Category Archives: Impaired Driving

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

By Leah Walton

Super Bowl LI is Sunday, and the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons undoubtedly have their game plans in place.

What’s your game plan?Graphic: choose one: Drink or Drive

The players aren’t the only ones that need to be prepared on game day. Fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston, at Super Bowl parties, and at sports bars must have their transportation plans lined up before kickoff to ensure a safe and enjoyable day.

Super Bowl Sunday is thought of by some as a national holiday, and, like many other holidays in the United States, many Americans celebrate with food, friends, and alcohol. This means that, like other holidays, we often see an increase in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle fatalities. Such a day of healthy competition, camaraderie, and celebration should not end in tragedy due to something that’s 100% preventable.

That’s why I say the best defense is a good offense—not only for football players, but also for fans. And a fan’s defense on Super Bowl Sunday should be to choose—in advance—to either drive or drink, but never both. Impairment begins with the first drink, and taking a chance on driving because you “only had a few” is a risky play that could endanger your life and the lives of others.

By designating a sober driver as a key part of the game-day festivities, safety is increased and the likelihood of being in a crash is significantly reduced. Sometimes everyone wants to celebrate, and that’s OK, as long as everyone has a sober ride home. In this day and age, there are many ways to get home safely, whether by taxi, public transportation, or by using NHTSA’s Safer Ride app. Or, go for the MVP title this year and volunteer to be the designated sober driver for your squad, making sure everyone arrives safely at their destination postgame. That’s a guaranteed win!

Remember: you can drink responsibly, you can drive responsibly, but you can never drink and drive responsibly. Make your choice, stick with it, and enjoy the game!

NTSB Reminds School Bus Drivers to be Focused and Medically Fit for Duty

By Thomas E. Zoeller, Managing Director

“Raise your hand if you don’t use caution when operating your vehicle.”

Are you raising your hand?

Probably not.

Photo of NTSB Medical Officer Dr. Mary Pat McKay presenting
NTSB Medical Officer Dr. Mary Pat McKay speaking to Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers.

And neither did any of the nearly 700 Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers earlier this week when NTSB Medical Officer Dr. Mary Pat McKay asked this of them.

The point she was making was that most drivers believe they are fit to drive and capable of multi-tasking while driving if need be. But Dr. McKay’s message to bus drivers, who carry a most precious cargo, was that, while we think we may be ready to hit the roads, we may not always be at our best.

She then went on to explain that the labels on over-the-counter and prescription medications too often go unread. Consider, for example, one such warning on the box of an allergy medicine: “Use caution when operating machinery or driving a motor vehicle.”

At the county’s annual back-to-school training event for bus drivers and attendants, Dr. McKay and NTSB Safety Advocates Nicholas Worrell and Stephanie Shaw emphasized the importance of staying medically fit for duty and also reminded them about the dangers of driving distracted.

Dr. McKay presented results from an NTSB study on fatally injured pilots, which showed a significant increase in positive toxicology findings for potentially impairing medications. One big surprise was the increasing use of sedating over-the-counter medicines, such as cold remedies, allergy treatments, and sleep aids.

Each bus driver must ensure he or she is medically fit for work each day; this means being awake and alert and ready to perform in as safe a manner as possible, she said. This also means ensuring that a temporary illness or new medical condition—as well as the treatment of such conditions—will not impair the driver’s perception, judgment, or response time. Dr. McKay urged the drivers to discuss their important job duties with their healthcare providers, ask about the risks any new medications might pose to safe driving, and carefully read the warnings on ALL medications, regardless of whether they are prescribed or over the counter. She emphasized the importance of looking for warnings about effects like sleepiness, drowsiness, or difficulty with coordination.

NTSB Safety Advocate Nicholas Worrell speaking to the Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers.
NTSB Safety Advocate Nicholas Worrell speaking to the Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers.

Most of these medications are not safe to take when driving a school bus, or any vehicle, for that matter—and there is often an alternative with fewer side effects.

