Category Archives: Impairment

Safe Trucking is Good Business

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Trucks move the economy, and they do a superb job. One- and two-day delivery wouldn’t be possible without the nation’s truck army. But when trucks are involved in a crash, the results are often disastrous. How do we make trucking even safer?

I recently spoke to the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), which represents about

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Vice Chairman Landsberg at the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) 2019 Safety Conference

50 percent of the truck fleets in the United States. This meeting was devoted to—what else?— safety. This group is driving hundreds of millions of miles every year so the potential for catastrophe is high.

A quick statistic from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): In 2017, there were just shy of 4,900 fatal crashes involving large trucks. That works out to about 13 crashes a day, or one every 2 hours. In almost every case, these were not accidents or unforeseen events— they were preventable crashes. Lives are lost and survivors suffer life-changing injuries. Most times, we know what happened, why it happened, and what could have prevented the crash. Why, then, don’t we see a reduction in the number of crashes?

The vast majority of trucking companies make safety their top priority; however, there are some that intentionally operate vehicles with out-of-service brakes, bad tires, too much load, or other issues, or they knowingly use drivers with poor safety records. These deliberate decisions affect the safety of everyone on the road. But even drivers at conscientious companies can crash when they suffer a lapse in judgement, become distracted, fail to get enough rest, or drive when ill or affected by prescription or over-the-counter medications. The good news is that crashes really are easily preventable.

So, how can truckers—and their employers—ensure a safe trip each time they drive?

  • Set reasonable hours of service. A tired driver is unsafe! There are many excuses as to why a driver should be allowed to run to exhaustion; all are indefensible.
  • Complete pretrip inspections. Mechanical equipment fails, usually in predictable fashion and often at the worst possible time. Checking on your rig’s tires, brakes, and other equipment before your ride is not only required, it’s critical.
  • Ensure drivers are fit for duty. Incapacitating illnesses or impairment can interfere with a driver’s ability to do the job safely. Sleep apnea is a particularly troubling problem for too many drivers.
  • Embrace automation and driver-assist technology. Full automation, despite the marketing hype, is still some distance away—maybe very far away. But speed control, adaptive braking, stability control, and advanced driver-assist safety features, such as collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning, are currently available and make a big difference in mitigating driver mistakes. As the aviation industry has embraced pilot-assisting technologies, it’s become remarkably safer; the trucking industry could learn from this willingness to use available automation tools in its operations.
  • End distraction. Cell phone use—including texting—should be prohibited, except for emergency use. Many companies make it a firing offense to use a cell phone while a vehicle is in motion. Federal regulation already prohibits call phone use in company vehicles, but companies need to ensure their internal cell phone policies make this clear to their drivers. At the same time, many companies could do a better job implementing cell phone policies and tracking drivers’ cell phone use.
  • Develop a safety management system and strong safety culture. In almost every accident or crash we investigate, there was also a management failure. The safety mindset isn’t something that’s “bolted on” after the fact, but rather, it’s something that’s embedded in a company’s, driver’s, and leadership’s DNA. Ongoing management support and accountability makes a huge difference. Owner-operators must ensure that they have safety management controls in place.
  • Verify that your drivers are being safe. Trust, but verify! Install inward- and outward-facing cameras to help assess driver performance. Review the recordings—not with the intent to punish, but with an eye toward improving driver education and training.

Good business means caring about your drivers and other drivers on the road. It’s also a value that can prove economically sound; after all, it takes only one crash to put a business out of business. In the bigger picture, a mark against one operator is a mark against the entire industry. The aviation industry recognized that trend and established the Commercial Aviation Safety Team to assess risks and evaluate safety concerns related to commercial airline operations. The trucking industry could consider doing something similar.

From what I heard after meeting with the NPTC, it’s clear that NPTC members are working hard to make their good record even better. How about you?

Heading Back to School Safely

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

 It’s nearing the end of August. Gone are the days of lounging by the pool or on the beach, or running around and playing outside. Soon, crowds of children will be waiting on the street corner for their school bus to arrive. It’s almost Labor Day, and the back-to-school season is upon us.

