Category Archives: Speeding

Remembering the Victims of Maryland Route 210

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

On June 25, I had the opportunity to represent the NTSB at the Route 210 “Dignity of Life” Observance in Prince George’s Country, Maryland, where I have spent most of my adult life. Although the observance had tragic roots, it was good to see some attention paid to the toll taken by crashes in this largely Black area.

After the jubilation of Juneteenth, it was a gut-wrenching reminder of one of our greatest remaining inequities as a nation. Statistics show that Blacks and other minority groups are disproportionately likely to die in crashes.

Total crash deaths skyrocketed to an estimate of almost 43,000 in 2021. If we are to reduce the surging totals, we must also be intentional about our efforts in these underprivileged, underserved, and vulnerable communities.

This solemn and dignified gathering was to remember the irreplaceable, individual human beings who have been lost, and continue to be lost, on Maryland Route 210. Eighty people have died in crashes there between 2007 and the present. One of them was the husband of my NTSB colleague Susan Pipkin. At the event, Susan’s daughter, Diamond, said, “He was just thrown from his motorcycle, and it shook our lives,” as she broke into tears.  Like bicyclists and pedestrians, motorcycle riders are vulnerable road users and are overrepresented in fatality statistics nationwide.

Every loss on our roads is a tragedy. Every one of these losses is preventable. And, as I said to the families of the victims, every one of their loved ones was an individual, irreplaceable, had dignity and humanity, and deserved to live.

At the NTSB, we investigate crashes in all modes of transportation. We focus on answering one question, the same question that family members also ask after such a tragedy: Why? Unlike victims’ families and loved ones, though, we must be as objective as possible and look at the same question from an investigator’s point of view. We strive to turn our findings into action by issuing safety recommendations. However, we can only recommend changes—lawmakers, industry, and others must act on them.

I have worked enough with victim and survivor advocates to know that these tragedies are not one-time events. The loss persists and reemerges in so many ways: every time they look across the holiday table to the seat their loved one used to take, every time there is a birthday or a wedding anniversary that they used to celebrate, whenever they go to dial a number to share something with someone who is forever disconnected.

As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, a notoriously dangerous time on our nation’s roads, there’s no better time to take stock of how we’re protecting road users in all communities. This means reflecting on all parts of the system, not just on the behaviors of drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and riders. We must adopt a Safe System Approach that builds in redundancy so that when one part of the system fails, road users don’t lose their lives. We owe all road users nothing less than our determination that one day, Maryland Route 210 will be another safe road in a safe system, one with zero road deaths and zero serious injuries. And we must ensure that we are making equitable safety investments.

We don’t lose 43,000 faceless statistics every year, we lose 43,000 loved ones. They are irreplaceable. They are precious. The lives of those left behind are shaken, forever changed.

The families I met on June 25 are members of a club none of them ever wanted to join. The best way to honor the life of Mr. Pipkin and the lives of countless others who perished on our roads is to close the door to the club forever.

We Need to Change the Bike Safety Conversation

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

This is the second in a three-part series examining the safety of vulnerable road users, as new federal data show a rise in traffic deaths among motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians last year. Read the first post.

I love nearly everything about bicycles, from riding around Virginia to creating art for the NTSB office with old parts. I say “nearly” everything because U.S. roads are far too dangerous for bicyclists — and it’s getting worse.

Wall art by Chair Homendy from bicycle parts hangs at NTSB headquarters

On World Bicycle Day, I’m calling on every road user to help change the conversation.

Outdated Thinking is Deadly

Bicycles have been around for two centuries. But that’s no excuse for our safety approach to be stuck in the past, as it currently is.

We have to stop telling bicyclists not to get injured. We have to let go of the idea that educating bike riders will solve the problem. This type of thinking is too narrow to stem the public health crisis on our roads — and clinging to it is proving to be deadly.

Chair Homendy on a bike ride with NTSB team member Ivan Cheung

Of course, we implore all road users to make safe choices to protect themselves and others. But we’re missing the bigger picture when we only focus on individuals’ actions. It’s certainly not how we get to our goal of zero traffic deaths!

Instead, we should be talking about how the entire system is failing to protect bicyclists and other vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and motorcyclists. This means asking new questions such as the following:

  • Are vehicles equipped with technology to prevent crashes with bicyclists?
  • Are drivers traveling at speeds that would make it unlikely for a bicyclist to survive a crash?
  • Is the road itself designed to prevent crashes and protect bicyclists?
  • If a crash does occur, how effective was the emergency response in its goal of saving lives and treating injuries?  

These questions help us “zoom out” and see that we can’t solve our road safety crisis by focusing solely on individual road users. We also have to consider safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe roads, and post-crash care. That’s why Protect Vulnerable Road Users through a Safe System Approach is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. 

In a truly Safe System, the safety burden is shared by all, from individual road users to traffic safety and highway engineers, regulators, vehicle manufacturers, and more. Absolutely everyone is responsible for preventing crashes.

