Category Archives: Safety Recommendations

Ensuring Transportation Safety, Even During a Crisis

By Member Jennifer L. Homendy

For the past few weeks, I’ve woken up every morning to a text message from the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) updating riders on its continued service and modified schedule. It’s hard not to think of all the VRE and Amtrak locomotive engineers and conductors that I’ve come to recognize (or know by name—Hi, Willie and Samantha!) over the years, and how dedicated they are to continuing to serve the public during this national emergency. You and your colleagues across the country are heroes. Thank you for all you do.

The safety of transportation workers across all modes is extremely important especially during times of crisis. Our nation’s transportation workforce is essential to getting critical goods to states and local communities and to ensuring that those serving on the frontlines of this pandemic, like medical personnel, grocery store employees, and other essential personnel, are able to continue the fight against COVID-19. Without all of them, we’d be in a much more dire situation. Still, we need to make sure that the transportation workers who are putting their lives at risk daily to make deliveries or get people to work are also safe. That not only means providing them with necessary personal protective gear, but also ensuring any regulatory waivers do not jeopardize their safety or the safety of others.

Since the start of this national emergency, many transportation entities facing staffing shortages due to illness and the need to quarantine have requested emergency relief from certain safety regulations. These entities cite concerns about their ability to deliver critical goods and materials necessary for the country’s welfare while meeting regulatory requirements for inspections, training, and maintenance, to name a few. Although regulatory relief from certain requirements may be necessary during this difficult time, I urge the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to carefully review each request and put measures in place to ensure that the safety of transportation workers, and all others who must travel, remains a priority.

We are all being challenged in ways that we could not have imagined a month ago. People are staying safe by traveling only when absolutely necessary and maintaining a safe social distance from others. Those in the transportation industry are also doing what they can to stay safe while continuing to do the important work of moving the people and goods that keep our nation pushing forward during this crisis.

It’s important that any regulatory relief the DOT determines is appropriate is only temporary. This crisis can seem overwhelming, but as a nation, we will prevail. It’s important that when our lives start to take the path back to “normal,” safety regulations—many of which the NTSB has long advocated for following tragic crashes—are reinstituted. Temporary measures to address a crisis should not become the new normal. An efficient transportation network is key to our nation’s success during this challenging time, but we must not forget the importance of ensuring the safety of transportation workers and the traveling public both now and in the future.

2019-2020 Most Wanted List Midpoint Review

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

MWL List

What do you call 125 participants in an NTSB Most Wanted List (MWL) mid-point progress meeting, each of whom has their own idea of a transportation safety goal to achieve by the end of the year?

An excellent start.

On February 4, the NTSB hosted attendees from government, industry, and the advocacy community to discuss progress on the 2019-2020 MWL. The conversations were productive and lively, and there was one thing we all agreed on: we need to achieve more in 2020.

Many people believe the NTSB’s work is done when an investigation has been completed, and we’ve determined the probable cause of an accident. But finding out what happened and why it happened is just half the equation.

The second half is arguably the most important part of our investigations: After determining the what and why, we issue safety recommendations aimed at correcting the deficiencies we uncovered, and thus, preventing similar accidents from happening again.

Even then, our work is still not complete. Recommendations must be implemented by their recipients before they begin to save lives. Therefore, part of our work is to highlight these recommendations and advocate for their implementation.

Board members, safety advocates and other NTSB staff are dedicated to fostering the cooperation necessary to ensure those life-saving recommendations are implemented, so the issues can be addressed and ultimately solved.

The MWL was conceived in 1990 and is the NTSB’s premiere advocacy product. It groups together unimplemented safety recommendations under broad topic areas that we refer to as issue areas. Issues placed on the list are selected from safety recommendations and emerging areas, and are based on the magnitude of risk, potential safety benefits, timeliness, and probability of advocacy efforts to bring about change. Simply put, MWL issue areas are those that we believe need the most attention to prevent accidents, reduce injuries, and save lives.

Up until 2017, the MWL was updated annually. That year, we went to a biennial list, with the provision that we conduct a mid-point progress review. And that, of course, is why we gathered on February 4. The purpose of the meeting was to receive input from stakeholders on where the current list is going, what are the impediments to implementing these recommendations, and what we can do better to advocate successful implementation of these recommendations. It was a day for us at the NTSB to listen to input and feedback.