Bus drivers also must ensure they remain focused and avoid the temptation of distraction. Advocates Worrell and Shaw discussed specific highway and school bus accidents caused by distracted drivers.

“Distraction does not just include portable electronic devices, and it does not go away just because you have a hands-free headset,” Worrell said. Distraction takes many forms: cognitive (your eyes are on the road but not your thoughts); manual (physically engaged in something other than driving); visual (looking elsewhere instead of where you need to be looking); and auditory (when sounds distract).

School bus drivers bear a heavy responsibility and might experience any one of these types of distractions on any given day: thinking about the next stop prior to getting there, looking too long in the rearview mirror as they monitor kids for trouble, loud talking and noises, trying to discipline kids while driving. These are all potential distractions challenging school bus drivers.

Despite all the challenges school bus drivers face, it’s important to note that school buses are still the safest vehicles on the roads. That’s just one of the reminders the NTSB will be bringing to Loudoun County parents and the general public next week when it hosts a press event and safety demonstrations in coordination with Loudoun County Public Schools, Youth of Virginia Speak Out, Safe Kids Fairfax County, Virginia Safe Routes to School, and the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office. Students who walk, bicycle, drive, or are driven to school also need to know how to do so as safely as possible.

The NTSB message to school bus drivers is to go to work fit for duty, to operate with caution all the time, and to stay focused on the driving task.

The same message can save lives in the family car.

The issues of distracted driving and medical fitness for duty are on the NTSB’s 2015 Most Wanted List of safety improvements. For more information, visit Disconnect from Deadly Distractions and Require Medical Fitness for Duty.

Inspiring Youth to Engage in Public Health and Road Safety:

By Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr addressed teen leaders on transportation safety as a public health issue at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Leadership Seventy Years Strong Rally on the National Mall.
Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr addressed teen leaders on transportation safety as a public health issue at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Leadership Seventy Years Strong Rally on the National Mall.

Today, I stood side-by-side with more than 5,000 students and educators from around the country to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Family, Community and Career Leaders of America (FCCLA). We cheered, chanted, and danced at a rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to show our support for this organization, which has made a difference in our communities by helping to shape future leaders.

FCCLA is a nonprofit national career and technical student organization for young men and women in Family and Consumer Sciences education through grade 12. I was delighted to join them today to inspire and be inspired by some of our nation’s youngest leaders—who will ultimately help change the culture of public health and highway safety.

As the first public health scientist appointed to the NTSB, it was especially exciting to speak on behalf of the NTSB about prevention—using the knowledge we learn from tragedies to prevent future crashes.

Youth highway safety has long been a concern for the NTSB and for me personally. The concerns we face in preventing injuries and fatalities on our roads are becoming a public health issue, “an epidemic on wheels,” and I wanted to share that message with the FCCLA youth.

More young people die in crashes every year than from any other cause. In fact, more than 50,000 young people have died on our roads in the last decade.

Transportation safety should be important in everyone’s life. I walk or bike and use the metro each day as I travel to and from work. Maybe, like me, you took public transportation to work this morning. Or maybe you drove your children to camp, you went boating for the holiday weekend, or you plan to fly for your annual family vacation. Whatever the case, our health depends on safe transportation.

And safe transportation depends on us.

When I was a junior in high school, about the same age as some of the FCCLA youth I met today, I decided to spend a summer volunteering to build latrines in Paraguay. While I was walking along a dirt road with some of the elementary school kids from our village, we had to jump aside as large vehicles roared past. That is when I began to realize the importance of safe transportation.

Today’s youth have an important role in changing our driving habits and how we see our health. Leaders like those at the rally have a huge voice and one that they should continue to use to speak up for safety. They’re the most connected generation ever. They are connected to the whole world and can spread the message about road safety like no other generation has. We all must do our part— hold each other accountable, set good examples, and speak out to policymakers about the importance of safe roads for everyone.