Because even one death is one too many.

Tragically, the stakes have never been higher. According to data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 985 cyclists died on our roads last year — a 5% increase over 2020 levels. Combined with the 9% increase in motorcycle deaths and the 13% jump in pedestrian deaths, you can see how dire the situation is for vulnerable road users.

We have to do better. And that means considering all components of a Safe System. The best place to start is with the implementation of NTSB safety recommendations.

Here are just some of the ways we could make streets safe for all road users:

  • Invest in bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, like separated bike lanes and safety treatments at intersections. The recent infrastructure law presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make such lifesaving investments.
  • Reduce speeds, especially in areas where there are a lot of vulnerable road users, like bicyclists. This can be accomplished through infrastructure improvements, like road diets; granting local jurisdictions the authority to set safe speeds for their own community and implement speed safety camera programs; and requiring auto manufacturers to install advanced speed-limiting technology on vehicles.
  • Require in-vehicle technologies, such as automatic emergency braking, that can help prevent crashes before they occur — and not just crashes with other cars and trucks, but with bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists as well.
  • Require large vehicles to be equipped with visibility-enhancement systems to better detect cyclists and pedestrians in their blind spots.
  • Prevent impaired driving, which leads to one in four traffic fatalities. NHTSA should require vehicles to come equipped with technology that will detect and prevent drunk driving. States should lower the per se blood alcohol content (BAC) to .05, an action only Utah has taken (with proven success!). States should also implement laws requiring all drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving to use an interlock device.
  • Require front, side, and rear underride guards on newly manufactured trucks to protect cyclists and pedestrians from going beneath large trucks.
  • Collect and analyze data, including hospital data, on the level of bicycling activity, crashes, and injuries. State and local leaders should use this data to design countermeasures and evaluate outcomes to measure effectiveness. How do you know if a project or program is successful if you aren’t tracking progress?

My Next Project — And the Nation’s 

My next bike project has already begun. I’m restoring an old Sears Spaceliner that I picked up at my local thrift shop. And I’m planning a few rides with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

I’m also using World Bicycle Day as an opportunity to assign you a project of your own: Join NTSB in changing the bike safety conversation. Ask new questions. Stop putting the entire safety burden on bicyclists. Embrace the Safe System approach.

The lives of vulnerable road users depend on it.

Motorcycle Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

This is the first in a three-part series examining the safety of vulnerable road users, as new federal data show a rise in traffic deaths among motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians last year.

When it comes to learning, I’m one of those people who doesn’t just want to read about something — I want to experience it firsthand whenever possible.

That’s why I got my motorcycle endorsement.

In fact, enrolling in the training course was one of the first things I did when I became an NTSB Board Member back in 2018. I wanted to feel the thrill of operating a motorcycle, learn from my classmates about their love of riding, and gain a deeper understanding of the safety risks all riders face.

Most of all, I wanted to become a more effective safety advocate.

Photo of Chair Jennifer Homendy at a Wheels Up Motorcycle Training Course, in Fredericksburg, VA.

A Tragic New Record

Motorcyclists — motorcycle riders and their passengers — have the highest risk of fatal injury among all motor vehicle users. A major reason is that motorcycles afford riders less protection in a crash.

This means, for every mile they traveled in 2020, the average motorcyclist’s risk of death in a traffic crash was 28 times greater than that of a passenger car occupant.

The picture is only getting bleaker. New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that 6,101 motorcyclists died on our roads last year. Not only is this an all-time high — it’s a 9% increase from 2020, which held the previous record.

That means the last two years are the deadliest on record for motorcyclists in the United States.

What Needs to be Done

We know what needs to happen to save motorcyclists’ lives.

First and foremost, we need to adopt the Safe System approach to protect  vulnerable road users, such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s so important that it’s on our 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

A Safe System addresses all aspects of traffic safety: road users, vehicles, speeds, roads, and post-crash care. We must make better safety investments, from road treatments, vehicle design, and collision-avoidance systems to strong traffic safety laws to mitigate risk and save lives for all road users.

But what does that mean in practice? The first step is to change the way we think and talk about safety. When it comes to motorcycle safety, it means we must stop spending so much time talking about what riders should do to mitigate their risk.

It’s not only unfair to put the full safety responsibility on motorcyclists, but it’s also ineffective. In a truly safe system, no individual road user’s action or inaction can cost them their life; there are redundancies built in so that if one part fails, a person is still protected.

The NTSB took a deep dive into motorcycle safety with our 2018 research report, which has specific recommendations to protect motorcyclists. And, because motorcyclists are at such risk in crashes with passenger vehicles, we should also heed NTSB recommendations in our reports on speeding and substance-impaired driving.

Combined, these three reports have 50 safety recommendations — that’s 50 opportunities for regulators, states, policymakers, manufacturers, and associations to save lives on our roads.

As we close out Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and head into the deadly days of summer, now’s the perfect moment to implement NTSB safety recommendations.

