Category Archives: Safety Recommendations

Back-to-School Safety: Wake Up to Drowsy Driving

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

Drowsy driving isn’t just a teen driver problem—it’s an every driver problem. However, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that young drivers are at the greatest risk of being involved in a fatal drowsy driving crash.

From early sports practices and school start times to the demands of classwork, homework, and after-school activities, school days leave little time for sleep. It’s no surprise teens are skipping sleep to keep up—how else would they have time to balance extracurriculars, schoolwork, classroom hours, and socializing?

Getting behind the wheel a bit drowsy is probably part of your child’s daily routine, and you’ve likely accepted it as an occupational hazard of the ever-increasing to-do list your high schooler faces. What you may not know is that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as alcohol‑impaired driving. For example, on March 20, 2016, four teens were traveling home from a weekend trip to South Padre Island, Texas. About 1:57 pm, the driver crossed the center median, lost control of the car, entered the opposing lanes of traffic, and collided with a tractor trailer.

The driver was seriously injured and her three passengers died. In the 24 hours before the crash, the driver had a window of only about 5 hours to sleep. The crash also happened at a time of day when most people commonly experience a dip in alertness and performance; in fact, the three passengers in the car were all either asleep or dozing at the time of the crash. We determined that that the driver’s loss of control was due to inattention resulting from her fatigue.

Do your best to ensure that your teen gets the right amount of sleep each night. For example, discourage your teen from using a cell phone late at night or during the night; these inhibit falling asleep and affect sleep quality. Also, limit driving time, especially between the hours of midnight and 5 am, when the body is accustomed to sleeping—this is the period of time in which the greatest number of drowsy driving crashes occur. For more ideas on ensuring your teen gets the right amount of sleep to stay alert behind the wheel, see our safety alert, Drowsy Driving Among Young Drivers.

As with all road safety lessons, it’s beneficial to lead by example and avoid driving while you’re tired. However, make sure your teen understands that adults generally need less sleep than teenagers, who are still growing and developing. While you may feel rested after 7 hours of sleep, teens need between 8 and 10 hours each night to avoid suffering the effects of fatigue. Keep in mind that your teen may have no idea how fatigued he or she is. The statement, “I only slept 4 hours last night, but I feel fine to drive,” should sound like a warning siren, not a reassurance. We are all notoriously bad judges of our own fatigue.

Work with your teens to help them manage their time so they’re getting the sleep they need. During the summer, teens’ sleep schedules often become irregular, so as they begin to plan their upcoming school schedules and enjoy their final weeks of summer vacation, teens should make sure sleep and relaxation find a prominent place on their priority list. Make sure your children know it’s not only okay, but also biologically necessary to sleep. And be aware that it’s not only acute sleep loss but also chronic sleep debt that can precede a drowsy driving crash. Losing a little sleep every night for a long time is dangerous for all drivers, but in young drivers, “minor” sleep losses over multiple nights can add up when combined with their bodies’ greater need for sleep.

Teen drivers have a lot on their plates: social life, after-school work and activities, the school day itself, homework . . . the list goes on. Older teens preparing for college may also be consumed by scholarship and college applications and test preparation, and overwhelmed by academic pressure. By encouraging youth to stay out of sleep debt and away from acute sleep deprivation, we can guarantee safer and more alert young drivers behind the wheel.

National Aviation Day

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Sunday, August 19 is National Aviation Day. It’s a day to celebrate more than a century of innovation and progress in aviation, certainly, but August 19 is also the birthday of a bicycle-maker—albeit one more famous for his contributions to aviation.

National Aviation Day.jpgAugust 19 was chosen to be National Aviation Day in honor of Orville Wright’s birthday while Wright was still alive to enjoy the honor. (Wilbur Wright had passed away in 1912, less than a decade after their landmark flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.) There’s a lesson in how the Wright brothers came to play their pivotal role in the story of aviation, and it’s especially worth mentioning on this day.

Wilbur was an early adopter of what was called the “ordinary” bicycle—a contraption with a high front wheel and a seat many feet off the ground. There had been earlier bicycles without the high wheel, but also without gears; the high wheel was necessary to get better performance out of limited muscle power.