‘Tis the season for worrying about a lot of things: hunting down the best sales on school supplies and clothes, buying the right books, hoping your children will have good teachers and make new friends . . . the list goes on. It’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns, but now is also the time to discuss with your kids the safest way for them to get to and from school.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve made school transportation safety a priority. For example, although the school bus is the safest method of transportation to and from school, when a bus crash does happen, we investigate to uncover any relevant safety issues so they can be fixed. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including impaired driving, distracted driving, and fatigue-related accidents) are currently items on our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Our MWL contains what we believe to be the safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives, and these issues are among our highest priorities in our advocacy work.

So, how will your kids get to school this year? Will they take the bus? Do you have a carpool set up with another family? Do they walk or bike to school? Is your teen driving to and from school this year? Regardless of how your child gets there and home, this is a critical time for you, as a parent, to think about ways you can help keep them safe. By talking to your children about steps you can take as a family this school year to ensure a safe commute, you can do your part to help make transportation safety a priority.

Check out some of our back-to-school blog posts for some conversation starters and tips for keeping your children and their peers safe on the roads.

Don’t Drive High This 4th of July

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

When I started my career with Mothers Against Drunk Driving 20 years ago, I never imagined I would still be advocating to eliminate impaired driving in 2019. I wasn’t so naïve to believe we’d have flying cars by now, but I did think that, surely in 20 years, Americans would shift their attitudes and behaviors to routinely separate drinking and driving. After all, impaired driving is 100% preventable with smart choices and planning for a sober ride home.

We should have zero fatalities when it comes to impaired driving, and yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 10,000 people die in alcohol-impaired driving crashes every year. That means one-third of all traffic fatalities are caused by impaired driving. What’s more, those numbers are limited to alcohol impairment at the 0.08-percent BAC level or higher. If we include all alcohol-involved fatalities, that statistic increases to over 12,000.

As if that number wasn’t bad enough, it doesn’t even include other drug-impaired driving. We don’t have accurate statistics for those yet because there’s currently no common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing (although NHTSA is making progress toward implementing this NTSB recommendation).

Impairment is impairment, regardless of if someone is impaired by alcohol, marijuana (for recreational or medical use), illicit drugs, or even prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Instead of seeing that attitude and behavior shift I had hoped for years ago, today, an estimated 14.8 million drivers report that, in the past 30 days, they got behind the wheel within 1 hour after using marijuana, according to a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey. The AAA survey also revealed that 70% of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while high on marijuana. Those folks are in for a sad surprise, as more law enforcement officers are being trained in the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) programs, and many are being certified as drug recognition experts (DREs). This means traffic officers have been specifically trained to detect and identify impairment—by alcohol or other drugs—with a high level of accuracy.

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The 4th of July is one of the deadliest holiday periods of the year when it comes to impaired-driving crashes. But it doesn’t have to be. Drive sober. Choose—or volunteer to be—a designated driver. Use a ride-sharing app or public transportation. There’s never an excuse to drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Don’t drive high this 4th of July.

Drink or Drive—Pick One

By Member Jennifer Homendy

The United States continues to be one of the world’s leaders in drunk-driving deaths. One of the reasons for this shameful distinction is that US drivers are allowed to operate motor vehicles with more alcohol in their system than is permitted in most other countries.

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One state in the nation is an exception to this rule: Utah, which became the first state to lower the threshold for drunk driving from .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .05 percent BAC, joining more than 100 countries that have a limit of .05 percent or lower. In 1983, Utah was also the first state to lead the nation in lowering the threshold from .10 percent to .08 percent BAC.

Currently, California and Michigan legislators are considering whether to adopt a .05‑percent law that will save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of life-altering injuries over the coming years. On April 3, NTSB Safety Advocate Leah Walton added her voice to the growing chorus calling for a lower BAC limit in California, for the same reasons that I spoke in favor of a similar law in Michigan on March 20, and for the same reasons that the NTSB advocated in support of Utah’s .05 law, which went into effect December 30, 2018. (New York is also considering such a move.) All three laws satisfy our 2013 safety recommendation to lower the legal BAC limit to .05 percent or lower. All three laws will separate drinking from driving, and, by doing so, all three laws will save lives.

