Category Archives: Speeding

Speeding: Comprehensive Changes Needed to Save Lives

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

Speeding kills about the same number of Americans as drinking and driving, yet garners far less attention. We’ve included “Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes” on our 2021–2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements because we know that speeding significantly impacts safety on the country’s roads, and we think it’s past time for that to change.

About 100,000 people died between 2009 and 2018 because someone was driving faster than the speed limit, or faster than road conditions warranted. That’s around 9,000 to10,000 crash deaths per year, or nearly one in three crash deaths in the United States. Preliminary reports suggest that during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, speeding might have been even more prevalent in traffic deaths, despite a drop in vehicle miles traveled.

Speeding can lead to a loss of vehicle control. Faster speeds also increase the severity of injuries once a crash occurs. (If you’re having a hard time imagining this potential destruction, you can watch what happens in a speed-comparison crash test video produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.) This relationship holds true for all road users, but when vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, are involved in a crash with a vehicle, their chances of being severely injured skyrocket as impact speeds increase. For a pedestrian, the risk of being severely injured goes from 10 percent at an impact speed of 16 mph to 25 percent at 23 mph, 50 percent at 31 mph, 75 percent at 39 mph, and 90 percent at 46 mph.

For drivers, passengers, and vulnerable road users alike, speeding kills.

What can be done?

Speeding deserves to be a nationally recognized road safety issue. Regulators must collaborate with traffic safety stakeholders to develop and implement an ongoing program to increase public awareness of speeding as a national traffic safety issue.

Further, we recognize that posted speed limits aren’t always based on real-world conditions. Present guidance says to set speed limits in speed zones within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic. But that guidance could lead to higher operating speeds, which would, in turn, result in an even higher 85th percentile speed, and on and on. What’s more, there’s no strong evidence that the 85th percentile speed decreases crash involvement rates; therefore, states should instead adopt an engineering study methodology that places less emphasis on the 85th percentile speed in favor of a more robust approach I that includes additional parameters, such as roadway geometry, crash statistics, and traffic volumes.

We believe that states should amend current laws to remove restrictions on the use of automated speed enforcement. Regulators should update and promote speed enforcement guidelines to reflect the latest enforcement technology and operating practices. For heavy vehicles, including trucks, buses, and motorcoaches, regulators should develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology, such as variable speed limiters and intelligent speed adaptation devices, then require that all newly manufactured heavy vehicles be equipped with them.

At the individual level, drivers should follow the speed limit and slow down during bad weather, when a road is under repair, in poorly lit areas at night, and in other challenging driving conditions.

Finally, we should ​protect vulnerable road users through a Safe System approach—another Most Wanted List safety improvement. You can watch our May 20 roundtable on the Safe System approach on the NTSB YouTube channel.

We have yet to fully understand how the pandemic changed our driving habits as a nation; we have known for some time, however, that the faster a vehicle is going when it strikes something, the greater the energy expended in the crash, and the greater the resulting damage. Setting logical speed limits—and enforcing them—is something that can be done right now to save lives.

We hope that, as drivers return to the roads, regulators use this opportunity to reevaluate speed‑limit guidance, evaluate the effectiveness of current enforcement programs, and assess new speed-limiting technology that can improve safety for all road users.

Learn More

Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes

Safety Study: Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles | July 2017

Motorcoach Run-Off-the-Road and Collision with Vertical Highway Signpost, Interstate 95 Southbound, New York, NY | March 2011

Protect Vulnerable Road Users through a Safe System Approach

A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety Roundtable

By Member Thomas Chapman

An estimated 42,000 traffic deaths occurred in 2020. This is an alarming number.

From 2014 to 2019, overall traffic fatalities increased by 10 percent.  Over the same period, however, annual traffic deaths among vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists) jumped from 9,935 to 12,062— a 21 percent increase. If you only look at pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, there was a 25 percent increase in fatalities from 2014 to 2019. So, disproportionately, increasing numbers of vulnerable road users are being killed on our roadways. We must do more to reverse this upward trend.

In April, we adopted our 2021–2022 Most Wanted List. The list includes a new safety item, Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach. With traffic fatalities trending in the wrong direction, it’s appropriate to evaluate how we approach roadway safety. At the NTSB, we’re focusing our attention on a Safe System approach.

How is a Safe System approach different?

Traditionally, as we have tried to mitigate and prevent crashes by changing individual human behavior, we’ve sought to convert everyone into perfect drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. We try to reduce injury severity by increasing occupant protection and improving crashworthiness. We tend to put roadway safety in the hands of each individual road user, rather than taking a holistic approach. We’ve seen tremendous safety improvements through the years, such as developing safer vehicles, and we have seen a significant decline in motor vehicle occupant deaths over decades. But the overall trend is not downward, especially not for those outside of motor vehicles.