The “safety bicycle” added gears, enabling good performance without using a high front wheel. It had two advantages: a center of gravity that was lower and rear of the front axle, and a shorter distance for the rider to fall. The popularity of pedaling exploded, and the Wright brothers saw a niche. From their shop in Dayton, Ohio, they began repairing, then renting, selling, and manufacturing bicycles—and, of course, tinkering with improvements.

Meanwhile, both were drawn to news of attempts at powered flight. Unlike other aviation pioneers, however, Wilbur and Orville insisted on three-axis control, using wing warping (deforming the shape of the wing) to control roll. Some competitors didn’t believe that a pilot could respond quickly enough to mechanically control all the required surfaces, but Orville and Wilbur had tested their concepts thoroughly (another advantage over some competitors). Through glider testing, they learned that an airplane could be controlled on all three axes and, in the bicycle trade, the Wright brothers had learned firsthand how innovation and safety could go hand-in-hand, providing control even when a platform seemed unstable.

It is an understatement to say that aircraft design has continued to evolve. Wing warping to control roll has given way to ailerons (precursors to amazing potential new technology reminiscent of the Wright brothers’ approach). The elevator has migrated from the front of the airplane to the rear. Wood has given way to aircraft aluminum and composites. Sticks and pulleys have given way to fly-by-wire and automation. But the Wright brothers’ insistence on three-axis control remains a foundational principle in modern powered flight, whether in the airlines or in general aviation. Because Orville and Wilbur Wright dared to believe in full control of all three axes, an industry was born.

Today, certification rules have changed to make it easier than ever to install innovative technology to maintain control of an aircraft. Angle-of-attack indicators and envelope protection are available not only in airliners, but for general aviation craft, as well. However, loss of control in flight continues to be the leading cause of fatal general aviation crashes.

NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements 2017-2018
Prevent loss of control in flight in general aviation

Why not celebrate National Aviation Day by reading up on current and innovative training and technology solutions that could eliminate loss of control in flight? You may find yourself surprised by how far aviation has come since the Wright brothers, and by how far there remains to go.

NTSB Supports ‘Safe Skies for Africa’ Program

By Dennis Jones, NTSB Managing Director

Last week, as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Skies for Africa program, I led a team of NTSB investigators and communications specialists to South Africa to share lessons we’ve learned from our accident investigations. The Safe Skies for Africa program, created 20 years ago, aims to improve the safety and security of aviation on the continent. Our team shared some NTSB strategies with our international counterparts to help them achieve similar outcomes in their region.

1
Managing Director, Dennis Jones, talks with attendees at the Safe Skies Symposium in Johannesburg, SA

From my perspective, the Safe Skies program is working. After spending about 20 years in Africa participating in accident investigations, conducting workshops, helping improve accident investigation programs, and training investigators, I’ve seen increased commercial air service between the United States and Africa (for example, there are now US commercial flights to Africa, which wasn’t the case earlier in my career), improved investigation quality, and a reduced rate of accidents involving commercial aircraft.

On this trip, the NTSB team shared a variety of lessons learned from different disciplines. Dennis Hogenson, Western Pacific Region Deputy Regional Chief for Aviation Safety, pointed out that, like Africa, the United States is seeing a high incidence of general aviation (GA) crashes. He told his audience that, while airline accidents have become rare, GA accidents account for most aviation fatalities in the United States. We investigate about 1,500 GA accidents each year; those involving loss of control in flight still result in more than 100 fatalities annually. In many of our GA accident investigations, we’ve discovered that pilots didn’t have the adequate knowledge, skills, or recurrent training to fly safely, particularly in questionable weather conditions, and their inability to appropriately recover from stalls often resulted in deadly accidents. Dennis encouraged his African counterparts to initiate more training and increase awareness of technology, such as angle-of-attack indicators, that can help prevent these tragedies.