Our .05-percent BAC limit safety recommendation was adopted in our safety study, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving. Numerous other studies, including a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, have reached the same conclusion: .05‑percent limits save lives.

Let me be clear: we aren’t trying to stop people from drinking; we’re working to stop people from drinking and driving. Our goal is to save lives, and our concerns are justified. In the past 10 years, more than 100,000 people have died in alcohol-involved crashes in the United States.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,874 people died in driving-under-the-influence crashes in 2017, the last full year on record. Clearly, .08-percent limits just aren’t working.

Reducing the legal BAC limit for driving is a broad deterrent that lowers the incidence of crashes and crash deaths at all BAC levels, not just those in the narrow range between .05 and .079 percent. It’s estimated that lowering the legal BAC limit in every state would likely reduce the number of fatal alcohol-related crashes by 11 percent, potentially saving up to 1,790 lives a year.

Other safety organizations have done their own great work in support of a .05-percent or lower BAC limit. The World Health Organization; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety; the National Safety Council; and Mothers Against Drunk Driving have all supported our safety recommendation. A .05-percent BAC limit is also supported by a majority of US motorists—63 percent, in fact, according to the AAA 2015 Traffic Safety Culture Index.

It’s noteworthy that even countries with higher alcohol consumption per capita than the United States set their BAC limits at .05 percent or lower. It’s not that people in these countries don’t drink; they just don’t drink and drive.

Growing up, my parents taught me not to drink and drive. It was just that simple. I never once heard anyone tell me it was OK to “only drive a little drunk.” My parents never lectured me that I could drink and drive as long as I kept my BAC below a certain limit.

And that’s the goal of the .05-percent movement—separating drinking from driving. You can drink responsibly. You can drive responsibly. But no one can responsibly drink and drive.

Our goal is not to propose a new target number of drinks to have before driving; rather, it’s for people to plan to either drink or drive. But never to do both.

 

Don’t Rely on the Luck of the Irish for a Safe Ride Home

By: Member Jennifer Homendy

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in our house. “Leprechauns” sneak in the night before to raid our kitchen cabinets. Sometimes they write things in green paint on our walls; other times they leave gold coins. And my daughter always tries to catch one in her latest handmade trap (spoiler alert: it’s never happened). This is also one of the busiest weekends of the year for us. My daughter is an Irish dancer, and over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, our schedule is jam packed with parades and multiple performances at local pubs where there’s lots of dancing, drinking, and good ole reveling in Irish culture. What always concerns me, though, is the number of people who walk out of those pubs right into their cars after an afternoon of drinking.

Did you know that nearly 29 people die each day in the United States in alcohol-impaired driving crashes? That’s one person every 50 minutes, or more than 10,000 people a year. Alcohol-impaired driving crashes are 100% preventable. It’s simple. Choose one: drink or drive. Don’t do both.

St. Patricks Day Impaired Driving Image

This Sunday, you may be tempted to think: well, it’s just one drink, or it’s just two. Although the current legal definition of alcohol impairment in 49 states is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% (0.05% in Utah, thanks to the efforts of the NTSB), research shows that impairment begins at much lower levels; even small amounts of alcohol affect the brain and human performance behind the wheel.

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, we want you to have fun. And the best way to do that is to have a plan in place before you start to celebrate. Leave the driving to someone who’s sober or take transit, call a cab or a rideshare service, but please don’t drink and drive.

Add a Day of Remembrance for a Balanced Holiday Season

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Every year, I hear that the holiday season has gotten too long—that holiday music, commercials, and sales begin too early. Traditionally, the season starts on Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November.

 

I think the season should actually start even earlier this year—on the third Sunday in November, World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Why? Because to truly give thanks for what we have, we have to imagine losing it. Around the world, about 1.3 million people lose their lives in automobile crashes every year; 20 to 50 million more survive a crash with injuries, many of which are life-altering. Here in the United States, annual traffic deaths number around 37,000—more than 100 a day—and a motor vehicle crash is the single most likely way for a teen to die.

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If you’ve lost somebody to a crash, you probably need no special reminder. Your loved one will be missed at the holiday dinner table, on the way to the home of a friend or out-of-town relative, and throughout the holidays. But for the rest of us, the Day of Remembrance is a time to think of those needlessly lost on our roads.

