Category Archives: Speeding

Excessive Speed Continues to Take Too Many Lives

By Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg 

Our recent investigation of the fatal Jan. 5, 2020, multivehicle crash near Mt. Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania, determined that excessive speed played a critical factor. This is a recurring theme in too many highway crash investigations. Between 1967 and 2022, the NTSB has investigated over 50 major crashes in which speed was cited as a safety issue, a cause of the crash, or a contributing factor. And that represents just the tip of the iceberg, given the NTSB selectively investigates highway crashes. We have made numerous safety recommendations prioritizing safety technology, legislation, and education to prevent speed-related crashes and save lives. 

​​​In this photo, the final rest positions of all vehicles involved in crash below the curve on westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Police. Graphic overlay by NTSB.)​

The Mt. Pleasant Township investigation and resulting recommendations point out the importance of technology, such as automated speed safety cameras, to limit highway crashes. Safety-focused legislation is also needed to develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology in heavy vehicles. We need education initiatives to inform drivers about the circumstances of the Mt. Pleasant Township crash; the importance of following the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s guidance on engine retarders, “Motorcoach Brake Systems and Safety Technologies”; and the need to incorporate the guidance into their members’ training and manuals.

The changes proposed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are applicable to all states as they strive to improve safety on their roads and highways: 

  • Allow speed safety cameras to be used outside of active work zones. (H-22-7)

Safety cameras are a reliable supplement to traditional enforcement. When properly implemented, they offer fair and equitable speeding enforcement. They should not, however, be used as a revenue source for non-safety-related projects, and drivers should be notified about when and where cameras are in use. Where photo enforcement has been used in construction and school zones, the numbers of crashes, injuries, and fatalities have all decreased markedly!

  • Implement the use of variable speed limit signs or other similar technology to adjust speeds in real-time based on weather and road conditions. (H-22-8)

Dynamic speed limits will help drivers adapt to changing road conditions. What’s suitable for dry pavement and light traffic is too fast for heavy traffic and contaminated road surfaces. Well-documented stopping distance tests on wet and icy roads have proved that point consistently. Reduced visibility is deadly, and there have been several massive crashes recently where drivers were unable to see stopped or slowed vehicles ahead of them. One-size speed limits do not fit all conditions or vehicles! 

  • Evaluate the applicability and use of the 85th percentile speed input variable in both of your tools, USLIMITS2 and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program 966, for setting appropriate speed limits to reduce serious and fatal injuries. (H-22-2) 

The 85th percentile is defined as “the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions past a monitored point.” This may not be the safest and most effective way to engineer safety into our roadways. Crash history and the presence of vulnerable road users should also be considered when setting speed limits.

For decades, excessive speed has been a factor in about one-third of all motor vehicle crashes. The NTSB added “Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes” to the Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements in 2019. Speeding increases the likelihood and severity of crashes. The physics of reaction time, stopping distance, and impact forces are sadly proven every single day—dozens of times.

State and federal government officials, safety advocates, and drivers have critical roles in preventing speed-related crashes. The safety recommendations outlined in the Mt. Pleasant Township crash investigation and in our 2017 safety study, Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles should be implemented in your state. Take action and slow down. Your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it.

Check out the latest Behind-the-Scene @NTSB podcast episode for more information about the Mt. Pleasant Township, PA crash and investigation. Listen now: https://safetycompass.wordpress.com/?p=5820

Episode 47: Mt. Pleasant Township, PA Crash Investigation

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, Highway Factors Investigator, Dan Walsh discusses the 2020 multi-vehicle crash investigation near Mt. Pleasant Township, PA, and we explore the safety issues and safety recommendations issued as a result of our investigation.

The NTSB final report for the Multivehicle Crash Near Mt. Pleasant
Township, Pennsylvania, mentioned in this episode is available on our website.

For more information about the NTSB Most Wanted List visit our website.

To learn more about the NTSB Safe System Approach Roundtable Series visit our website. Recordings of each installment of the series are available on our YouTube channel.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher or your favorite podcast platform.