Bill Bramble, a human factors investigator, outlined our investigation process and explained how we examine all factors—machine, human, and environment—to understand an accident and make recommendations to prevent it from happening again. Bill highlighted several accidents we investigated in which human factors played a role. But even when a probable cause statement focuses on factors not normally associated with human performance, it’s impossible to totally remove humans from the accident chain.

“Humans designed it, built it, operated it, maintained it, managed it, and regulated it. Human factors are always involved in complex system failures,” Bramble said.

To prevent accidents and improve the safety of air travel in Africa, it’s important that operating aircraft are airworthy, meaning that all structure, systems, and engines are intact and maintained in accordance with the regulations. To emphasize this point, NTSB aerospace engineer, Clint Crookshanks presented a series of case studies discussing airworthiness issues and offered guidance on ways to classify damage to aircraft.

Chihoon “Chich” Shin, an NTSB aerospace engineer, addressed helicopter safety. The number of helicopter operations (emergency medical services, tourist, and law enforcement support) in Africa is increasing, and so is the number of helicopter accidents. Chich presented case studies and highlighted some important safety issues from an engineering perspective.

“The metal doesn’t lie,” Shin said. He called for increased awareness of the safety issues affecting helicopter safety and encouraged action from key stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies and helicopter manufacturers and operators, to help reduce accidents and fatalities. He also touted the importance of crash-resistant recording devices to help investigators determine what happened in a crash and work to prevent it from happening again.

NTSB communications staff emphasized another side of our work in transportation safety. Stephanie Matonek, a transportation disaster assistance specialist, discussed the importance of planning for family assistance after an accident occurs.

“Having a family assistance plan in place, identifying your family assistance partners, and addressing the fundamental concerns for families and survivors that cross all cultures is not only a crucial step but the right thing to do,” she said.

Nicholas Worrell, Chief of the Office of Safety Advocacy, addressed messaging, encouraging attendees to go beyond investigations to teach their safety lessons effectively. He encouraged investigators to raise awareness of the safety issues they uncover to spur action on their recommendations.

Aviation is a global business. Our mission is to make transportation safer the world over by conducting independent accident investigations and advocating for safety improvements. With outreach activities like the one we just completed in Africa, we hope to make aviation safer, not only in Africa, but throughout the world. After all, transportation safety is a global challenge. When safety wins, we all win.

dsc_8283.jpg
NTSB Managing Director and staff with symposium attendees

Back-to-School Safety Series: A Child’s Best Teacher

By Paul Sledzik, Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

Labor Day marks the end of the 100 Deadliest Days of summer. Like the summer heat, the frequency of traffic crashes involving teens will decline. Although the number of people killed in crashes involving teens spikes an estimated 14% from Memorial Day to Labor Day, that sobering statistic shouldn’t overshadow the fact that traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for all teens, all year long.

Whether it’s July or February, pervasive issues like fatigue and distraction compromise the safety of not just our roads but of our sidewalks, as well. As you prepare to send your children back to school, make sure the first lesson they get is a transportation safety conversation with you. And starting now, review what you show your children every day, by your own actions.

Children going back to school will undoubtedly receive some transportation safety tips during their school hours. Younger kids will be told to look both ways before crossing the street and, before they’ve ever touched a steering wheel, teens will be taught that drunk driving kills. Students may spin around with their heads on baseball bats, then try to walk a straight line in health class to demonstrate the dangers of being impaired. They might see videos of families who describe the tremendous pain that follows the loss of a loved one in a preventable traffic crash.

The bulk of your children’s transportation safety training, however, will fall to parents and role models outside the classroom; those who can model real-world examples of safe behavior. Unfortunately, many adults fail to consider the impact their own behavior has on the children around them. Children will adopt both the safe and the unsafe behaviors their parents and other adults model.

If your children grow up watching you drive distracted without major incident, they’ll see this as an acceptable, safe way to behave. If they see you ignore a crosswalk and instead cross in the middle of the street, why wouldn’t they cut the same corners? The connection between your behavior and your children’s starts the moment you secure them in a car seat and continues until (and beyond) the day they’re the ones buckling up behind the wheel. Fifteen minutes of warnings in a driver’s ed class and a rushed “Look both ways!” cannot counteract 15 or 16 years of watching and internalizing the silent message of a safety practice ignored. What you do is at least as important as what you say. Children’s ability to spot hypocrisy is innate; they’ll discount any message that the messenger themselves doesn’t practice.

