 21 states. Pictured is one of the winners of the 2010 Kansas poster contest. This child’s poster makes a powerful point, especially since traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for toddlers through age 34.

Sadly, many accidents, injuries, and deaths are the result of a tragic choice — the choice not to use a seat belt or to properly restrain a child, the choice to drive distracted, the choice to drive impaired by alcohol or fatigue. This day is an opportunity for everyone to remember that each one of us has a personal responsibility to make safe decisions when we are behind the wheel.

More people die on our roadways than in all other forms of transportation combined. This is why the NTSB placed Addressing Alcohol-Impaired Driving, Teen Driver Safety, Motorcycle Safety, and Addressing Fatigue on our Most Wanted List.

Every day — drive safely and put the brakes on fatalities.

Getting to Zero

By Don Karol

Eliminating deaths on our highways is a winnable battle. Just ask the thousands of transportation safety advocates who work tirelessly to achieve the goal of zero deaths on our highways. This week more than 450 medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, state and local officials, and more met in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) annual meeting.

The meeting included presentations and lively discussions on ways to reduce the nearly 34,000 deaths each year on our nation’s highways. Many focused on motorcycle safety, teen driving, occupant protection, aging drivers, and drunk driving. These are issues the NTSB has been focusing on for years, many of which are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List.

A common theme throughout the meeting was the need for all of us to change the way we approach driving. When behind the wheel, driving should be the focus. All of the distractions we have available today in our cars, buses, and trucks should not divert our attention. Driving can be enjoyable – not because of the many gadgets now available in vehicles – but because we are able to arrive at our intended destination safely without harming others.

The NTSB welcomes the partnerships that it has forged with groups like GHSA. We have seen accidents firsthand and know full well the alarming rate in which highway deaths occur. We also understand the audacious task of working to dramatically improve the safety on our roadways. It is up to the highway community – and everyone who drives – to change the driving culture. And for parents, it is no longer as simple as teaching our children how to drive. They also need to fully understand the responsibility for themselves and others that goes with them when they climb behind the wheel.

One strong message from the meeting is that getting to zero deaths on our nation’s roadways means creating a culture that embraces safe driving behavior as the norm. The NTSB couldn’t agree more and is working to achieve that goal.

Don Karol is Director of the Office of Highway Safety.

Taking Care of Our Youngest Travelers

By Debbie Hersman

Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician since 2004

How many times have you been at an amusement park and seen one of those “you must be this tall to ride this ride” sign to determine whether your child can go on the ride? When it comes to fitting in an adult safety belt, there is a magic number for parents to remember: 4’9″.

Chairman Hersman discussing proper use of child car seats with a parent.
Chairman Hersman discussing proper use of child car seats with a parent.

But until your child is 4’9″ tall, it can be a challenge to decide which car seat or booster seat is best and then determine whether you have installed it and are using it properly. Thanks to organizations like Safe Kids USA, it is easier for parents to do the right thing. In fact, this is National Child Passenger Safety Week and Safe Kids USA has organized hundreds of free car-seat inspection stations across the country.

This year, the NTSB has made improving child and youth safety an agency priority. This week, you can take advantage of a free car-seat inspection station in your community to learn how to transport your child safely. To find an inspection station in your area, please go to:

Live to Work Another Day: Staying Sober Behind the Wheel on Labor Day Weekend

By Debbie Hersman

Highway traffic
Drive safely this holiday weekend

Labor Day started over one hundred years ago as a national tribute to the contributions of workers. Today it has grown to a weekend filled with festivals, concerts and family gatherings. And while the long weekend is a reason for celebration, tragically, it is also one filled with far too many highway deaths – there were 360 deaths over Labor Day weekend in 2009.

While the greater number of vehicles on the road creates additional risk, so too, does an increase in alcohol-impaired driving. The percentage of highway deaths involving drunk drivers is typically just under one-third, but that percentage climbs closer to 40 percent for Labor Day weekend. This weekend you’ll see more cops cracking down on impaired drivers as a part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s – Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over – nationwide campaign.

Enjoy the Labor Day weekend by staying sober behind the wheel, that way, you and others on the road can live to work another day.

Leading the way for truck safety

By Deborah Hersman

This week in Orlando, FL, more than 400 of our nation’s top professional truck drivers are gathering together to test their skills at the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) 47th National Truck Driving Championships. Commonly referred to as the “Super Bowl of Safety,” this year’s annual event is bringing together 400 truck drivers, who have already won competitions at their state championships, to compete at the national level.

For the next four days, the drivers’ skills and knowledge will be tested during written exams, pre-trip inspections and on-course driving. Each driver will maneuver through one difficult obstacle after another, all the while demonstrating precision and pinpoint control. On Saturday, when the competition is over and the scores are tallied, one driver will emerge as the National Grand Champion. And while that driver will have rightly earned the title of Champion, each of the competitors deserve recognition.

America’s professional truck drivers keep our economy moving. They travel every day –often very far from home— along our nation’s busy interstates, highways and city streets to safely deliver their cargo. Events like this help reinforce drivers’ attentiveness to the safe operation of their truck. While I wish the drivers success in their competition, I hope that all truckers will strive for safety with every trip… that way, we all win.

Advancing Transportation Safety

By: Deborah Hersman

Every year, the NTSB, like many other federal agencies, prepares an annual report to Congress about our activities during the previous year. We submitted our 2010 report on June 24, detailing our many significant accomplishments across all transportation modes.  During 2010, we:

  • launched to over 200 accidents, including launches to six major accidents;
  • issued 227 safety recommendations (170 in aviation, 18 in highway, 25 in railroad, 7 in marine, and 7 in pipeline);
  • closed 132 safety recommendations in an acceptable status;
  • held 5 public forums on fishing vessel safety, aging drivers, child passenger safety in the air and in automobiles, professionalism in aviation and aviation code sharing arrangements.    

The accomplishments outlined in the report were realized in no small part due to our employees’ dedication to the goals of accountability, integrity, and transparency. We’re a small agency, but what we lack in numbers, we more than make up for in teamwork and a desire to leave no stone unturned in arriving at the correct probable cause of an accident or incident. Of equal importance are our safety recommendations, which stem from our investigations of accidents and incidents. Every recommendation we issue is based on our desire to prevent similar accidents or incidents from occurring in the future. I am very proud to serve as the Chairman of this remarkable agency, and I am equally proud of our mission and of the dedicated and professional employees who work to make transportation safer for all. The 2010 Annual Report may be viewed at the following link:

Getting serious about distracted driving

By Deborah Hersman

Teen texting while drivingRecently, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a new report on the effects of distractions, particularly the use of cell phones and texting, while driving. We at the NTSB were pleased to read the report and the valuable recommendations it makes.

After citing several studies, the GHSA concludes that cell phone use increases crash risk, though there is no consensus on the extent of its impact on driving. We agree, however we believe that the significant danger to safety that cell phones pose is greater than the report suggests and affects more than just highway safety. We have investigated numerous accidents, in all modes of transportation, where cell phone use caused injury and loss of life. If not for the cell phone use, some of those accidents were otherwise completely avoidable. And even in accidents when cell phone use was not the primary cause of the investigation, we’ve often found that the cell phone contributed to the tragic results by distracting the operator’s attention at a key moment.

Our society must reach the point that texting or using a cell phone — whether when operating a vessel, a train, or a motor vehicle — is just as unacceptable as drinking and driving.

How many more lives will be lost before our nation corrects its deadly and tacit acceptance of distractions?