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Inside the NTSB’s General Aviation Investigative Process

Recovering 1s and 0s

By Bill Tuccio, PhD, ATP, CFII/MEI

This is the third blog in a new series of posts about the NTSB’s general aviation investigative process. This series, written by NTSB staff, explores how medical, mechanical, and general safety issues are examined in our investigations.

Dr. Tuccio (seated) assists with the disassembly of a cockpit voice recorder.

I joined the NTSB in 2010 as a recorder investigator in the Vehicle Recorders Division. I work to recover “1s and 0s” from electronics, including cockpit voice and flight data recorders (aka “black boxes”) and video sources. As a recorder investigator, I work early in the investigative lifecycle to create factual reports of electronic data: if it might record something and has a green board or a little chip, we’re interested.

My formal training and experience is in aeronautical engineering, aviation, computer/database/iOs programming, and conversation analysis. I’m also a flight instructor, former regional airline captain, and aircraft owner. Through my work on more than 400 NTSB investigations and my 30 years as a flight instructor, I’ve had some incredible moments, but my most memorable is soloing my son in our tailwheel Maule on his 16th birthday. We enjoyed the usual fun so many pilots experience on soft fields, and it was a success. Now, about 10 years later, my son is a certified flight instructor-instrument (CFII) who has taught his own students.

Soft fields are fun, but they also carry risks that pilots have to manage. The FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for private and commercial pilots include soft-field takeoffs and the separate (but arguably related) short-field takeoffs.

What do soft and short fields have to do with readouts of recorded data? Normally, nothing. When something goes wrong, however, the data can sometimes help piece together the story.

I recovered data from electronic devices in two soft-field investigations. Unfortunately, there were no survivors in either accident, but these fatal crashes highlight some of the risks noted in the ACS.

The first case involved a 1956 Cessna 172 in Veneta, Oregon, with four people on board. The airplane was just below gross weight and within center-of-gravity limits. According to other investigative information, the grass of the 3,200-foot runway was mowed to about 3 inches in height and was damp from a prior rain shower.

I was given an iPhone recovered from the passenger in the right front seat. It yielded some photos of the pilot and passengers before boarding and a video of the first 23 seconds of the accident flight. Below is a picture taken before boarding, showing the accident airplane with the runway environment behind. The tall grass immediately apparent in the photo obscures the runway, which is further in the background. This photo was useful to corroborate the weather conditions at the time of the accident.

Picture taken before boarding showing the runway environment.

The 23-second video also helped. It began when the aircraft was on its takeoff roll. We worked with the raw video as recorded, rather than subject it to labor-intensive postprocessing, which is sometimes necessary to stabilize the constantly shifting camera angle of an iPhone video. One significant feature of the video was that from the 15-second mark until the end of the recording, we could hear a sound similar to the stall warning. Some partial views of the instruments supported other evidence indicating that the engine was operating properly.

When combined with other investigative evidence, the NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident was “The pilot’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed and altitude to clear trees during takeoff initial climb.” (You can access the detailed factual reports here: https://go.usa.gov/xRGGe.) I often use this case while teaching students about soft- and short‑field takeoffs to emphasize the ACS risks of collision hazards, including aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and wires; low altitude maneuvering, stall, and spin; and runway surface conditions.

The second soft-field/short-field case that rested (in part) on my work with recorded data was the crash of a 1977 Cessna T210M in Challis, Idaho, also with four people on board, loaded to 3,551 pounds (maximum gross weight for this plane was 3,800 pounds) and within center-of-gravity limits.

According to other investigative information, the 5,500-feet mean sea level airport had a 2,500‑foot turf/dirt runway, with an estimated density altitude during the accident of 6,046 feet. Because of terrain features, pilots generally landed on runway 22 and departed on runway 4. The accident flight was departing on runway 4.

Two significant electronic devices were recovered from this accident: a JPI EDM-700 engine monitor and a Garmin GPSMAP 496 portable GPS device. Both have recording capabilities, but each sustained impact and postimpact fire damage requiring chip-level data recovery. The figures below show the JPI EDM-700 and Garmin 496 chips that were recovered.

Recovered JPI EDM-700 and Garmin 496 chips

Using tools in our lab, we removed the chips and cleaned them up. We then “imaged” the chips (that is, created a file of all the 1s and 0s on the chip) using a commercially available chip programming device. Our frequent experience with the JPI EDM-700 and Garmin 496 contributed to our efficient data extraction from the binary image to produce useful engineering data.

In this case, the JPI EDM-700 recorded the takeoff and supported other investigative information showing that the engine was functioning properly. As you can imagine, when working with recovered avionics, data can be confusing; in this case, the end of the recording had unchanging data. By comparing the accident takeoff data with a prior takeoff, combined with our prior knowledge of the EDM-700 recording logic, we were able to attribute the unchanging data to invalid data after the aircraft had crashed.