A Safe System approach focuses on injury severity by seeking to eliminate death and serious injury. In exchange, some less severe crashes are more tolerable. Instead of trying to make us all perfect drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, a Safe System approach assumes that we all make mistakes and emphasizes methods to prevent these mistakes from causing deaths or serious injuries. Human vulnerabilities are accommodated by managing kinetic energy through engineering, design, and policy. We also acknowledge that road safety is a shared responsibility among road users, designers, planners, engineers, corporations, and policy makers.

That’s why, next week, we’re hosting an NTSB MWL Roundtable: A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety. We recognize the need to educate others about what the Safe System approach is and to emphasize that Safe System—which underpins Vision Zero policies and initiatives—can’t be merely a slogan; it must integrate all proven safety countermeasures. Our virtual roundtable will highlight the key elements of the Safe System approach and will kick off our safety advocacy actions on this issue for the next two years.

What should you expect from the roundtable?

We have a very strong lineup of panelists planned for the event. An expert from Sweden— the birthplace of Vision Zero—will discuss the origin, history, and principles of a Safe System approach. Other panelists will provide national, state, and local perspectives on implementing a Safe System approach, and we’ll discuss the elements of such an approach—safe roads, vehicles, road users, and speed, as well as post-crash care. Member Jennifer Homendy, along with NTSB staff from the offices of Highway Safety and Research and Engineering, will also share their perspectives.

Want to learn more about the roundtable?

Visit our event page, A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety (ntsb.gov). The event is open to the public. Register for the roundtable. You can also submit a question for the panelists by writing to NTSBSafeSystemRoundtable@ntsb.gov.

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

Sunday, November 15, is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. I’ve known many of you who have lost loved ones this way, and I’ve worked alongside many survivor advocates for years. Along with the courage and strength I’ve seen among these survivors, it’s plain to me that nobody who loses a loved one in a traffic crash needs a day of remembrance. For them, that remembrance is always there, no matter what day. The World Day of Remembrance is for the rest of us. It’s a time to reflect on these often preventable losses and work to prevent future ones from occurring. In 2020, it feels like we need this commemoration day more than ever. With the uncertainty of a global pandemic, far too many people are forgetting—or becoming numb to—the year-in, year-out toll that traffic crashes take on our country.

I was recently invited to speak on an International Road Federation panel on the topic, “Crashes: The Forgotten Pandemic.” I reminded participants of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statement earlier this year when asked about the annual 40,000 US road deaths in America. He said that the COVID pandemic is emergent, but road crash deaths are a chronic condition.

However, although the condition is chronic, it’s not untreatable.

My talk touched on some of the ways that the road safety community is working to protect the most vulnerable road users: bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. I also pointed out that, unlike COVID-19, the road crash pandemic strikes the young disproportionately. In fact, in the United States, from early in childhood to well into middle age, a young person is more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than any other way.

The impact on young peoples’ lives from our acute COVID pandemic is incalculable. Students whipsaw between learning in person and on-line, with little certainty of what style comes next, and face restrictions on seeing friends. Yet, the far more pressing danger to a young person comes from the risks of speeding and of distracted, drowsy, or impaired driving. In fact, speeding crashes have increased markedly this year as the volume of traffic has decreased.

Remembrance is about honoring those we’ve lost. It’s also respecting those who, thankfully, are still with us. This World Day of Remembrance, we can respect the living and honor those lost by recommitting ourselves to practicing safe driving habits—some of which we may not have had the opportunity to use for a while. Before you get behind the wheel, make sure you’re rested and sober. Put the phone away. Don’t speed. With all the younger generations are doing to protect high‑risk loved ones from COVID, let’s do the same to lower their risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash. Let’s finally put both pandemics behind us.

This July 4, Travel Safely—Don’t Put Unnecessary Strain on First Responders and Hospital Staff

By Dolline Hatchett, Director, NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

COVID-19 has affected every American, and the NTSB has adapted to respond to the effects of the pandemic. As the agency’s Director of Safety Recommendations and Communications (SRC), I know how important it is to keep the industry, elected officials, and the advocacy community briefed on transportation safety; that’s why I decided to take advantage of this platform to try to reach as many of my fellow citizens as possible.

As we approach the July 4th weekend, with travelers expected to hit the roadways even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important to remind the traveling public to drive safely. Motor vehicle crashes continue to constitute a chronic national health care crisis, resulting in 35,000 or more deaths and millions of injuries each year. Highway crashes create an enormous demand for medical services, year in and year out. At the same time, an emergent crisis, like COVID-19, demands those same resources, and they start to get stretched thin.

SRC works not only to inform, but also to advocate for safer personal transportation choices. Although much of the country has been shut down for the past few months, the agency continues to craft and track safety recommendations, and it’s up to my office to publicize safety advances when we close recommendations.

Throughout the lockdown, SRC has continued to facilitate communication with state and national policy makers, upon request, about transportation safety issues that are relevant to legislation they may be considering. The difference these days is that the office responds to these requests in writing, rather than in face-to-face testimony. We’ve also responded to requests from federal congressional staff to provide information on our recommendations to help them develop a surface transportation bill. And of course, we continue to make safety publications available to the public and to respond to queries about ongoing investigations.