Prior to the midpoint meeting, only 31 NTSB safety recommendations had been implemented out of 268 targeted in this MWL cycle. Implementing these 31 recommendations will make transportation safer by improving pipeline, aviation, railroad, marine, and highway safety. But as attendees of our mid-point evaluation agreed, implementation of these 31 recommendations, while welcome, is just not enough.

Member Jennifer Homendy and Robert Hall, Director of our Office of Railroad, Pipeline, and Hazardous Materials Investigations, guided the breakout session for that mode. Dana Schulze, Director of NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety and I facilitated the conversations in the aviation breakout session. The marine safety session was headed-up by Morgan Turrell, Deputy Director of our Office of Marine Safety. And finally, Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg took the highway safety discussion, joined by Rob Molloy, Director of our Office of Highway Safety.

Here are some of the thoughts that our attendees contributed:

  • Support efforts in the states to strengthen traffic safety laws to address issues like speeding, distracted and impaired driving and seat belt use.
  • Not every solution is a regulatory solution; work with industry and advocates to move toward voluntary compliance to get the required change done.
  • Increase and improve data collection.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive—through increased coordination between the NTSB, agencies, and industry.
  • Identify and promote industry best practices; to make change, it helps to see, hear, and learn from others who have accomplished the task.
  • Increase dialogue between the NTSB and industry outside of the context of accidents through preliminary recommendation communication, site visits, and board member meetings.
  • Creating a safety culture (in business) and addressing negative social norms (in public) are perhaps the most critical steps needed to improve transportation safety overall.
  • NTSB can play a key role in bringing all the key players together, promoting dialogue, and encouraging change.

NTSB recommendations, when implemented, can help to prevent unnecessary deaths, injuries, and property damage. The recommendation that is implemented today could be the life that is saved tomorrow. So, the voices of those closest to the battle for implementation—including the attendees at the midpoint progress meeting—are invaluable.

Time will tell how many critical MWL advances can be achieved by year’s end. I hope it’s all of them.

Automation Complacency: Yet Another Distraction Problem

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

 The NTSB first issued a recommendation to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) while driving in 2011, and the issue area “Eliminate Distractions” remains on the 2019–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. Web browsing, texting, calling (even hands-free)—all these activities significantly increase the chance of a distracted‑driving crash, which is why we’ve recommended banning driver use of PEDs in all states. Most states have prohibited texting and handheld PED use in some form.

The science is clear: our addiction to PEDs is growing exponentially, placing constant connectivity and convenience above driving responsibly and resulting in tens of thousands of completely preventable, and often tragic, crashes. Driving while distracted by a PED is dangerous and it’s completely preventable. Simply, the decision to drive distracted is dumb.

Distraction by PED is becoming the “old” kind of distraction, as automated and semi-automated vehicles enter the roadways. These new technologies are creating a new and equally menacing kind of distraction: automation complacency. Overreliance on these advanced driver assistance technologies lulls drivers into a false sense of security. They trust in the machine and believe that frees them up to text, e-mail, or watch a video. With automation complacency, human nature asserts itself. We evolve to the idea that we will probably never have to intervene when a computer is doing the driving. The mind creates a rule based on positive prior experience; after so many seamless rides in an automated vehicle, we begin to relax our guard.

A tragic illustration of this growing phenomena is the March 18, 2018, fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, involving a pedestrian and an Uber vehicle with an experimental automated driving system. The Uber’s safety driver was expected to intervene only if needed, a task that required the driver’s full engagement in and focus on the driving task. Instead, in the half hour prior to colliding with and killing the pedestrian, the driver spent more than a third of her time gazing down at the center console, sometimes for as long as 26.5 seconds. The vehicle’s onboard camera recorded the driver watching streamed content on her cell phone through most of the crash sequence.

Tempe, Arizona crash
NTSB investigators on-scene in Tempe, Arizona, examining the Uber automated test vehicle involved in a March 18, 2018 collision with a pedestrian.