The Garmin 496 recorded the accident flight and 49 prior flights. Although the accident flight was undoubtedly helpful to the investigation, we also decided to compare the accident takeoff to nine prior takeoffs on the same runway, considering groundspeed and lateral path. The accident flight differed from all prior flights in that prior flights proceeded to the right of the accident flight’s trajectory near the departure end of runway 4.

Investigators worked with Cessna to calculate the takeoff performance. With no wind, to clear a 50-foot obstacle, the airplane would need 2,231 feet of runway. With a 5-knot tailwind, the airplane would need 2,677 feet. The actual distance from the start of the takeoff roll to the point at which the aircraft struck the first 50-foot tree was 2,625 feet.

Our report noted, “In the takeoff configuration, with the nose-high pitch, it is possible that the pilot’s windscreen view of the terrain would be limited.” We determined the probable cause was “The pilot’s attempt to depart in conditions that resulted in the airplane having insufficient performance capability, which resulted in a collision with a tree.” (You can access the detailed factual reports here: https://go.usa.gov/xRGGd.)

I often use this accident to teach my students the ACS short-field knowledge areas of the “effects of atmospheric conditions, including wind, on takeoff and climb performance,” as well as risk management regarding the “selection of runway based on pilot capability, aircraft performance and limitations, available distance, and wind.”

As Mike Hart wrote in AVweb, “If the calculated length of the field is less than the number calculated from the POH, don’t even think about turning your prop. An obvious accident is avoided.” He goes on to add, if the calculated distance is at all close, check your math and your assumptions. Pilot technique and aircraft condition are just two factors that can make a world of difference.

The electronic devices you use when you fly can increase your situational awareness and enjoyment. Some devices empower you to check historical engine trends and identify mechanical issues early. And, in the relatively rare cases when things go wrong, we can use this electronic information­—all those 1s and 0s—to dig deeply into what went wrong and how, and help avoid a similar outcome in the future.

Keeping Rail Transit Safety Oversight on Track

By Member Christopher Hart

The Tremont Street Subway in Boston began service in 1897 as the first subway tunnel in North America. That subway tunnel was the beginning of the now complex rail transit system that is commonly known as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), or “the T.” With an average of 1.3 million passengers riding its heavy rail, light rail, trolleys, buses, and ferryboats each weekday, this is one of the busiest transit systems in the country.

Member Hart with NTSB and MBTA staff at the MBTA rail operations center

I recently had the opportunity to tour the MBTA system and learn how such a complex legacy system is managed. I also heard about the collaboration that has developed between the MBTA and its safety oversight body­—the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MDPU). I often used the T years ago when I was in law school, so it was very informative to see how the system has grown and changed in the intervening years.

Improve Rail Transit Safety Oversight is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements to promote our recommendations addressing oversight of rail mass transit operations. It is critically important that rail transit systems be adequately monitored to maintain and enhance safety and to help ensure that small problems can be caught before they become big ones; our accident investigations have shown that an important part of that monitoring is effective safety oversight. This visit to the MBTA allowed us to observe some of those safety programs and their oversight.

Massachusetts is one of four states (the others being California, Colorado, and New York) that has the authority to compel a rail transit agency to comply with system safety program plans, Federal Transit Administration requirements, and state regulations or requirements. This authority has fostered a collaborative relationship between the MBTA and the MDPU for rail transit safety oversight. These two agencies are in regular contact about rail transit decisions; this open relationship enables faster resolution when issues arise and comprehensive planning to help prevent disasters from occurring.

Member Hart and Steve Hicks, MBTA Chief Mechanical Officer – Rail

It was very interesting to see the behind-the-scenes operations that keep everything running smoothly. We received comprehensive briefings from both the MDPU and the MBTA to better understand the system’s history, past and current safety challenges that the agencies face, and plans to improve safety systems and extend the service to serve more of the traveling public in the Boston area.

We also toured the MBTA Emergency Operations Control Center and learned how transportation and law enforcement officials work closely during major planned events, such as the Boston Marathon, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the fireworks displays on July 4, and during unplanned emergencies, like weather events or disasters, to safely move as many people as possible under unusual circumstances.

Our MBTA guides took us underground to the new Emergency Training Center, built in former streetcar tunnels, to see where all MBTA operators, first responders, and law enforcement personnel receive emergency simulation training on heavy rail, light rail, and bus equipment and facilities.

Vehicle and equipment maintenance and upkeep are also part of good safety oversight and are needed to spot any actual or potential problems that may arise, diagnose them, and determine and implement a solution to keep everything running smoothly. To get some idea of that part of the operation, we toured the Orient Heights Car House and learned about the preventative maintenance program that helps ensure all cars are operating efficiently and safely.

On the second day of our tour, we rode the Green Line to get an in-depth look at this oldest subway line in the country. MBTA and MDPU personnel shared their progress toward implementing Positive Train Control—another item on our Most Wanted List—on this line, whose age, signal system, and street‑running sections present operational complexities and risks that the MBTA’s safety programs and oversight continuously seek to address.