So, aside from modeling safe behaviors, how can you, as a parent or a role model, help the children in your life practice transportation safety? This blog is the first in our Back-to-School Safety series, which is intended to help you guide your loved ones toward safe transportation practices as they commute to and from school. This month, we’ll provide resources to help parents, role models, and children spot and overcome the challenges of a safe commute, whether they’re passengers, pedestrians, or drivers.

For now, take the initiative to buckle up, put your phone away, obey the speed limit, and use crosswalks, and stay tuned to the next several blogs to learn how to make children safer as they head back to school.

 

The #InMyFeelings Challenge: Don’t Drive Distracted

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Here’s a reminder we thought we’d never have to give: Don’t jump out of a moving vehicle to dance in the street.

Recently, the #InMyFeelings challenge introduced a new safety challenge to road users. It began with a fan dancing to the Drake song “In My Feelings” and posting a video of his moves. Then, fans began hopping out of cars as they rolled along in neutral to dance to the lyrics “Keke, do you love me? Are you riding?” Often the driver is the one doing the recording. Sometimes the driver was even the one who got out and danced.

Believe it or not, the NTSB was ready for the #InMyFeelings challenge. Sort of.

NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements 2017-2018

Driver distraction has been a target of our Most Wanted List (MWL) for years, and just taking a video while driving invites tragedy. Thousands die, and hundreds of thousands are injured in distraction-related crashes every year. This specific trend is too recent—and, with any luck, will be too short-lived—for us to learn something new by investigating any crashes, injuries, or fatalities it may cause. However, the unnecessary risks inherent in the challenge should not simply be overlooked.

Driver distraction features prominently in this viral challenge, but the more obvious risk is the poor decision to hop out of a moving vehicle to dance. Although “Bad Decision Making” is not on our MWL, we have seen a variety of crashes attributable to making poor choices. We have also studied the particular challenges faced by teen drivers, and we have long focused on graduated driver licensing laws in part to gradually introduce young and novice drivers to the roadway environment. Now, it appears that certain drivers and passengers are intent on being introduced to that environment in a more literal way.

NTSB investigators see needless suffering in crashes that are caused by everything from fatigue to alcohol and other drug impairment, from mechanical failures to poorly maintained road markings and signs. Although we can’t undo a roadway tragedy for the victims, we can improve safety for the world that they far too often leave behind. In addition to our rigorous investigations and carefully considered recommendations, we also have to look at potential precursors to crashes, like a viral dance challenge, to try to stop tragedies before they occur.

My division, Safety Advocacy, educates teens on safety risks they may not have knownTeen Driver Advocacy Compilation about or understood as dangerous. We are passionate about driver safety because we know the facts: Motor vehicle crashes take more than 37,000 American lives each year. Almost all roadway deaths are preventable, but sometimes the paths to prevention are complex, requiring advancements in law enforcement, technology, or the roadway environment. Preventing death or injury from #doingtheShiggy is comparatively simple: Don’t jump out of a moving car for a meme. That’s it. It’s foolish, it puts other road users at risk, and, it’s an excellent way to suffer road rash, legal penalties, or worse. By posting such a video, you’re providing evidence not just of your dance moves, but of any laws you may be breaking. In a recent roundtable on distracted driving, we heard survivor advocates’ ideas about getting tougher on drivers using their phones (like the driver-cameraperson in this challenge). Part of getting tougher includes increasing enforcement of distracted driving laws. If your local law enforcement agency is among the many cracking down on distracted drivers, the last thing you want to do is post evidence of you and your friends breaking the law.

Avoid becoming—or causing—an #InMyFeelings fatality. All you have to do is not jump out of a moving vehicle. Crashes happen fast, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Driving distracted is dangerous and can be deadly. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life. No dance is either. In my feelings, that’s a pretty simple ask.

Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving – Time to Walk the Talk

By Kenny Bragg

In 2016, 10,497 motor vehicle crash fatalities involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 g/dL or higher; that means almost 3 of every 10 lives lost on our highways involved impairment. What’s more, every life lost as a result of alcohol-impaired driving could have been saved, because deaths resulting from impaired driving are 100% preventable when the driver chooses to call a cab, hand the keys to a sober friend, or take public transportation to get home.

I’m a retired police officer, and, during my time in the traffic enforcement division, I encountered countless impaired drivers and investigated numerous impaired-driving crashes.  I evaluated and arrested drivers impaired at all BAC levels.

ChooseOne

The current per se BAC limit of 0.08 percent gives the public a false belief that lower BACs are safe when, in reality, impairment begins with the first drink. Many drivers don’t realize that even low levels of alcohol can degrade skills and increase crash risk. This is why, 5 years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that states decrease legal per se BAC levels to 0.05 percent—or even lower. “End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation” is one item on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. This list, released biennially, includes transportation safety goals that have a strong chance of being achieved if given a good, hard push by the NTSB, likeminded organizations, and states. We believe that the bold move to lower the legal per se BAC limit will save lives and decrease the number of highway deaths each year.

Many ad campaigns remind us that “buzzed driving is drunk driving,” but how can we support that message with laws and enforcement? About 100 countries around the world already have a .05 BAC law. In fact, although people consume more alcohol, per capita, in countries with .05 BAC laws, they are less likely to die from impaired driving. In 2012, Alberta, Canada, passed an administrative penalty law that imposes tougher sanctions on drivers with BACs of .05 to .08 percent. Between July 1, 2012, and December 31, 2013, Alberta saw a decline in alcohol-related fatalities compared to the same period in each of the previous 5 years.

Some advocates support a .05 limit but believe we should focus only on solutions targeting high-BAC drivers, or on emerging technology that prevents impaired drivers from operating a vehicle. However, a .05 BAC law is a broad deterrent that decreases the number of impaired drivers on the road at all BAC levels—high and low. Along with alcohol interlocks and enhanced enforcement efforts—which we have also recommended—a .05 BAC limit would help prevent drivers with high BACs from getting behind the wheel.

Many peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that lowering the legal BAC limit would indeed prevent impaired-driving crashes, and, according to a AAA Foundation survey, 63% of Americans would support a .05 BAC law. However, only one US state has taken the bold step to pass such a lifesaving law, which would encourage people to find other forms of transportation when they’ve been drinking. Utah passed a 0.05 BAC law in 2017, which will go into effect on December 30, 2018.

Some opponents argue that lowering the per se BAC level will be too complicated, and that law enforcement will struggle to accurately evaluate lower BAC levels during field sobriety tests. I was an active law enforcement officer when the legal per se BAC level was lowered from 0.10 to 0.08.  As with the current recommendation to lower the legal BAC, opponents predicted that lowering the BAC to .08 would result in arrests that were un-prosecutable, and that responsible drinkers would be unjustly punished. However, once the law was implemented, agencies actually experienced a decline in arrests at all BAC levels.

In these days of advanced technology and connectivity, if you have a phone, you have a sober ride. There is no excuse for driving after drinking.

Impaired Driving Preventable

Kenny Bragg is a Senior Human Performance Highway Investigator for the NTSB. He is a retired accident reconstruction investigator from the Prince George’s County Police Department (MD).

 

 

Part 135 Flight Data Monitoring: The Best Way to Ensure Pilots Fly Safely

By John DeLisi, Director, Office of Aviation Safety

 

On November 10, 2015, a Hawker 700A operating as a Part 135 charter flight crashed on approach to Akron Fulton International Airport in Akron, Ohio. The crash killed 9 people. During our investigation, we learned that the first officer was flying the airplane, although it was company practice for the captain to fly charter flights. We also discovered that the crew did not complete the approach briefing or make the many callouts required during approach. Additionally, the flight crew did not configure the airplane properly, the approach was unstabilized, and the flight descended below the minimum descent altitude without the runway in sight.