Humans are creatures of habit and this driver had traveled this route more than 20 times in the test vehicle with no incident. Simply put, she was bored. She failed to remain vigilant and succumbed to automation complacency, believing the system would detect pedestrians under all circumstances—even when crossing outside of a crosswalk at night. Our investigation of this fatal crash determined that an attentive human driver would have easily avoided the pedestrian.

If it’s hard to convince drivers to stop multitasking while driving a vehicle that is not equipped with an advanced driver assistance technology, then it’s going to be that much harder to convince drivers to stay alert in a highly automated vehicle. The fact is, there is no commercially available vehicle in the United States that is fully autonomous and doesn’t require the driver’s full attention to the driving task.

The companies testing automated vehicles on public roads, the states where these vehicles are tested, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must work to prevent this emerging form of distraction from increasing and placing roadway users at increased risk, particularly vulnerable users such as bicyclists and pedestrians. Now is the time to get ahead of the problem.

 

 

Do You Have a Super Bowl Transportation Game Plan?

By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate

Super Bowl LIV is almost here! Whether you’re a diehard 49ers or Chiefs fan, or you simply watch for the commercials and halftime show, the play clock is just about to hit 0. For many football fans, driving will be part of the game plan both before and after the Super Bowl, regardless of if they’re driving over 3,000 miles to Hard Rock Stadium or simply going across town to a playoff party. Either way, safe transportation plans must be part of every driver’s Super Bowl game plan.

Football is a game driven by statistics. As Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid takes in stats for his Super Bowl game plan, consider these highway safety facts as you prepare your own playbook.

Driving fast with a sport car

So, what should your Super Bowl transportation game plan look like? First, drive sober or designate a sober driver. Recognize that even a moderate amount of alcohol or certain drugs will make driving unsafe. If you don’t have a designated driver, a taxi, public transportation, or rideshare charge will be a minor cost compared to a DUI—or worse. Second, don’t drive fatigued. Immediately after the game and before work the next day, check yourself to see if you are rested enough to drive safely. If you got less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep, recognize the need to take breaks, take a nap, or find another mode of transportation. Third, don’t drive distracted—the postgame highlights, commentary, and selfies can wait until you safely arrive at your destination.

Whether you’re rooting for the 49ers, Chiefs, or simply a good game, make sure you have a designated sober driver in your Super Bowl lineup, and follow this gameday rulebook!

 

 

Toward a Brighter Future

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy

As Chief of the NTSB’s Safety Advocacy Division, I firmly believe in taking time to visit with young and novice drivers and promoting safe driving habits in line with the NTSB’s safety advocacy goals. Last week, I addressed students at Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) Annual Conference.

Each year, the conference features a visit by Corporate Round Table (CRT) members to a local high school. There, team members engage high school juniors and seniors, educating and empowering them to pursue professional development, foster individual strengths, and strive for excellence.

IMG_5105
In this photo taken December 4, 2019, Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division (top right) is pictured with students from Stranahan High School and National Black Caucus of State Legislators Corporate Round Table members.

The NBCSL’s CRT has a rich history of working with schools across the country to provide high school students with essential insights and knowledge about careers and professional development. CRT members have long positively impacted the youth with whom they work. The theme for this year’s CRT visit was “L.E.A.D: Leadership, Excellence, Attitude, Determination.” Team members discussed the importance of leadership today, and the importance of cultivating leadership skills necessary to succeed tomorrow.

But, as I told the students at Stranahan High School, what’s most basic to all these aspirational goals is to live long enough to build that bright future for themselves and others.

My part in the presentation was to make the young audience aware of the many dangers and challenges they may face on the road, and to arm them with the right driving habits to actually arrive at adulthood. Just as youth must first make it safely to adulthood to have the chance to tackle the leadership challenges to which they aspire, they must also learn to lead themselves before they can successfully lead others. As John C. Maxwell once wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” The first step in the leadership journey is self-leadership.

That goes double for making our roads a safer place for all.

In 2018, more than 36,000 people died in traffic crashes. For young people like those I talked to last week, the best chance to stay alive to adulthood is to not be involved in a traffic crash, either as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, cyclist, or motorcyclist. The deadly effect of traffic crashes on teenage lives will only change when our culture around road safety changes, and the only way that shift can take place is if we each personally embody the change we wish to see in the world.

