Category Archives: Impaired Driving

When Will it Finally Click?

By Leah Walton

The Crash Test Dummies, Vince and Larry, made their big debut in 1986, telling America, “You could learn a lot from a dummy . . . buckle your safety belt.” Based on the following increase in seat belt use, this public service announcement campaign became legendary and impacted many, and saving lives as a result. The amazing work that these dummies did earned Vince and Larry a retirement spot at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

And yet, even today, not everyone buckles their seat belt, even though it has been proven over and over that a seat belt is the best lifesaving measure in the event of a crash. People still get citations during the highly advertised “Click It or Ticket” National Seat Belt Enforcement Mobilization campaign, which takes place over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the seat belt usage rate in 2015 was 90.1%—which is great, except that the remaining 10% equals 27.5 million Americans who are not buckling up. That means 27.5 MILLION people are choosing to be unprotected in their vehicle. Buckling up is such a simple action, it only takes about 2 seconds. So, when will it finally click for everyone to buckle their seat belt?

The National Safety Council predicts that 409 people may be killed on America’s roadways over the upcoming 2017 Memorial Day holiday period. I can’t predict every crash, but I can imagine that many of these potential deaths will occur because people chose to not buckle up. For them, it hasn’t clicked that seat belts save lives.

Other safe behaviors still haven’t clicked with many drivers, either. Driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, driving distracted, and driving while drowsy also contribute to the loss of life on our roadways. Simple solutions like driving sober or designating a sober driver, putting the phone away, and getting a full night’s rest would make the roads safer for everyone. When will all of this click for drivers?

Memorial Day is a time to reflect and honor those who have fallen for our country. And, however you choose to observe the day—at the beach, at a bar-b-que, alone or with friends—I hope it finally clicks and you make safe choices to get safely to and from your destination.

 

Leah Walton is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Today’s Actions, Tomorrow’s Consequences

By Nicholas Worrell

In the past 2 months, several occasions have raised awareness about the dangers we face in highway safety:

  • National Distracted Driving Awareness Month
  • Public Health Awareness Week
  • Impaired Driving Awareness Month
  • Click It or Ticket National Enforcement Mobilization
  • Global Youth Traffic Safety Month
  • Bicycle Safety Month
  • Global Road Safety Week
  • Motorcycle Awareness Month

Naturally, the NTSB has played a role in many of these initiatives in support of our highway safety recommendations; but it is often the work of advocates and brave legislators around the country that move states toward action on our recommendations.

Unfortunately, despite these national and global initiatives, the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. After years of decline and plateau, the number of traffic deaths per year spiked in 2015 and 2016. When the 2016 numbers are tallied, it’s reasonable to assume that they will be the highest in a decade.

The cultural shift we need to stop this trend will take greater education, legislative, and enforcement efforts. In our April 26 roundtable, “Act 2 End Deadly Distractions,” we brought together advocacy groups, insurance companies, survivor advocates, and law enforcement representatives to discuss the problem and identify specific solutions. Survivor advocates went away with new tools and contacts, as well as with information on how to take more effective action to move the public, state and local governments, employers, and law enforcement. The assembled advocacy groups announced an alliance, the National Alliance for Distraction Free Driving.

NTSB Highway Investigator Kenny Bragg talks with students at the Prince George’s County (MD) Global Youth Traffic Safety Month event

Earlier this month, the NTSB’s Advocacy Division collaborated with Prince George’s County (MD) Police Department, the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), and Freedom High School in Virginia to educate youth about driving hazards. Together, we kicked off our Global Youth Traffic Safety Month social media campaign, #1goodchoice, to promote teen driver safety.

Last week, I represented the NTSB at the International Road Federation’s 6th Caribbean Regional Congress. At the meeting, I emphasized the “service” part of civil service and shared what NTSB Advocacy has learned in promoting action for safer driving and safer roads.

Nicholas Worrell talks with attendees at the International Road Foundation’s 6th Caribbean Regional Conference

Even as safety features become more and more common, our driving behavior has not become safer. We must change behavior to make a real difference, and that change in behavior starts with ourselves. The first step to making this change is realizing that those who die in highway crashes are not some “other people”—they’re somebody’s loved ones. They were somebody, themselves. They could have been us. You can take action to increase awareness—your own as well as that of those around you. Turn away from messages about how much we can drink before driving, for example, and think instead about separating the two behaviors. Realize that, whether you’re speeding to make a red light or glancing at your phone while driving, it can wait. Get enough sleep before driving. Wear a helmet when you’re on a motorcycle. Be alert to pedestrians and bicycles, and be alert as a pedestrian and a bicyclist. Reach out to people you know, either through social and traditional media or by simply having a face-to-face conversation with your loved ones and friends about the behaviors they need to change when they’re on the road.

Act to end distractions by joining the conversation at #Act2EndDD. You can talk about your one good choice (#1goodchoice). If you’re a survivor advocate, you can get in touch with the National Alliance for Distraction Free Driving for tools and ideas on how to put an end to distracted driving.

If each of us changes our own behavior, we will create a safer world. We must all take responsibility and act to keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists alive.

Carrollton, Kentucky, 29 Years Later: So Much Work Still To Do

By Dr. Robert Molloy

On the night of May 14, 1988, in Carrollton, Kentucky, 24 children and 3 adults were killed and 34 others were injured when a drunk driver, driving his pickup truck in the wrong direction on Interstate 71, struck their church activity bus head-on. The driver, whose blood alcohol concentration was three times today’s legal limit, survived, sustaining minor injuries.

In the nearly 3 decades since the Carrollton crash, the number of people killed in alcohol‑involved crashes has decreased. Smart, committed people have worked tirelessly for stronger penalties, high-visibility enforcement, advanced collision-avoidance technology, and education campaigns aimed at deterring alcohol-impaired driving. But more than 10,000 people still die every year because someone who has been drinking gets behind the wheel. The results of those drivers’ choices are funerals, hospital stays, surgeries, medical bills, and lost livelihoods, all of which are completely preventable. As we approach the 29th anniversary of the 27 deaths in Carrollton, 27 more people will die today, because of alcohol-impaired drivers.

On the 25th anniversary of the Carrollton crash in 2013, we issued a safety report, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving. We called on the states to take bold actions to address this problem, making safety recommendations in this report that, if implemented, would prevent alcohol-impaired driving. We recommended reducing the per se blood alcohol concentration limit for all drivers; conducting high-visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws and incorporating passive alcohol-sensing technology into enforcement efforts; expanding the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by an impaired driver; and using driving while intoxicated (DWI) courts and other programs to reduce recidivism by repeat DWI offenders. Implementing any of these recommendations would reduce impaired-driving fatalities, and if any one of them can keep one impaired driver from taking another life, we believe the effort to enact them is worth it. If these recommendations had been in place in 1988, those 27 bus occupants might be living full lives today, and 24 families may not have experienced unspeakable sadness.

We make bold recommendations because the alternative—accepting the preventable 10,000 deaths each year on America’s roads—is intolerable. States that implement these recommendations will make it more difficult for people to choose to drink and drive, and that’s the action we need to truly “reach zero.”

Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

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.