Category Archives: Impairment

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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This July 4, Travel Safely—Don’t Put Unnecessary Strain on First Responders and Hospital Staff

By Dolline Hatchett, Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

COVID-19 has affected every American, and the NTSB has adapted to respond to the effects of the pandemic. As the agency’s Director of Safety Recommendations and Communications (SRC), I know how important it is to keep the industry, elected officials, and the advocacy community briefed on transportation safety; that’s why I decided to take advantage of this platform to try to reach as many of my fellow citizens as possible.

As we approach the July 4th weekend, with travelers expected to hit the roadways even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important to remind the traveling public to drive safely. Motor vehicle crashes continue to constitute a chronic national health care crisis, resulting in 35,000 or more deaths and millions of injuries each year. Highway crashes create an enormous demand for medical services, year in and year out. At the same time, an emergent crisis, like COVID-19, demands those same resources, and they start to get stretched thin.

SRC works not only to inform, but also to advocate for safer personal transportation choices. Although much of the country has been shut down for the past few months, the agency continues to craft and track safety recommendations, and it’s up to my office to publicize safety advances when we close recommendations.

Throughout the lockdown, SRC has continued to facilitate communication with state and national policy makers, upon request, about transportation safety issues that are relevant to legislation they may be considering. The difference these days is that the office responds to these requests in writing, rather than in face-to-face testimony. We’ve also responded to requests from federal congressional staff to provide information on our recommendations to help them develop a surface transportation bill. And of course, we continue to make safety publications available to the public and to respond to queries about ongoing investigations.

But perhaps the most innovative response we’ve had during this pandemic is our Safety Reminder campaign, which launched just before Memorial Day with a public service announcement. This outreach was important; surprisingly, while most of the country was on lockdown leading up to Memorial Day weekend, a nationwide speeding trend emerged. We decided to proactively remind the public about safe transportation across all modes as the nation began to re-open.

I believe it’s important to re-emphasize safe road travel ahead of the July 4th weekend, especially because stay-at-home orders have eased throughout the country, and we may see even more road travelers this holiday weekend than we did over Memorial Day weekend. Despite  being away from our physical offices, SRC continues to keep the public informed of the agency’s work as we advocate for safety improvements across all modes of transportation. We’re the conduit between the technical expertise at the agency and our stakeholders—the traveling public, lawmakers, and industry—and it’s up to us to effectively communicate the vital safety improvements that come out of our investigations, reports, and studies. There’s no better time to convey that important information than now, just before a holiday weekend during which many Americans will be taking to the roads, perhaps for the first time in months.

So, before the start of the holiday weekend, when you’re picking out your mask and planning socially distant celebrations, remember how your actions behind the wheel relate to this pandemic and those directly affected by it. Don’t drive impaired. Don’t drive distracted or fatigued. Don’t speed. Whether you’re a passenger or a driver, always wear your seatbelt.

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Let’s work together to avoid further strain on our health care system; every ambulance not called, every unit of blood not transfused, every bed in an emergency department not filled because of a crash, is one more resource made available to fight our emergent crisis.

 

Returning to Travel with Safety on the Mind

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

Normally this time of year, the transportation safety advocacy world would be buzzing with annual calendared campaigns, like these more well-known ones in the highway safety world:

• Global Youth Traffic Safety Month
• Motorcycle Awareness Month
• 100 Deadliest Days of Summer
• NHTSA’s “Click it or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement campaign

As the weather gets warmer, students learning to drive, fly or even operate a boat would gather for educational awareness-raising events or training seminars and conferences. Driver-educators and safety advocates would be working to pour their hearts and souls into reaching teen drivers on stages around the country, hoping to convince some to avoid the bad choices that would put them at higher risk of traffic crashes. Flight schools would be gearing up for the busy summer flying months, and the US Coast Guard and other organizations would be prepping for summer safety on our waterways.

But it is different this year. This year, the country is in large part sheltering in place because of a global public health pandemic.

In terms of traffic safety, the dark cloud might have a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times reports that crash incidences have reduced by half due to the virus; however, Streetsblog.org questions whether this silver lining in the form of reduced numbers of crashes will come with another dark cloud in the form of higher rates of crashes. We will have to wait for the statistics to be compiled a year or more from now to get a clearer picture. Although advocacy messages no longer reach students face-to-face, young people have less freedom—and reason—to drive. Will those two factors cancel each other out? Will drivers of all ages remember to drive sober and without distractions? Only time will tell.

