Category Archives: Holiday Travel

Preventing Alcohol-Impaired Driving: We All Are Part of the Solution

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

Twenty years ago, in the summer of 2001, I began my work to end alcohol-impaired driving at the Minnesota State Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Over these 20 years, although so much has changed and there’s much to celebrate, we still have so much work to do.

What Can We Celebrate?

In 2001:

Today:

  • 10,142 people lost their lives in alcohol-impairment-related crashes (in 2019, the most recent data on record).
  • Every state has a .08 BAC law. And in 2018, Utah became the first state to enact a .05 BAC per se law.
  • 34 states and DC have ignition interlock laws that apply to all offenders.

I’m no mathematician, but I think that means that, while I’ve been working on all different types of impaired-driving prevention programs, laws, and studies, approximately 200,000 lives have been lost, and millions of people have been injured, as the result of an act that is 100% preventable. 200,000 lives!

We Must Do More

We have consistently lost around 10,000 people to alcohol-impaired driving crashes every year for the past 10 years.

As I wrote this blog, I became disheartened and frustrated. For 20 years, I’ve worked with colleagues to create messages for 20 Independence Days, New Year’s Eves, St. Patrick’s Days, Memorial Days, Labor Days, and on and on, and we’re still here, asking you not to get behind the wheel after drinking this July 4th, asking you to designate a sober driver before you begin celebrating, asking you to call a ride-share or taxi, or to be the one that takes the keys from a friend, family member, or neighbor so they don’t drive impaired.

Unfortunately, we know that more than 400 people will likely die this weekend, many because someone made the choice to drive after drinking.  As long as individuals continue to make the choice to drive after drinking or dosing, and as long as life-saving technology and legislation is delayed, we will continue to push this message. Losing 10,000 lives every year. It must stop.

Solutions Exist

Ignition interlocks for all impaired-driving offenders, lower BAC per se laws, in-vehicle technology to detect alcohol and prevent a driver from starting a vehicle—all of these are possible now and would reduce impaired-driving crashes. However, these solutions wouldn’t even be necessary if people would make the choice to call a cab or a sober friend, or just elect to not drink or take impairing drugs if they know they will be driving.

Preventing alcohol-impaired driving has been on the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL) for over 20 years and, at the rate we’re going, it will be there 20 years from now. But, at the NTSB, we are nothing if not persistent, and we will continue to advocate to prevent impaired driving for another 20 years if that’s what it takes. This July 4th, commit to being part of the solution, and help us retire this MWL safety item once and for all.

Drive Sober And Save Lives This Holiday Season

By Member Tom Chapman

The holiday season is a time of increased impaired-driving crashes. Accordingly, December has been designated National Impaired Driving Prevention Month to draw attention to the 100-percent preventable traffic fatalities and injuries attributed to impaired driving.

In 2018, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,511 people were killed in vehicle crashes in which at least one driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 g/dL or higher. That number comprises 29 percent of the 36,560 traffic fatalities that year. In other words, those 10,511 deaths equal about 29 deaths per day, or one death every 50 minutes. These weren’t just numbers, though. They were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children, friends, and other loved ones.

Alcohol isn’t the only impairing substance that can increase the risk of a crash; illegal drugs and prescription and over-the-counter medications can be as dangerous as alcohol for a driver. Unlike alcohol impairment, however, the extent to which drugged driving contributes to fatalities and injuries is less well established, but one fact is certain: the prevalence of drug use—and, even more troubling, the use of multiple drugs—while driving is on the rise. Just this month (December 1, 2020), the NTSB held a Board meeting to consider the June 21, 2019, fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a group of motorcyclists in Randolph, New Hampshire. We determined that the probable cause of the crash was the pickup truck driver crossing the centerline and encroaching into the oncoming lane of travel, which occurred because of his impairment from use of multiple drugs. Of the 22 individuals in the motorcycle group (riders and passengers), 7 were killed. An additional 7 were injured.

In October, NHTSA published a report looking at drug and alcohol prevalence in seriously and fatally injured road users before and during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Based on data collected at trauma centers and medical examiners’ offices in five cities, before mid‑March 2020, 51 percent of seriously or fatally injured road users tested positive for at least one of the following: alcohol, cannabinoids (active THC), stimulants, sedatives, opioids, antidepressants, over-the-counter medication, or other drugs. Eighteen percent tested positive in multiple categories. Stay-at-home orders and reduced travel resulting from the pandemic did not, as you might assume, reduce the prevalence of drug use among drivers. According to the same NHTSA study, the proportion of drivers who tested positive for single and multiple substances jumped to 64 percent and 24 percent, respectively, after mid-March 2020.

The NTSB has issued specific recommendations that, if implemented, would save lives, such as requiring all-offender ignition interlocks, .05 (or below) BAC limits, and a national drug testing standard. Our Most Wanted List includes the issue area “End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation,” and several additional recommendations addressing the issue remain open.

During this holiday season more than in years past, we should strive to keep ourselves and our friends and family as safe as possible. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. But also, abstain from drinking and driving. Designate a sober driver. Call a taxi or ride-share service. These simple steps can save our lives, as well as the lives of those we love, so we can enjoy many more holiday seasons to come.

It’s Past Time to Think About Cognitive Distraction

By Member Jennifer Homendy

When you think of common ways drivers are distracted on the road, you probably think of talking or texting on mobile devices, eating, reading, or perhaps even putting on makeup or shaving. It’s easy to recognize that these risky behaviors are distractions. There are even laws on the books in several states that ban these sorts of distractions—particularly hand-held mobile phone use—so drivers know better than to do these things while driving (even if they do them on occasion anyway). Hands-free mobile phone use, on the other hand . . . that’s okay, right?

Not so fast.