I encourage us all to go beyond remembering those lost in highway crashes, to thinking of victims of transportation accidents in all modes who won’t be joining family and friends this holiday season. Before we give thanks next Thursday, let’s take a moment to remember those who have been lost, and then take steps to make our own holiday travel safer.

By Car

Fatigue, impairment by alcohol and other drugs, and distraction continue to play major roles in highway crashes. Here’s what you can do to keep yourself and those around you safe on the road.

  • If your holiday celebrations involve alcohol, ask a friend or family member to be your designated driver, or call a taxi or ridesharing service.
  • In a crash, seat belts (and proper child restraints) are your best protection. Always make sure that you and all of your passengers are buckled up or buckled in!
  • Make sure to use the right restraint for child passengers, and be sure it’s installed correctly. If you have doubts, ask a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • Make sure you’re well rested! A fatigued driver is just as dangerous as one impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
  • Avoid distractions. In this video, survivor-advocates share their stories of personal loss—and the changes they’re working for now.
  • Don’t take or make calls while driving, even using a hands-free device. Set your navigation system before you start driving. If you’re traveling with others, ask them to navigate.

By Bus or Train

We’ve made recommendations to regulators and industry to improve passenger rail and motorcoach operations and vehicle crashworthiness, but travelers should know what to do in an emergency.

  • Pay attention to safety briefings and know where the nearest emergency exit is. If it’s a window or roof hatch, make sure you know how to use it.
  • If you’re unsure of where the exits are or how to use them, or if you didn’t receive a safety briefing, ask your driver or train conductor to brief you.
  • Always use restraints when they’re available!

By Air or Sea

Airline and water travel have become incredibly safe, but these tips can help keep you and your loved ones safe in an emergency.

  • When flying, make sure that you and your traveling companions have your own seats—even children under age 2.
  • Don’t forget your child’s car seat. The label will usually tell you whether your child car seat is certified for airplane use; the owner’s manual always has this information.
  • If you don’t know the rules for using a child’s car seat on your flight, call the airline and ask what you need to know.
  • Pay close attention to the safety briefing! Airline and marine accidents have become very rare, but you and your family can be safer by being prepared.
  • Whether you’re on an airplane or a boat, know where to find the nearest flotation device.

This holiday season, no matter how you plan to get where you’re going, remember that, for many, this time of year is a time of loss. Honor survivors and remember traffic crash victims by doing your best to make sure you—and those around you—make only happy memories on your holiday travels.

Observing an Impaired Driving Enforcement Training

By Member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

This summer, I had the opportunity to observe men and women training to be law enforcement officers. Part of their training included 40 hours focused specifically on executing a standardized field sobriety test (SFST).

The SFST is a series of assessments an officer performs during a traffic stop to determine if a driver is impaired. I was surprised to learn how the SFST also helps officers detect drivers who are impaired by drugs other than alcohol.  When an officer encounters a subject who he believes to be impaired, his first response will be to evaluate his physical condition by administering a SFST.  Although all the clues for impairment which are analyzed in the SFST are for alcohol, there are similarities in impairment by some of the 7 different drug classes.  Additionally, the presence of some impairment clues and the absence of others can be a strong indicator of drug impairment.  For instance, a subject who displays nystagmus (uncontrollable twitching of the eyes) from alcohol impairment will also present an inability to maintain balance.  With some drug classes, there will be a high degree of nystagmus, but their balance may not be affected to the same degree.  The same goes with the strong odor of alcohol.  If a subject is obviously impaired but has no odor of alcohol about their breath, drug impairment may have an influence.  When officers administer an SFST to a suspected drug-impaired driver, the results often identify the need for a drug recognition expert (DRE) to evaluate the driver for physical signs of drug impairment.

Trainees learn about the effects of alcohol on the body and the visual cues to look for when they suspect a driver is impaired, as well as how to determine the likelihood of impairment so they have probable cause to administer an impairment test. In addition to the SFST training, officers spend hours learning how to document impaired driving arrests and how to present evidence of such arrests in court.

