May has been designated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, to help motorists understand standard motorcycle driving behaviors and learn how to drive safely around motorcycles on our roadways.
In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @ NTSB, NTSB Highway Crash Investigators Kenny Bragg and Mike Fox discuss our investigation of the June 2019 collision between a pickup truck with a trailer and a group of motorcycles in Randolph, New Hampshire, its safety recommendations, motorcycle safety tips, and other considerations that drivers should take when sharing the roadway.
The NTSB final report for the Randolph, New Hampshire, crash mentioned in this episode is available on our website.
An estimated 42,000 traffic deaths occurred in 2020. This is an alarming number.
From 2014 to 2019, overall traffic fatalities increased by 10 percent. Over the same period, however, annual traffic deaths among vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists) jumped from 9,935 to 12,062— a 21 percent increase. If you only look at pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, there was a 25 percent increase in fatalities from 2014 to 2019. So, disproportionately, increasing numbers of vulnerable road users are being killed on our roadways. We must do more to reverse this upward trend.
Traditionally, as we have tried to mitigate and prevent crashes by changing individual human behavior, we’ve sought to convert everyone into perfect drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. We try to reduce injury severity by increasing occupant protection and improving crashworthiness. We tend to put roadway safety in the hands of each individual road user, rather than taking a holistic approach. We’ve seen tremendous safety improvements through the years, such as developing safer vehicles, and we have seen a significant decline in motor vehicle occupant deaths over decades. But the overall trend is not downward, especially not for those outside of motor vehicles.
A Safe System approach focuses on injury severity by seeking to eliminate death and serious injury. In exchange, some less severe crashes are more tolerable. Instead of trying to make us all perfect drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, a Safe System approach assumes that we all make mistakes and emphasizes methods to prevent these mistakes from causing deaths or serious injuries. Human vulnerabilities are accommodated by managing kinetic energy through engineering, design, and policy. We also acknowledge that road safety is a shared responsibility among road users, designers, planners, engineers, corporations, and policy makers.
That’s why, next week, we’re hosting an NTSB MWL Roundtable: A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety. We recognize the need to educate others about what the Safe System approach is and to emphasize that Safe System—which underpins Vision Zero policies and initiatives—can’t be merely a slogan; it must integrate all proven safety countermeasures. Our virtual roundtable will highlight the key elements of the Safe System approach and will kick off our safety advocacy actions on this issue for the next two years.
What should you expect from the roundtable?
We have a very strong lineup of panelists planned for the event. An expert from Sweden— the birthplace of Vision Zero—will discuss the origin, history, and principles of a Safe System approach. Other panelists will provide national, state, and local perspectives on implementing a Safe System approach, and we’ll discuss the elements of such an approach—safe roads, vehicles, road users, and speed, as well as post-crash care. Member Jennifer Homendy, along with NTSB staff from the offices of Highway Safety and Research and Engineering, will also share their perspectives.
By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division
Sunday, November 15, is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. I’ve known many of you who have lost loved ones this way, and I’ve worked alongside many survivor advocates for years. Along with the courage and strength I’ve seen among these survivors, it’s plain to me that nobody who loses a loved one in a traffic crash needs a day of remembrance. For them, that remembrance is always there, no matter what day. The World Day of Remembrance is for the rest of us. It’s a time to reflect on these often preventable losses and work to prevent future ones from occurring. In 2020, it feels like we need this commemoration day more than ever. With the uncertainty of a global pandemic, far too many people are forgetting—or becoming numb to—the year-in, year-out toll that traffic crashes take on our country.
I was recently invited to speak on an International Road Federation panel on the topic, “Crashes: The Forgotten Pandemic.” I reminded participants of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statement earlier this year when asked about the annual 40,000 US road deaths in America. He said that the COVID pandemic is emergent, but road crash deaths are a chronic condition.
However, although the condition is chronic, it’s not untreatable.
My talk touched on some of the ways that the road safety community is working to protect the most vulnerable road users: bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. I also pointed out that, unlike COVID-19, the road crash pandemic strikes the young disproportionately. In fact, in the United States, from early in childhood to well into middle age, a young person is more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than any other way.