FCCLA’s theme speaks to a well-established truth: Together We Are Healthy. Together, we can encourage each other to make healthy choices as individuals, and together, we also can advocate for healthy policies. Together, we must bring awareness to the public health issue of transportation safety by changing our safety culture.

There is an African proverb that I think is especially fitting on the 70th anniversary of the FCCLA:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.”

I am confident that these young people will go far and make our communities, our nation, and our world a safer, healthier, and better place. Happy 70th Anniversary, FCCLA!

Teen Driving Safety: Changing Attitudes and Changing Behavior

Rob Molloy, Acting Director, Office of Highway Safety presents to students at the National Collegiate Prep School.
Rob Molloy, Acting Director, Office of Highway Safety presents to young men and women from the National Collegiate Prep School.

By Rob Molloy,

Acting Director, Office of Highway Safety

 

Annually, for the past seven years, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has issued its Traffic Safety Culture Index. And, as in past years, the 2014 Traffic Safety Culture Index has found that U.S. licensed drivers still have a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude when it comes to dangerous driving behaviors.

As a father, I try to set a good example for my children when it comes to driving. I try to drive in the manner I hope they will drive. I believe that nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice yet set bad examples.

Rob Molloy with students at the National College Prep School
Rob Molloy with students at the National College Prep School

As a professional working to reduce the crashes that lead to deaths and injuries on our roadways, the idea of my children driving is terrifying. I imagine it terrifies most parents. And with good reason: the leading cause of death for our children is motor vehicle crashes. More children between the ages of 15 and 20 die in motor vehicle crashes than by suicide, drugs, violence, and alcohol combined.

May 1st kicks off Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. This is a month dedicated to reducing the preventable deaths of youth around the world. And let there be no doubt that crashes are preventable. I had the honor of addressing young men and women from the National Collegiate Prep School, in Washington, DC, who were excited to get involved in and learn more about how they can reduce and prevent injuries and fatalities on our roadways.

Sharing my experiences with crash investigations and educating youth about some of the major concerns of driving—such as distracted, drugged, and impaired driving—and the importance of seat belt use was a thrill. Unfortunately, the world of crash investigation is full of sad stories, which I often share to help bring light to these issues. Take the case of the North Texas teen driver who fell asleep at the wheel of the family’s SUV on their way to Disney World. He was driving the family late at night after school, and the vehicle went off the road and flipped over. His parents and three siblings died. Although the NTSB ultimately did not launch to this crash, it is still a good reminder of the dangers of fatigued driving.

When it comes to our teens, we focus a lot on texting while driving—and rightly so—but fatigue is a very real problem too.

I believe that the young men and women who gathered today at the National College Prep School will be at the forefront of changing the attitudes of their peers who may act irresponsibly while driving. We too, as adults, must make the commitment to change our attitudes—from “do as I say, not as I do. If we don’t want our children to text and drive, we must not text and drive. If we want our children to be rested when driving, we must be rested. If we want our children to wear seatbelts, we must wear seatbelts.

We owe it to our children to set a good example, to show them the safe, responsible way to behave behind the wheel. We have to show them that driving is a privilege that can lead to tragic consequences if they don’t act responsibly.

From Bad to Worse: Kids and Impaired Driving Crashes

By Danielle Roeber

dontdrinkanddriveGetting together with family and friends on Independence Day is a tradition. And with this July 4th falling on a Friday, a lot of people will be on the roads to enjoy a long weekend. At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear messages about celebrating safely and not driving after drinking. As we prepare to travel, I want to bring to your attention something that may not be as well-known. According to an article released last month in Pediatrics,of those children who died in impaired driving crashes in the last decade, 65 percent were riding with the impaired driver. And the median blood alcohol concentration of the impaired drivers was 0.15, almost twice the legal limit.

What could be worse than adults driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with children in the vehicle? As it turns out, those kids are also unlikely to be restrained by seat belts or child safety seats, putting them at even greater risk of injury or death in the event of a crash. In those cases where researchers could determine restraint use, 61 percent of the children killed while riding with an impaired driver were not restrained. Meanwhile, 71 percent of those impaired drivers survived the crash and had to live with the consequences. How might the use of a child seat or a seat belt have made a difference?