The Time is Now

Getting my motorcycle endorsement helped me see the road from a rider’s perspective. It also deepened my resolve to ensure every motorcycle rider and passenger is safe on our roads.

But you don’t need to have firsthand experience to understand how dire the situation is. After all, we set a tragic new record for motorcyclist deaths last year. 

We can’t wait another day. The families of the 6,101 riders we lost last year deserve action.

Where is the Outrage? Road Users Deserve Better

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

42,915

16-year high

10.5-percent increase

An early estimate, released this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), shows 42,915 people—117 people per day—died on the nation’s roads last year. I, for one, am outraged by these needless deaths. Those victims are mothers and fathers, children and grandparents, friends, and coworkers. They are also often the most vulnerable among us. Where is our collective outrage over these deaths? Zero fatalities is our goal!

Here are a few insights within the data:

  • Pedestrian fatalities up 13 percent
  • Motorcyclist fatalities up 9 percent
  • Bicyclist fatalities up 5 percent
  • Fatalities in speeding-related crashes up 5 percent
  • Fatalities in police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes up 5 percent
  • Fatalities on urban roads up 16 percent
  • Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13 percent

The NTSB knows what needs to be done. The NTSB has investigated countless crashes, issued thousands of safety recommendations, and identified the data-driven approaches to make our roads safer, to prevent deaths and injuries. The NTSB has highlighted safety improvements on our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements that can save lives on our roads.

We don’t need more guidance, we don’t need pilot programs, we need action. Action by regulators. Action by lawmakers and states. Action by manufacturers. Action by road designers and engineers. Action by all road users. We need to adopt the Safe System Approach and share the responsibility for safety.

Safe Speeds

Speed increases the likelihood of a crash and injury severity when a crash occurs. Speeding contributes to about one-third of all traffic-related crash fatalities. States must set safe speeds. Speeds that ensure that when a crash happens—because they will—whether you are inside or outside a vehicle, you will survive. States’ decades-old, one-size-fits-all approach for setting speed limits based on the speed of vehicles is senseless, focused on drivers rather than all road users, and is just leading to increasing speed limits across the U.S. And State Departments of Transportation reliance on education over proven countermeasures like implementation of speed safety cameras is ineffective.

Safe Vehicles

Since 1995, the NTSB has issued more than 25 safety recommendations to the US Department of Transportation modal agencies and vehicle manufacturers on the need to develop performance standards for collision avoidance technologies and to make them standard in all vehicles. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: nearly 30 years later, we’re still waiting.

Prominently bolded on NHTSA’s homepage is the phrase “Safe cars save lives.” However, the safest cars are still only for those who can afford them. NHTSA must act to implement NTSB safety recommendations and mandate that vehicle safety technology be standard equipment on all vehicles. Safety isn’t a luxury. NHTSA must also update the New Car Assessment Program, ASAP, to push auto manufacturers to implement, and drive consumer demand for, the safest technologies in vehicles.

Safe Roads

The nation’s roads were designed to efficiently move motor vehicles; they weren’t designed for the safe mobility of all road users. We have made no progress in recent years to prevent deaths among those who walk, bike, and roll on our nation’s roads. States must adopt the Safe System Approach and make infrastructure investments and improvements that prioritize the safety for vulnerable road users.

However, I’m increasingly concerned that many in the highway safety community don’t know how the Safe System Approach differs from the traditional, flawed approach of the 3E’s: education, enforcement, engineering. In other words, is this becoming just an “inside the beltway” term? We cannot let this moment pass us by. We need to ditch our overreliance on ineffective education and enforcement campaigns to address increasing death and look to much better, long-term solutions.

Safe Road Users

The NTSB cannot make safety recommendations to individual road users. Making safe choices is only something we can encourage and advocate for. We’ve seen individual choices contribute to the cause of countless highway crashes or severity of injuries. Distraction while driving or walking. Speeding. Impaired driving. Not buckling seat belts or wearing protective gear like helmets. All these choices have resulted in the devastating loss of life. We implore all road users to make safe choices to protect themselves and others. Many of the fatalities on our roadways would be prevented if safe choices were made every trip, every time.

Postcrash Care

The Safe System Approach accepts that crashes will happen, but that they should not be deadly. We must ensure that in the event of a crash, those involved have efficient access to the care and resources they need to live and recover. Our first responders—law enforcement, EMS, fire, and 911 personnel—need appropriate resources to serve our communities and respond to crashes. Law enforcement, EMS, and fire personnel need safe working environments free of the risk of secondary crashes.

A key principle of the Safe System Approach is shared responsibility. The entire system, our current approach to traffic safety, is failing all road users. We all—government, auto makers, policy makers, law enforcement, planners, engineers and, yes, road users—are failing. We must do better. I know that if we all come to the safety table and work together to implement the strategies that we know are successful, we can reach zero and save lives, both inside and outside vehicles.​

We have the tools to reverse the trend. Now we need everyone to act. Lives depend on it!

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