Akron, Ohio
NTSB investigators at the scene of the crash of a Hawker 125-700 into an apartment building in Akron, Ohio

How could this happen? Wasn’t the flight crew trained to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs)? (Yes, they were.) Didn’t they know when to lower the flaps? (Yes, they did.) Yet, weren’t they flying the airplane contrary to the way they were trained? (Yes, they were.)

The crew ignored, forgot, or improvised their company’s SOPs and the airplane’s flight manual information. Even more disconcerting was that, upon our review of the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), it appeared that this type of haphazard approach was fairly routine for them. How could that be?

The NTSB investigators discovered that no one at the company was monitoring—or had ever monitored—the way this crew flew the airplane. Because the airplane was not equipped with a flight data recorder, a quick access recorder, or any type of data monitoring device, the operator had no insight into what was happening inside the cockpit or how this crew was flying its airplane. The fact was that this crew was able to fly an airplane carrying passengers in an unsafe, noncompliant manner, which ultimately led to tragic consequences. If the operator had better insight into the behavior of its flight crew and had taken the appropriate actions, this accident may have been prevented.

That is a lesson learned the hard way—and we have seen similar such situations in several accidents the NTSB has investigated in recent years.

It’s time to be proactive about aviation safety and accident prevention! The NTSB believes flight data monitoring (FDM) programs for Part 135 operators—which includes charter flights, air tours, air ambulance flights, and cargo flights—is one answer to this problem.

An FDM program can help an operator identify issues with pilot performance, such as noncompliance with SOPs, and can lead to mitigations that will prevent future accidents. Too many Part 135 operations occur in which the operator has no means to determine if the flight was being flown safely. An FDM program can help companies identify deficiencies early on and address patterns of nonstandard crew performance. Most importantly, with an FDM program, pilots will know that their performance is being monitored. As a result of the Akron investigation, the NTSB recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) require all Part 135 operators to install flight data recording devices. But it’s not enough to just capture the data; we also recommend that operators establish an FDM program to use the data to correct unsafe practices. The FAA has yet to act.

But some Part 135 flight operators aren’t waiting for FAA mandates; they have already made the investment in such a proactive safety program—and with great success. One operator I read about started an FDM program recently and is having success using the data in a nonpunitive fashion to monitor approaches. With this critical data at its fingertips, the operator is attempting to identify instances of incorrect aircraft configuration or exceedances of stabilized approach parameters. Designated line pilots assess the data captured in the FDM program to determine if further follow up is needed.

Another Part 135 operator involved in an accident near Togiak, Alaska, investigated by the NTSB recently made the commitment to equip every airplane in its fleet with a flight data recorder. The operator told us the data will “further enable [the company] to review compliance with company procedures through data analysis, similar to a Part 121 operation.”

Togniak, AK
NTSB Member Earl F. Weener (center), Director of the Office of Aviation Safety, John DeLisi (right) and Loren Groff (left), Senior Research Analyst in the NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering served as the board of inquiry for an investigative hearing held in Anchorage as part of the ongoing investigation of the crash of flight 3153 near Togiak, Alaska

Kudos to both these operators for learning from past lessons and committing to a culture of safety.

Last year, a Learjet that was being repositioned following a charter flight crashed on approach to an airport in Teterboro, New Jersey. Both crewmembers died. While the final NTSB report on this accident has not yet been released, our analysis of the CVR revealed that the first officer, who was not permitted by the company to fly the airplane, was, in fact, flying the airplane. During this flight, the captain was attempting to coach the first officer. The first officer flew a circling approach; however, when the airplane was one mile from the runway, the circling maneuver had not yet begun. The first officer gave the controls to the captain, who proceeded to bank the airplane so steeply that the tower controller said the wings were “almost perpendicular to the ground” just prior to impact.

It comes as no surprise that the performance of this flight crew was not being monitored by any FDM program.

Isn’t it time to make passenger-flying operations safer? We see this type of program on major commercial Part 121 airlines, so why not on Part 135 aircraft? After all, flight data monitoring is the best way to ensure pilots are flying safely and passengers reach their destinations.