But perhaps the most innovative response we’ve had during this pandemic is our Safety Reminder campaign, which launched just before Memorial Day with a public service announcement. This outreach was important; surprisingly, while most of the country was on lockdown leading up to Memorial Day weekend, a nationwide speeding trend emerged. We decided to proactively remind the public about safe transportation across all modes as the nation began to re-open.

I believe it’s important to re-emphasize safe road travel ahead of the July 4th weekend, especially because stay-at-home orders have eased throughout the country, and we may see even more road travelers this holiday weekend than we did over Memorial Day weekend. Despite  being away from our physical offices, SRC continues to keep the public informed of the agency’s work as we advocate for safety improvements across all modes of transportation. We’re the conduit between the technical expertise at the agency and our stakeholders—the traveling public, lawmakers, and industry—and it’s up to us to effectively communicate the vital safety improvements that come out of our investigations, reports, and studies. There’s no better time to convey that important information than now, just before a holiday weekend during which many Americans will be taking to the roads, perhaps for the first time in months.

So, before the start of the holiday weekend, when you’re picking out your mask and planning socially distant celebrations, remember how your actions behind the wheel relate to this pandemic and those directly affected by it. Don’t drive impaired. Don’t drive distracted or fatigued. Don’t speed. Whether you’re a passenger or a driver, always wear your seatbelt.

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Let’s work together to avoid further strain on our health care system; every ambulance not called, every unit of blood not transfused, every bed in an emergency department not filled because of a crash, is one more resource made available to fight our emergent crisis.

 

Returning to Travel with Safety on the Mind

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

Normally this time of year, the transportation safety advocacy world would be buzzing with annual calendared campaigns, like these more well-known ones in the highway safety world:

• Global Youth Traffic Safety Month
• Motorcycle Awareness Month
• 100 Deadliest Days of Summer
• NHTSA’s “Click it or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement campaign

As the weather gets warmer, students learning to drive, fly or even operate a boat would gather for educational awareness-raising events or training seminars and conferences. Driver-educators and safety advocates would be working to pour their hearts and souls into reaching teen drivers on stages around the country, hoping to convince some to avoid the bad choices that would put them at higher risk of traffic crashes. Flight schools would be gearing up for the busy summer flying months, and the US Coast Guard and other organizations would be prepping for summer safety on our waterways.

But it is different this year. This year, the country is in large part sheltering in place because of a global public health pandemic.

In terms of traffic safety, the dark cloud might have a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times reports that crash incidences have reduced by half due to the virus; however, Streetsblog.org questions whether this silver lining in the form of reduced numbers of crashes will come with another dark cloud in the form of higher rates of crashes. We will have to wait for the statistics to be compiled a year or more from now to get a clearer picture. Although advocacy messages no longer reach students face-to-face, young people have less freedom—and reason—to drive. Will those two factors cancel each other out? Will drivers of all ages remember to drive sober and without distractions? Only time will tell.

General aviation continues to operate, though in a slightly more limited fashion, but we at the NTSB continue to investigate crashes. Boaters have not been out, due to shutdowns and weather, but with summer coming, things will change.

The big question I find myself pondering is, what will transportation safety look like once we are all able to move about freely again?

I like to think that Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that the best way to predict your future is to create it. I wonder about the new normal that we could strive to achieve in transportation safety on the other side of this pandemic. I also find myself worrying about re-emergence shock on the highways.

I recall from my time in the Marine Corps that when we’d return from duty on ship for an extended period without driving, traffic safety advocates would come on board to remind us what we would be facing returning home. That type of reminder would be helpful now after this long period of reduced driving. Have our skills gotten rusty? Will our road awareness be slow to return?

A potential benefit that could come from this pandemic, though, is that many of us have become much more mindful of how our behavior affects others. Will our mindfulness stay with us when we head back out on the roads, or jump back into our cockpits, or warm up our boats?

The present crisis knocked us out of our 24/7, “go-go-go” lifestyle suddenly and shockingly. Now, it is finally sinking in that returning to that normal will not happen soon or suddenly; rather, it will happen step by step. How can we rebuild transportation safety in our new normal? Tens of thousands of lives are lost on our roads every year. For too long, we have accepted this as normal. Perhaps this pandemic will wake us up to the fact that it does not have to be this way.

The step to transitioning back to our new normal will be to remember all the little safety lessons that might not have been front-of-mind these last few weeks or months. Returning to safe driving, flying, and other transportation operations will require renewed focus. To help us return to safe operations, the NTSB and other transportation organizations will launch the #SafetyReminder campaign with a Twitter chat @NTSB, May 21, 2020, at 12pm EDT.  You can join the conversation by mentioning @NTSB in your tweets to questions and comments or simply follow the conversation using #SafetyReminder.

SafetyReminder Announcement 1

I encourage you to follow the campaign and brush up on some of the things you may have forgotten before we all get back out on the road. When it comes to transportation safety, we really are all in this together.