General aviation continues to operate, though in a slightly more limited fashion, but we at the NTSB continue to investigate crashes. Boaters have not been out, due to shutdowns and weather, but with summer coming, things will change.

The big question I find myself pondering is, what will transportation safety look like once we are all able to move about freely again?

I like to think that Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that the best way to predict your future is to create it. I wonder about the new normal that we could strive to achieve in transportation safety on the other side of this pandemic. I also find myself worrying about re-emergence shock on the highways.

I recall from my time in the Marine Corps that when we’d return from duty on ship for an extended period without driving, traffic safety advocates would come on board to remind us what we would be facing returning home. That type of reminder would be helpful now after this long period of reduced driving. Have our skills gotten rusty? Will our road awareness be slow to return?

A potential benefit that could come from this pandemic, though, is that many of us have become much more mindful of how our behavior affects others. Will our mindfulness stay with us when we head back out on the roads, or jump back into our cockpits, or warm up our boats?

The present crisis knocked us out of our 24/7, “go-go-go” lifestyle suddenly and shockingly. Now, it is finally sinking in that returning to that normal will not happen soon or suddenly; rather, it will happen step by step. How can we rebuild transportation safety in our new normal? Tens of thousands of lives are lost on our roads every year. For too long, we have accepted this as normal. Perhaps this pandemic will wake us up to the fact that it does not have to be this way.

The step to transitioning back to our new normal will be to remember all the little safety lessons that might not have been front-of-mind these last few weeks or months. Returning to safe driving, flying, and other transportation operations will require renewed focus. To help us return to safe operations, the NTSB and other transportation organizations will launch the #SafetyReminder campaign with a Twitter chat @NTSB, May 21, 2020, at 12pm EDT.  You can join the conversation by mentioning @NTSB in your tweets to questions and comments or simply follow the conversation using #SafetyReminder.

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I encourage you to follow the campaign and brush up on some of the things you may have forgotten before we all get back out on the road. When it comes to transportation safety, we really are all in this together.

Flatten the Curve Beyond COVID-19

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

When I read the extended nationwide maximum telework order, prolonging the order that started on March 17th, I couldn’t help but think about what impact the COVID-19 preventive measures might have on traffic deaths around the country. Surely, we’ll see a drop in vehicle miles traveled, like we did in the last great recession, but will that give us a false sense of security that traffic safety has improved? The truth is, even though fewer people are driving, and we might see a drop in traffic fatalities in 2020 due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, risky driving behaviors persist. On one hand, I’ve seen reports of drivers using the emptier-than-normal freeways as their personal racetracks, and on the other, I’ve seen reports of significantly lower drunk driving arrests in the month of March.

It’s encouraging to see so many people following state orders to implement social distancing and staying at home—if there are fewer people on the roads, there is less risk for vehicle-related injuries, which keeps people out of hospitals, allowing hospital workers to focus on the influx of coronavirus patients. However, this causes me to wonder: if people can be convinced to stay home to avoid contracting a dangerous and sometimes deadly virus, could they also be convinced to designate a sober driver or drive their vehicle at posted speeds? After all, those are lifesaving behaviors, as well.

 

As a transportation safety advocate, I know that motor vehicle crashes are a serious threat to public health in the United States. In 2018, 36,560 people were killed in traffic crashes. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that 1,894,000 people were injured in traffic crashes in the same year. According to NHTSA, 94 percent of all serious traffic crashes are the result of human error; or, in other words, they’re caused by a driver’s choices. We should not let the stress of COVID-19 lower our guard on safe driving practices. Remaining vigilant behind the wheel is critical now more than ever with children home from school, often playing outside, riding bikes in the streets. More people are out walking; sometimes in the street to practice social distancing of other pedestrians.

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The CDC has been promoting thorough handwashing procedures and the importance of covering a cough and sanitizing surfaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But did you know that the CDC also promotes motor vehicle safety behaviors like driving sober, buckling up, and not driving distracted?

We are extremely troubled by the increasing number of deaths and cases across our country related to COVID-19. Doctors, scientists, and public health professionals are all searching for a cure or a vaccine to eliminate this virus as quickly as possible. At the NTSB, we’re incredibly grateful for all those professionals—including those transporting vital supplies around the country. If Americans can choose to stay home to help slow the spread of COVID-19, imagine the impact we could have if everyone chose to make the safest driving choices for ourselves and our fellow road users. We have the power to flatten the curve of traffic deaths by making safe choices every day.