And find more ways to listen here: https://www.blubrry.com/behind_the_scene_ntsb/

The 2021-2022 MWL After One Year: Noticeable Progress But Few Closed Recommendations

By Kathryn Catania, Acting Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

Since the unveiling a year ago of the 2021-2022 cycle of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, we have seen increased awareness and discussion of safety items, high levels of engagement from the public, and incremental progress toward implementation of many recommendations.

In the past year, the NTSB has already successfully closed eight safety recommendations associated with this MWL cycle. But that is not enough. There are 167 other key recommendations that, if implemented, would save lives, and prevent injuries.

Soon after the unveiling of the MWL last year, NTSB Board members and staff sprang into action to educate, engage, and amplify the critical safety messages of our 10 safety improvements. Here’s a quick look by mode, starting with Highway, which makes up 5 of our 10 safety improvements. 

Highway

In recent years, we have increasingly expressed our highway safety goals in the language of the Safe System Approach—the very approach that we use in our own safety investigations. (We first discussed the approach in our 2017 report on reducing speeding.)

The Safe System Approach views every aspect of the crash as an opportunity to interrupt the series of events leading to it, and an opportunity to mitigate the harm that the crash does. People make mistakes, but safe roads, safe vehicles, safe road users, safe speeds, and post-crash care can combine to prevent the crash entirely, or failing that, to prevent the deaths or serious injuries of road users.

This paradigm shift applies to each of the highway safety improvements on the MWL, and is mentioned by name in “Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach,”

Between May 2021 and February 2022, we produced seven virtual roundtables to explain the approach and call for its adoption.  National and international experts discussed the approach and shared their successes and challenges. More than 1,000 advocates, regulators, academics, and others attended our webinars.

Included in the series hosted by Chair Homendy was a Safe Speeds Roundtable that explored the “Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes” safety improvement. Additionally, a “Behind the Scene @NTSB” podcast featured discussion on speeding and vulnerable road users.

In 2021, the Department of Transportation and Congress incorporated the approach into the DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, respectively.

Will the new model result in lifesaving protections? Only final, and positive, closure of our recommendations will answer that. But the signs are very good, with the alignment of Congress, the DOT, and the road safety community.

Our MWL safety improvement, “Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles,” could result in far superior situational awareness on our roads… if sufficient spectrum is available for the safety improvement.

Vehicle to everything (V2X) technology can save lives but has been delayed, and might be reduced or stopped, due to FCC rulings limiting the spectrum for safety operations. We released a four-part video series in which Member Graham interviewed some of the leading experts in V2X technologies—including academics, researchers, automakers, and policymakers—to discuss what can be done to find a way forward to deployment. 

In progress toward Eliminating Distracted Driving,  Vice Chairman Landsberg and staff joined government officials, industry, academia, insurers, and transportation safety advocates to announce the launch of a new National Distracted Driving Coalition. This is the first such broad national coalition on distracted driving.

We kept working with states considering lowering their BAC limit from .08 to .05 or lower, to help Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impairment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has now evaluated the results from Utah, which has made the change to .05. Not surprisingly, the lower threshold prevented drinking and driving and saved lives. NHTSA’s study showed that the state’s fatal crash rate dropped by 19.8% in 2019, the first year under the lower legal limit, and the fatality rate decreased by 18.3%.

Aviation

To highlight our two aviation MWL safety items, “Require and Verify the Effectiveness of Safety Management Systems in all Revenue Passenger-Carrying Aviation Operations” and “​Install Crash-Resistant Recorders and Establish Flight Data Monitoring Programs,” we met with operators and pilots from the Helicopter Association International, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and National Business Aviation Association, among others. In webinars, podcasts, and at in-person national conferences, Board members talked with Part 135 and Part 91 operators and pilots to identify challenges. Our outreach meetings alone reached more than 1,500 operators nationwide.