Distracted driving causes an alarming number of deaths and injuries on America’s roads each year, and it has proven to be a hard problem to solve. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say that 2,800 people died because of distracted driving in 2018 alone. And distraction is particularly dangerous for vulnerable road users; 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists were killed that year.

The United States has made huge improvements in reducing the number of deaths seen on our roadways since the 1960s and 1970s, but, over the past decade, we’ve stagnated in lowering the number of fatalities even further. We’ve greatly improved vehicle and road safety as well as seatbelt law adherence, and we’ve cut drunk driving deaths in half. But distracted driving continues to be an ever-problematic issue on our nation’s roadways. Even my very own friends—knowing what I do for a living—have recently tried to have calls or video chats with me while they were driving! 

Although, like all safety issues, we need to address distracted driving awareness and prevention year round, for 1 month each year, advocates turn up the focus. That’s how critical it is to saving lives. Vice Chairman Landsberg recently wrote a blog in recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. A few months ago, I wrote a blog about my own story of being in a crash caused by a distracted driver. I pointed out that, short of full cell phone bans, drivers can make hands-free calls through Bluetooth, which is still a cognitive distraction.

Why is that important?

A 2011 study detailed three types of distraction:

  • Visual (taking your eyes off the road),
  • Manual (taking your hands off the wheel to hold something, like food or a mobile device), and
  • Cognitive (those distractions that cause a driver to take his or her mind off the primary task of driving safely, like making hands-free calls or even stressing about an important meeting).

Even when your eyes are on the road, simple cognitive distractions can impair your driving performance and diminish your reaction time. Many people don’t realize that cognitive distractions while driving can be like driving while impaired—both reduce your ability to react.

Nearly a decade ago, the NTSB issued a recommendation to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, calling for a ban on all nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers, which would include prohibiting hands-free cell phone use. Ever since then, we have been advocating for states to ban cell phones while driving, and “Eliminate Distractions” has rightfully been on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 2013. Although 48 states have banned texting while driving, no state has banned hands-free cell phone use. 

The National Safety Council and AAA, along with others, remind us that hands-free isn’t risk free. We need to think about and address cognitive distraction and its harmful consequences. When we’re behind the wheel, let’s make sure we keep our families and our roads safe by focusing on the primary task at hand—driving safely.

A Labor Day #SafetyReminder

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

Labor Day, the annual celebration of U.S. workforce achievements, will be unique in many ways for Americans workers this year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many establishments have significantly reduced their workforces or even closed entirely. At the same time, workers deemed essential have put their lives on the line to serve their communities. Like Memorial Day and the 4th of July this year, Labor Day won’t be marked with large gatherings or parades; however, unfortunately, it will likely still look very similar to years past in terms of impaired driving and speeding-related car crashes, even with fewer people on the roads. The number of fatalities resulting from these crashes will likely look a lot like the 2018 figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which reports that, during the 2018 Labor Day holiday period (6 pm August 31 through 5:59 am September 4), there were 166 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, alone.

Back in April, we posted an impaired-driving blog reminding readers that we shouldn’t let the stress of COVID-19 allow us to lower our guard when it comes to safe driving, whether on a holiday weekend or during everyday transportation. In May, we kicked off the summer season with a safety reminder campaign (#safetyreminder) to highlight ways that we can all stay safe in the air and on the roads, rails, and water. The National Safety Council estimates 44,000 serious injuries and 390 deaths will occur as the result of all traffic crashes on our roadways during the Labor Day holiday. While we wrap up this #safetyreminder campaign this weekend, we hope that the safety reminders we shared will stay top of mind, and that they’ll stay there for the coming months.

This year, let’s celebrate the resiliency of the American workforce and honor all those who have endured employment hardships over the past several months. But remember: if your celebration involves alcohol or other impairing drugs, arrange for a sober ride home before you partake. Choose to be impaired or choose to drive, but never both. Some risks this year are harder to avoid than others, but impaired driving isn’t one of them. As always, it’s 100-percent preventable.

Let’s Make This Independence Day Memorable with ZERO Impaired Driving Crashes

By Member Thomas Chapman

This has been a year of continuous and unexpected events.  Never did I expect that just two months after being confirmed as the 46th Board Member of the NTSB, I would be sent home to quarantine and physically distance from my new colleagues – and for a period now approaching 5 months.  Additionally, the news headlines have not let up, both nationally and internationally.  Each seems more surprising than the next.

However, some things remain the same, and not necessarily in a positive sense.  According to the National Safety Council, while the total number of traffic deaths is down, there was a 36.6-percent increase in fatality rates per miles driven in April 2020 (the most recent month for which statistics are available).

Now, as some states are easing their stay-at-home orders, people are tempted to reunite with family and friends.  This reacquired freedom is coinciding with another reason to celebrate our freedoms – Independence Day.  Unfortunately, July 4th is one of the deadliest impaired driving holidays in the United States, according to NHTSA.

The NTSB has long advocated for our safety recommendations to end alcohol and drug impaired driving  – over the 4th of July weekend and every day.  We have recommended many changes to strengthen impaired driving laws.  However, ultimately, impaired driving is the result of the personal choice of getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or drugs.

Like many others, my family and I will be celebrating this holiday, but we all have a responsibility to celebrate responsibly.  In March, many states reported that they experienced zero impaired driving fatalities over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.  For the upcoming Independence Day weekend, I challenge you to repeat that history.  Let’s make this another holiday where we celebrate zero impaired driving fatalities.  If you choose to consume alcohol or drugs, also choose a designated, sober driver.  Remember that impairment begins with the first drink or dose.  And buzzed driving is drunk driving.

Choose to drive sober or designate a sober driver.  Impaired driving is 100% preventable!

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