The impact on young peoples’ lives from our acute COVID pandemic is incalculable. Students whipsaw between learning in person and on-line, with little certainty of what style comes next, and face restrictions on seeing friends. Yet, the far more pressing danger to a young person comes from the risks of speeding and of distracted, drowsy, or impaired driving. In fact, speeding crashes have increased markedly this year as the volume of traffic has decreased.
Remembrance is about honoring those we’ve lost. It’s also respecting those who, thankfully, are still with us. This World Day of Remembrance, we can respect the living and honor those lost by recommitting ourselves to practicing safe driving habits—some of which we may not have had the opportunity to use for a while. Before you get behind the wheel, make sure you’re rested and sober. Put the phone away. Don’t speed. With all the younger generations are doing to protect high‑risk loved ones from COVID, let’s do the same to lower their risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash. Let’s finally put both pandemics behind us.
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.
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.
May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and, although the number of motorcyclists killed in crashes dropped again in 2018, motorcycle riders remain overrepresented in overall highway traffic deaths. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, per miles traveled, motorcyclists are 28 times more likely to die in a crash than are passenger car occupants.
With that thought in mind, I want to discuss one of the most important factors in motorcycle safety—your mindset.
Revzilla recently posted an article by Lance Oliver that speaks to a rider’s mindset, and his piece really resonated with me in both my professional capacity here at the NTSB, and personally as a Harley Davidson rider. Essentially, Oliver says there are three things every rider should believe:
Ride like everyone in a car is trying to kill you.
Every crash is avoidable.
When in a bad way in a curve, believe you can make it.
Every time we saddle up, we accept more risk than the average highway user. One way to mitigate that risk is to presume other motorists are going to do bad things at the worst possible moment, and to plan for that eventuality. I’m not saying motorists intentionally make bad decisions designed to harm you, but an ultra-defensive mindset can help you anticipate and plan for others’ actions that are beyond your control and that can potentially cause you serious bodily harm. Riding a motorcycle is akin to a moving chess match, where riders are scanning (search, evaluate, execute) 12 seconds ahead to think “what if?” and planning an escape route to safety or another plan of action to eliminate or mitigate a safety threat. Having a mindset that others’ driving can kill you isn’t pessimistic, it’s realistic.
Every crash is avoidable—which is why we at the NTSB say “crash” instead of “accident.” Having a mindset guided by the principle that crashes are preventable forces a rider to seek ways to identify risks and threats that could result in a crash, and to understand what to do to eliminate or mitigate the risks and threats to prevent or avoid the crash. This mindset begins before we throw a leg over our machine and can also be applied in trip/route planning (weather considerations, road conditions, experience level for intended route, etc.) and in bike maintenance (ensuring completion of a pre-ride T-CLOCS [tires/controls/lights/oil/chassis/stand]) for every ride. Believing every crash is avoidable leads good riders to continually examine how they ride and evaluate their skills to determine if they need refresher training. It should also force a good rider to evaluate completed rides, noting what could have been done better or more safely, or remembering actions they took that mitigated or eliminated a threat. Operating under the principle that crashes are preventable even influences motorcycle selection. Motorcyclists with an ultra-defensive mindset look for motorcycles with advanced stability control systems, antilock braking systems, and enhanced lighting that helps make the motorcycle more visible to other drivers.
One quick caveat here: the belief that every crash is avoidable does not absolve riders and their passengers from practicing ATGATT (all the gear, all the time), because, although avoidable, crashes still happen, and in 2018, they killed nearly 5,000 motorcyclists.
If adherence to the first two parts of the ultra-defensive mindset have failed to keep us from getting into the danger zone, Oliver’s third belief—you can make this—can mean the difference between coming home safely or taking a trip to the hospital. Oliver illustrates this third belief using the example of entering a curve with too much speed and succumbing to the fear that you won’t make it, then panicking or giving up. Oliver posits that, at that moment, it’s time to look farther ahead to the exit of the curve (at where you want to go, not at where you’re afraid of going), lean more, and work to make the curve. I believe riders can apply this mindset to a variety of emergent situations while riding, such as encountering road debris, washouts, standing water, or rain slickened tar snakes. How tightly a rider holds to this belief is likely to be tied to his or her level of riding experience, training, and confidence.
An ultra-defensive mindset can help novices and experienced riders alike consistently identify, evaluate, and mitigate risks and threats while still enjoying the unique freedom and exhilaration that come from riding a motorcycle. More than that, it can help them make it safely to their next ride.