Marine

With an increasing number of deadly fishing vessel accidents in recent years, Office of Marine Safety Director Morgan Turrell and Chair Homendy hosted a virtual roundtable on improving fishing vessel safety that was viewed by over 1,000 people. Panelists discussed what can be done to address commercial fishing safety, implement NTSB safety recommendations, and improve the safety of fishing operations in the United States.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials

Our MWL calls for pipeline and hazardous materials (hazmat) stakeholders to “Improve Pipeline Leak Detection and Mitigation” by equipping all pipeline systems with leak-detection systems and automatic shutoff or remote-control valves. These valves allow for quick detection and mitigation.

Additionally, we produced a video featuring Member Michael Graham and Hazardous Materials Investigator Rachael Gunaratnam, which explores cases in which odorants failed as a natural gas leak-detection strategy, and promotes both required natural gas leak detectors, and voluntary adoption of such detectors until they are required.

Rail

To highlight the dangers to rail roadway workers and to help Improve Rail Worker Safety, Member Tom Chapman wrote a blog on rail worker safety, discussing how the railroad regulators—the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA)— are in the best position to make change.

We also completed our investigation of the April 24, 2018, accident in which an Amtrak rail watchman was killed in Bowie, Maryland. As a result of this investigation, we called on the FRA and Amtrak to put an immediate end to the use of train approach warning (TAW) systems as the sole method of on-track safety in areas covered by positive train control.

To mark the anniversary of the January 2017 train collision in Edgemont, South Dakota, we also issued a media statement again urging railroads to act to better protect rail roadway workers.

Looking ahead

We are pleased by the engagement of so many of our safety advocacy partners, industry groups, and associations in the past year, to promote our recommendations and highlight transportation safety concerns. Also, we acknowledge that many industry groups and operators are making voluntary efforts to improve safety, including on some of our recommendations. However, without mandates, many others may not act.

We remain disappointed by the lack of movement by regulators to implement the safety recommendations associated with our MWL. While there has been some progress during this first year, much more needs to be done to implement the 167 remaining safety recommendations associated with the current list. The longer these authorities wait to implement our recommendations, the greater the risk to the traveling public. Safety delayed is safety denied.

The NTSB will not stand by quietly and watch as regulators, industry, and other recommendation recipients ignore and dismiss our safety recommendations—and neither should the public. As NTSB Chair Homendy expressed in recent remarks to the largest highway safety gathering in the U.S, “The horrific toll of people who’ve died on our roads and their families… millions of people who were injured… are counting on us to “fight like hell” for the next family. To give a voice to those who no longer have one.” 

All our lives are on the line, and no death in transportation is acceptable. It is our mission to advocate for the changes outlined in our safety recommendations which, if implemented, will save lives.

Safety is a shared responsibility. We all play a role in getting us to zero transportation deaths. The NTSB cannot do this alone. We need each of you, individually and collectively, to help us advocate for these critical safety improvements.

Kicking off National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

More people are dying in crashes since the pandemic began. Deaths on our roads increased from 36,096 in in 2019 to 38,824 in 2020, and to an estimated 31,720 in the first 9 months of 2021, a further 12% increase. At that rate of increase, fatalities will be well over 40,000 for the full year.

Our roads have become more dangerous, and Americans know it. A new study from Nationwide finds that, compared with 2020, more than three quarters of respondents think drivers are more aggressive, drive faster, and are more reckless. “Even more frightening,” says Nationwide, “more than a third of drivers (34%) believe it is safe to hold your phone while driving—whether that is to make a call, send a text, or use navigation.”

Additionally, the Travelers Companies recently announced the results of the 2022 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving. The results “suggest that work-related pressure might lead to distracted driving. Most business managers (86%) expect employees to respond to work-related communications at least sometimes while outside the office during work hours. One-third expect employees to answer or participate in work calls while driving.”

Since the pandemic began, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been reporting upticks in risky driving such as speeding, impairment by alcohol and other drugs, and driving without a seatbelt—a driver’s best protection in a crash. But what about distracted driving?