Driving sober, disconnecting from our phones and other devices, buckling up, and obeying the speed limit are all simple—and safe—practices. However, making the right choice consistently takes integrity (doing the right thing even when nobody is watching). In road safety, knowing the way is not always the hard part. The ability to consistently go the way, and to show others the way, separates leaders from followers.

Holding ourselves accountable for our conduct on the road is the first step toward the cultural shift we need to ensure our nation’s youth make it to adulthood to fulfill their goals.

For previous blogs on the NBCSL school visits, see the links below:

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2017/12/08/inspiring-youth-safety-leaders/

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/looking-for-leaders/

https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/talking-transportation-safety-with-black-and-hispanic-state-legislators/

Safe Travels This Holiday Season

At the NTSB, we determine the cause of transportation crashes and accidents, and issue safety recommendations that, if implemented, could save lives and minimize injuries. Unfortunately, we see far too many tragedies that could have been easily prevented. As we head into the holiday season, Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg and Member Jennifer Homendy share some travel safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe on our roads, on our rails, on our waterways and in the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distracted Driving

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg

Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who use a cell phone every day while driving? It’s so convenient, but it’s also potentially deadly. Thousands of people across the nation will lose their lives this year to this preventable public health problem. Tens of thousands more will suffer life-altering injuries, ranging from internal organ damage to permanent paralysis. A recent AAA survey found that 97 percent of drivers indicated that texting or email on a cellphone while driving was very or extremely dangerous and nearly 80 percent indicated holding and talking on a cellphone while driving was perceived as very or extremely dangerous.  Yet, a majority of those drivers admitted to using their cellphone while driving. Why?

Most people believe that they are above-average drivers and multitaskers. However, the science says otherwise. The human brain, a single-core processor, does not multitask—it processes sequentially. Depending on the complexity of the tasks we’re attempting, our ability to keep up with multiple tasks drops due to overload. You see it on the road every day: poor lane-keeping, running red lights and stop signs, not moving when the light changes or failing to keep pace with traffic. Distraction too often manifests in a collision with another vehicle, an object, or a pedestrian. The science says that some people are literally addicted to their devices, and while most addictions are just detrimental to the user, with distracted driving, both the abuser and the innocent drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists near them are in jeopardy.

On the spectrum of distraction, talking on a cell phone, even with a handsfree device, is bad, but texting is even worse. Take your eyes off the road for more than 3 seconds, and the odds of a bad outcome go up quickly. In fact, a naturalistic driving study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or near crash by as much as 23 times. A car traveling at 55 mph goes about the length of a football field in those 3 seconds, and, let’s be honest, it takes most people far more than 3 seconds to send a text. Each extra second multiplies the danger.

Driving fast with a sport car

In 2011, we recommended that all states ban the use of personal electronic devices, for nondriving tasks, when the vehicle is in motion. Today, although most states have laws against texting and driving, two still don’t: Missouri and Montana. Why not? Those who oppose a ban in these states often argue that they don’t want yet another law interfering with their already over‑regulated lives. They insist it’s a matter of personal freedom.

We recently held a distracted driving round table in Missouri where we heard from survivor advocates, advocates, experts, and legislators on the need to enact a law to address the distracted driving problem in the state. The survivor advocates who have lost loved ones would tell you that a comprehensive distracted driving law could have prevented the life-altering tragedy they’ve endured that no one should have to experience.

Polls show that Americans typically support restrictions on device use, which is why most states have already enacted laws, but a few legislators are uneasy about passing laws that might be perceived as over‑reaching. A vocal minority believe their convenience outweighs the public’s right to safety on the road; however, no one has the right to put another person at risk. The reality is, distracted driving is no different than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They’re both intentional acts that cause crashes that can result in death and life-altering injuries to innocent people. Safety advocates tell drivers they can either drink or drive; they also should be telling drivers they can either text or drive.

Web

While states continue to debate the extent of their personal electronic device bans, you can act on your own to save a life, regardless of the law in your state. Put the phone down when your vehicle is in motion. As we work toward a future where using a cell phone while driving is as unacceptable as driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, we all have a personal responsibility to help eliminate the deadly distractions on our roadways.