To effectively practice these skills, trainees conduct the SFST on live subjects who have consumed varying amounts of alcohol in a controlled environment (a law-enforcement training facility; subjects are driven home by law enforcement officers afterward). Volunteers are given measured amounts of alcohol over the course of 4 hours prior to the mock SFST, and then are given a breath test to document their breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) as the evaluation begins. SFST instructors observe trainees as they evaluate subjects and offer real-time feedback and suggestions for improvement. By using live subjects, trainees witness how variably alcohol consumption can present in individuals.

A law enforcement trainee conducts the SFST on a live subject that has consumed alcohol.
A law enforcement trainee conducts the SFST on a live subject that has consumed alcohol

I spent some time with the live subjects, all of whom were impaired, before their evaluations. All subjects had a BrAC of 0.08 percent or higher and, had they been behind the wheel, would have been subject to arrest. The SFST instructor showed me the documented BAC levels of the subjects. While all of the subjects were at or above 0.08, they were each keenly aware that they were in no condition to drive. They were unsteady on their feet, reacted slowly to orders, and struggled to follow directions given by the trainees. I couldn’t tell which subjects had higher BACs than others, but just knowing that some were close to or just above the “legal limit,” I would not be comfortable sharing the road with any of them.

When the evaluations started, I got to be one of the (sober) subjects evaluated by the trainees. I received the same set of questions and was given the same tests as the impaired subjects. The SFST is incredibly thorough, and officers determine the likelihood of impairment by scoring the elements of the test based on how the subject performs. I was asked questions such as, “Where are you coming from?” “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” “Are you on any medications or do you have any medical conditions that I should be aware of?” From there, I was asked to walk a certain number of steps, heel to toe, counting each step out loud; to stand on one foot with my arms at my sides and balance, and to track a pen that the trainee moved in front of my face from side to side. The test is designed to evaluate a person’s ability to complete simultaneous tasks—an ability that is hindered by impairment. What I learned later is that each part of the test helps the officer gather data about the subject—slurred speech, an alcohol odor, impaired coordination, and atypical eye movement are all signs of impairment. Subjects who score in or above a certain range on the test are considered to have a positive likelihood of impairment.

Member Dinh-Zarr undergoes the SFST
Member Dinh-Zarr undergoes the SFST

I learned two things through this test. First, I struggle with balancing on one foot, even when I’m sober! Second, the trainees are taught this protocol very thoroughly; they are instructed to take their time and not rush any element of the test. They need to be very deliberate because officers cannot administer a breath test unless they positively detect impairment.

End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. Specifically, we recommend that all states lower their per se BAC limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent or lower. Observing this SFST training exercise reaffirms my belief in the NTSB’s position on this recommendation. A 0.08 percent BAC illegal limit is far too high. At .05, drivers have difficulty with vision, coordination, and steering, even if they may not realize it.  In fact, in 2016, approximately 1,400 people were killed by drivers with a BAC of 0.01­–0.07 percent.

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Driver BAC’s from fatal crashes in 2016. Drivers are not considered legally impaired before 0.08 BAC, but 1,400 people were killed by drivers that had between 0.01 and 0.07 BAC in 2016.

In addition to calling on states to lower their legal BAC limit, we also recommend increased high-visibility enforcement, such as sobriety checkpoints, which allow law enforcement officers to screen a high number of drivers in a short amount of time for potential impairment. All of these safety recommendations are not intended to increase arrests.  In fact. they may decrease the number of arrests because they deter many impaired people from even getting behind the wheel in the first place.  That is true prevention!

Our 2013 report, “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving” includes a series of recommendations to combat impaired driving. We believe that implementing a combination of a lower BAC legal limit, increased or high-visibility enforcement, and mandatory ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders can reduce the number of impaired drivers on our roadways. Our goal is to eliminate impaired driving by convincing people to separate drinking or drugging from driving.

I’d like to thank all law enforcement officers who conduct SFSTs and remove alcohol-impaired drivers from our roadways. It may not seem as glamourous as other aspects of their job, but they are making our nation safer with this important work. These trained professionals help keep our roads safe and prevent families from losing a loved one to an impaired driving crash. It’s up to the rest of us to do our part to reach zero.