Late last year, citing studies by Cambridge Mobile Telematics and Zendrive, NHTSA stated that risks associated with distracted driving rose during the pandemic too. One study suggested that, in 16% of crashes detected, a cell phone was manipulated within 5 seconds of the crash.

What is distracted driving?

Distraction occurs when drivers divert their attention away from the driving task. Personal electronic devices, such as cell phones and tablets, are among the culprits, though activities such as grooming and eating contribute as well.

Visual distraction is taking your eyes off the road—for example, to glance down at a twitter feed. Manual distraction is taking your hands away from the vehicle controls, such as when you text or search for a phone contact. Cognitive distraction degrades driving when your mind is not on the road. Even if you use your phone hands-free, you are subject to cognitive distraction—mentally focusing on something other than the driving task.

NHTSA says that 3,142 people lost their lives to distracted driving in 2019, and that is likely an undercount. Often those who have lost a loved one to such senseless road violence are driven to action, like these participants in our 2017 roundtable, “Act to End Deadly Distractions.”

What you can do

Last year, NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg announced the launch of the National Distracted Driving Coalition to unite the many individuals and organizations that are working for change, so that member organizations can focus on their own strengths, while developing common resources to avoid duplication of efforts.

Passionate individuals and organizations, responsible companies and legislatures, the academic community, and government agencies have begun to make an impact on distracted driving behaviors and strengthening distracted driving laws across the nation.

But anybody who drives can do their part just by disconnecting for the drive. 

Be the boss of your devices, not the other way around. And be a boss in general. Plan for how and when you will take calls—not while driving—and let people know your plan. Let people know that you’ll be on the road, or you’ll be on your phone, but not both. Because no call, no text, no update is worth a human life.

Connect with us

Follow us on the Web and Twitter to learn more about this month’s advocacy engagement to eliminate distracted driving.

Upcoming Event:

Additional Resources

NTSB Most Wanted List

NTSB Distracted Driving Roundtables and Forum

NTSB Blogs

A New Year’s Resolution We All Can Make: Prioritize Safety

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

As 2021 ends, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months and begin to set goals for the year ahead. After all, as Zig Ziglar once said, “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” So, let us all aim to improve the safety of our transportation system in 2022.

The NTSB recognizes the need for improvements in all modes of transportation–on the roads, rails, waterways, pipelines, and in the sky. Our 2021–2022 NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL), released in April this year, highlights the transportation safety improvements we believe are needed now to prevent accidents and crashes, reduce injuries, and save lives. We use the list to focus our advocacy efforts and to serve as an important call to action. We ask lawmakers, industry, advocacy, community organizations, and the traveling public to act and champion safety.

As a fellow safety advocate, I ask you to join me in a New Year’s resolution: I pledge to do my part to make transportation safer for all.

To help you take steps to accomplish this resolution, our MWL outlines actions you can take to make transportation safer:

  1. Require and Verify the Effectiveness of Safety Management Systems in all Revenue Passenger-Carrying Aviation Operations
  1. Install Crash-Resistant Recorders and Establish Flight Data Monitoring Programs
  1. Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes
  1. Protect Vulnerable Road Users through a Safe System Approach 
  1. Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving
  1. Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles
  1. Eliminate Distracted Driving
  1. Improve Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety
  1. Improve Pipeline Leak Detection and Mitigation
  1. Improve Rail Worker Safety

Achieving these improvements is possible; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on our list. The NTSB MWL includes tangible changes and solutions that will, undoubtedly, save lives. But it’s only words on a list if no action is taken. Unlike Times Square on New Year’s Eve, we cannot drop the ball on improvements to transportation safety. The clock is ticking, and the countdown has begun—we can’t afford to waste any more time. Make the resolution to do your part to make transportation safer for all!

In closing, I’d like to thank the transportation safety stakeholders, industry, lawmakers, and advocates we have worked with in 2021 and we look forward to working together in 2022 and beyond.