Category Archives: Highway Safety

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?

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Safety

By Mark Rosekind

Enjoy the holiday weekend responsibly. Don't mix alcohol and driving.

Every year on the Fourth of July, we celebrate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with friends and family from across the nation.  As a result, it’s one of the busiest weekends of the year on our roadways. On an average weekend, one-third of all highway deaths involve a driver who is impaired by alcohol.  Unfortunately, during past Fourth of July Weekends, this number increases to 40 percent of all highway fatalities.  

The adverse effects of alcohol, such as slowed reactions, are difficult to detect and people tend to underestimate the extent to which alcohol affects them.  In many cases, drivers do not exhibit the classic signs of extreme drunkenness, and they don’t believe they are drunk.

This Fourth of July, make the appropriate arrangements so that you do not drink and drive.  Ensure that you, your family, and all of those celebrating the Fourth with you are safe, responsible, and able to continue to enjoy the gift of freedom our forefathers made possible for all of us.

Member Mark RosekindMark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

Technology Drives Safety Improvements on the Road

By Debbie Hersman

The Jetsons Flying Car, from the Hanna-Barbera cartoonAs a child, I watched The Jetsons, that futuristic family with a robot maid named Rosie, an oven that instantly produced a fully cooked dinner on demand, and an automated flying car that often saved George from his own absent-mindedness.  Rosie and the oven were nice conveniences, but the flying car kept the Jetsons safer.

Today, years later, I’m in Michigan touring the proving grounds of the Big Three automakers and other manufacturers in the automotive world.  I am seeing firsthand the technology that may bring us closer to the Jetsons’ flying car and help make driving safer.  Things like adaptive cruise control, collision warning systems, blind spot detection, and lane departure warning systems can alert drivers to dangers they do not recognize.  Some technologies, such as active braking and ESC, can even help compensate for a driver’s inability to identify stopped traffic ahead or negotiate a sharp curve while moving too fast, which can lead to a deadly rollover.

The automotive industry has made many advances in passenger vehicle safety.  Especially encouraging is the fact that some of the technology is also being tested on large trucks, buses, and other commercial vehicles.  Too often, the NTSB investigates accidents in which these technologies, if installed on large trucks, could have prevented a tragedy on the highway.

Just like George Jetson, we will all make mistakes.  While new automotive technologies are designed to assist the driver, rather than replace the driver, if they are widely deployed across the fleet, they have the potential to drive down the number of fatalities on our highways by bridging the gap between the human, the environment, and the machine.

Be Safe on Ride to Work Day

By Christopher Hart

Today, June 20, is Ride to Work Day for motorcyclists. This is the day that motorcycle riders across the country showcase the many benefits and pleasures of commuting on motorcyclists. On the Ride to Work website there’s a video that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, member of the Congressional Motorcycle Safety Caucus, made several years ago about Ride to Work day.  A biker, she talks about the fuel efficiency of motorcycles, the importance of being aware of vehicles on the road, and she says that motorcyclists should wear “proper motorcycle-specific safety gear.” That gear includes DOT-compliant helmets, which, as I have said before, and will say again:  Save lives.

Enjoy your commute and be sure to enjoy it safely with a helmet.

Christopher 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.

Driving into a Safer Future

By Debbie Hersman

Google autonomous car software
Google is using advanced technologies to test a self-driving vehicle

Last week, I visited Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to see Google’s self-driving car. This is one of those things where you really do have to see it to believe it.

The autonomous car sees much more than the driver can — thanks to 360-degree perception (no more blind spots!). Better still, the automated algorithmic driver never gets sleepy, distracted, or drunk.

Google is working on this project to make driving safer, more efficient, and more pleasurable. I saw for myself as the car negotiated Bayshore Freeway — how it was able to avoid other vehicles, how it slowed and sped up with the flow of traffic, and how, when necessary, it turned control of the vehicle to the human driver. It was quite amazing.

As Google’s Distinguished Software Engineer Sebastian Thrun has said, “While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science.”

Earlier this week, however, I saw what transportation can look like today at the 22nd Enhanced Safety of Vehicles Conference.  I appreciated NHTSA Administrator Strickland’s invitation to talk about the NTSB’s recommendations regarding how technology can improve safety in commercial vehicles.  The NTSB has investigated a number of fatal crashes involving buses and heavy trucks that could have been prevented with the use of forward-collision warning systems or electronic stability control.

While NHTSA and the automobile manufacturers have done a great deal to improve safety in our personal vehicles, it is sad, but true, that my six-year-old mini-van has more safety technology than most commercial vehicles on our roads today. These are safety improvements that are currently available.

I will continue watching Google to see what is possible in the car of tomorrow, but we do not have to wait for the self-driving car to save lives on our roads. We can do that now by moving forward with off-the-shelf technology in the largest and heaviest vehicles on the road.