It gets even worse. A similar analysis was released in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers examined child passenger deaths from 1985-1996 and found eerily similar results; 64 percent of those child passengers killed in impaired driving crashes were riding with the impaired driver. And again, many of those child passengers who died were unrestrained.

What will it take to keep impaired drivers from putting children at risk? Increasing restraint use is certainly critical. Another intervention worth considering is mandating ignition interlocks for all individuals convicted of driving while impaired (DWI); many of the impaired drivers who were transporting children had prior DWI convictions. You don’t have to wait for a law, however. If you plan to drink this weekend or anytime in the future, make a plan for how you will get you and your family home safely. Make sure anyone transporting your children understands the risks and doesn’t get behind the wheel after drinking. No one should have to pay for someone’s decision to drive impaired, least of all our children.


Danielle Roeber is the Safety Advocacy Division Chief in NTSB’s Office of Communications

 

Ride for Cause

photo of Rolling Thunder being saluted.
taken by Luis Gomez at Rolling Thunder 2010.

By Nicholas Worrell

Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, the moment I publicly longed for in my winter blog. It’s been a long winter, and it’s great to get the bike back on the road and feel the open air. This weekend always features some outstanding events where riders reconnect with some old buddies, meet new ones, enjoy the road together, and come back with some stories to tell.

But in 2012 we lost almost 5,000 riders nationwide, 13 people each day who won’t be able to make new memories and share old stories. I am not okay with that – and here’s why.

For several years my buddies and I, from various rider clubs, have packed our bikes, hitched our trailers, and taken that long journey from Washington, DC to Myrtle Beach Bike Week to enjoy a week of riding and fun. I can hear the patient if ominous deep idle of the Harleys, the buzzing roar of Suzukis, and every now and then the signature sound of a Ducati dry clutch. I can feel as much as hear the bikes, all sizes, colors and shapes, thundering through the streets. And I can see the smiles on every rider’s face, smiles that look like relief from Old Man Winter. I can feel the cool breeze hitting my face as I cruise the stretch of Atlantic Street with riders I’ve known for years.

And I want to see each and every one of them the next year. I don’t want our group missing any of those bikes’ sounds, or any of those faces I’ve gotten used to seeing.

In the Washington area, every year Rolling Thunder brings hundreds of thousands of bikes roaring through the streets in commemoration of servicemen and women who have sacrificed for our freedom. The dedicated bikers at Rolling Thunder ride in remembrance of those who gave everything to protect us.

With all that they sacrifice for us, it’s a shame when we don’t protect ourselves.

As a United States Marine Corps veteran (OORAH), I am not shy about standing up for one more noble cause: motorcycle safety. (Repeat after me: “This is my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine…”) And I want everyone to realize that motorcycle safety isn’t just riders’ business – it’s everybody’s.

So here are some of the dangers and safety measures we should all take into consideration during this Memorial Week and the rest of the summer.

    1. Drivers: Share the Road and Pay Attention. For riders one of the biggest concerns is for drivers who are not focused on the task at hand. The distracted driver who simply can’t wait to place that call, send that text or update that Facebook posting, and the impaired driver who is too intoxicated to focus on the road, endanger everybody, but riders have less protection. If you ask most riders their number one concern, they’ll say “lack of respect by drivers” (or perhaps stronger words to that effect). So listen up drivers: share the road, don’t drive distracted, and don’t drive impaired.

 

    1. Riders: There’s a time and a place. Too many of us have done it, even though we shouldn’t have; we’ve taken those corners a little too fast, or performed a trick on a crowed highway. There is a time and place for those types of stunts, and it’s not where you’re taking risks with the lives of other riders or drivers.

 

  1. You’re not invincible. Gear up. Long-time riders will tell you that road-rash is no fun, and it can get way worse than that. I am amazed every time I see riders in shorts and a tee shirt, not realizing that at any moment they can take a fall from a simple pebble or piece of gravel in the street. Then there are riders who would never drive without a seat belt but ride without a helmet. A helmet is your best defense against head injuries when, not if, you fall off the bike. Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41-percent for motorcycle passengers.

If you still have to gear up, get it done now, so the rest of the summer is a safe one.

  1. Ride for a Cause. Safety first. I’ve been waiting all winter to ride, but I’m not gunning the engine the first chance I get. I’m going to ride at safe speeds. I’ll be in a DOT-compliant helmet. And you won’t find me drinking and riding, because those two are a bad mix. If you live to ride, like me, you also have to ride to live.

Riders, respect the road and the power of your bike. And drivers, have a little consideration for the riders; put away the distractions and keep your eye out for that rider sharing the road with you.

 

 

Nicholas Worrell is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Communications.

Saving Lives: Are We Really Doing Enough?

By Stephanie Davis

NTSB staff at the Lifesavers Booth
NTSB staff at the Lifesavers Booth – left to right: Rafael Marshall, Jenny Cheek, Deb Bruce, Kelly Nantel, Stephanie Davis, and Dennis Collins

In his opening remarks to the 2014 Lifesavers Conference, Commissioner John Schroer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation shared the story of a young couple killed on their way to a music festival in Tennessee. Their vehicle was struck from behind by an 18-wheeler as they were stopped in a traffic queue from an earlier crash . Commissioner Schroer shared that following that crash and after meeting the parents of the couple, he found himself asking “Did I do everything I could to save their lives?” “Did we do everything we could to save their lives?” Commissioner Schroer and the TN DOT knew more could be done and developed the Protect the Queue campaign.

He then posed that question to the highway safety professionals in the audience, “Are we doing all we can to protect everyone on the road?” And for everyone in the audience – the very sad answer was NO. NO, we are not doing everything we can to reach ZERO deaths.

Every year, more than 30,000 people are killed on our Nation’s roadways. And, most of those deaths are completely preventable. As a society, are we willing to accept that the price of our children going to school every day, our teens going to school football games or out with friends on a Friday night, or our spouse traveling to work, church, or the grocery store could be their life? For some 30,000 people each year, it was.

In 2014, more than 10,300 lives were taken when people impaired by alcohol decided to get behind the wheel. And more than, 3,300 more were taken by drivers distracted from the driving task. Another 3,000 lost their lives simply because they didn’t buckle up. And these numbers don’t reflect the hundreds of thousands more who are injured.

For two and half days last week, nearly 2,000 law enforcement and first responder personnel, child passenger safety technicians, manufacturers, medical and academic professionals, federal, state and local government officials, safety advocates and many others came together to do more. They came to share new research, to share innovative programs and lessons learned to address crashes caused by drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol, distracted by cell phones, to increase seat belt use, to protect newly licensed teen drivers and many more ways to reach ZERO deaths on our roadways.

But Commissioner Schroer’s questions were not just aimed at those attending the Lifesavers conference. No. He challenges us all to ask, “are we doing enough?” The NTSB is an investigative agency that determines the probable cause of transportation accidents and issues recommendations to prevent them from happening again; at the Lifesavers Conference, we had the opportunity to share what we are doing to address the preventable crashes that result in the tragic loss of life on our roadways.

We know that simply issuing recommendations won’t bring about the changes needed unless we engage with those working every day to enact legislation, develop education campaigns, enforce laws, educate families, conduct research and pursue many other avenues for saving lives. We were honored to be a part of the Lifesavers Conference and to engage in conversations about our work to reduce substance-impaired driving crashes, to strengthen occupant protection, and to eliminate distraction in transportation.

It’s been said, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Want to change the world? Get involved with an organization that has a vision for reaching ZERO deaths on our nation’s roadways. To find a way to do more in your school, community or state, visit NOYS, FCCLA, MADD, AAA, Safe Kids Worldwide, FAAR, and other traffic safety organizations who are making a difference.