The MBTA and the MDPU share the goal of providing and maintaining a reliable, safe transit structure to move the people of Boston safely and efficiently. We enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to visit and learn so much about this legacy system. In the coming years, we plan to reach out to other mass transit operators and their regulators to learn, first hand, what they are doing to build safer systems and prevent future accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

 

 

 

Inside the NTSB’s General Aviation Investigative Process

Addressing Medical Issues

By Dr. Nicholas Webster, NTSB Medical Officer

This is the second blog in a new series of posts about the NTSB’s general aviation investigative process. This series, written by NTSB staff, explores how medical, mechanical, and general safety issues are examined in our investigations.

The NTSB investigates every aviation accident in the United States. In each investigation, we look at the roles of the human, the machine, and the environment. By learning about the factors that cause an accident, we can make recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.

I am one of two medical officers (physicians) at the NTSB who work closely with investigators in all modal offices. When an investigator-in-charge (IIC) is concerned that operator medical issues, drugs, or toxins may have affected performance, he or she coordinates with us to study the medical aspects of the event. The medical officers review medical documents, toxicological testing results, and sometimes autopsy reports of those involved in accidents. In conjunction with the investigative team, we help determine if operator impairment or incapacitation contributed to the cause of the accident, then we help craft language to explain to the public the nature and significance of the medical issues and how they affected the operator and contributed to the accident’s cause. We also work closely with the Board’s biodynamics and survival factors experts to help evaluate accident-caused injuries and determine what changes could be made to prevent future injuries.

The resulting information is presented in a medical factual report, which documents all pertinent medical issues and any potential hazards that the medical issues posed. To ensure accuracy, these fact-based scientific reports are peer reviewed by the investigative staff before they are published as part of the public docket. The medical, factual, and operational details of each event are then analyzed by the investigatory team, which determines probable cause by consensus, peer review concurrence, and Board authority. The probable cause represents the most likely explanation for the event given all available evidence.

Two recent cases have garnered some attention in the general aviation (GA) community, both involving fully functional airplanes operating in manageable weather. In these cases, both pilot action (error or impairment) and pilot inaction (incapacitation) can lead to an accident. In these cases, we found that the pilots were operating in a relatively low-workload environment and had the skill and experience necessary to safely complete the flights. On the other hand, medical data showed that both pilots had severe heart issues that could cause sudden incapacitation without leaving a trace.

The first accident occurred on April 11, 2015, when an experimental Quad City Challenger II airplane crashed into terrain near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The 77-year-old pilot died and the airplane was substantially damaged. The pilot had the skill and experience to operate the airplane in visual conditions. According to witnesses, while the airplane was on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern at the pilot’s home airport, it entered a steep dive that continued until it struck the ground in an open field. Investigators found no evidence of preexisting mechanical concerns and, based on the propeller damage, determined that the engine was producing power at impact. Operational evidence also strongly supported pilot incapacitation.

The pilot had a history of coronary artery disease, which was treated by multivessel bypass surgery. He also had high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and hypothyroidism, which were controlled with medications. The autopsy showed that the pilot had an enlarged heart; severe multivessel coronary artery disease (greater than 80-percent occlusion of all vessels), with coronary artery bypass grafts and complete occlusion of two bypass vessels; scarring of the ventricular septum, indicating he had had a previous heart attack; and active inflammation of the anterolateral wall of the left ventricle of his heart. These findings, particularly the large scar and active inflammation of the heart muscle, placed the pilot at high risk for an irregular heart rhythm, which can easily cause decreased blood to the brain and result in fainting without leaving further evidence at autopsy.

Additionally, according to the Chippewa County Coroner Death Report, the cause of death was blunt force trauma. However, the examining pathologist further stated, “the most likely scenario to explain [the pilot’s] death is that he suffered an arrhythmia secondary to myocarditis.” These findings are discussed in detail in the medical factual report. Based on the available evidence, we determined the probable cause of the accident to be the pilot’s incapacitation due to a cardiovascular event, which resulted in a loss of control and subsequent impact with terrain.

The second accident of note was the crash into terrain of a homebuilt Europa XL airplane on June 26, 2015. As in the previous case, the pilot died and the airplane was substantially damaged. In this accident, the 72-year-old pilot also had the skill and experience needed to successfully complete the flight, especially given that it was a clear day and he was operating under visual flight rules.

The airplane crashed under power in a steep, nose-down, slightly inverted attitude in an open field about a half mile from the end of the runway, slightly to the right of an extended centerline. According to the IIC, there was no evidence of preexisting mechanical concerns, the engine was operating at impact, and the operational evidence suggested pilot incapacitation.

The pilot had a history of severe coronary artery disease, which was treated with multivessel bypass surgery, stents, and medication. Additionally, he had elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, which were treated with medications. Since his last medical certification examination, an exercise stress test showed no significant changes, but a cardiac catheterization report documented that his coronary artery disease had progressed, resulting in 90‑percent occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery and impaired blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. Additionally, the autopsy identified multivessel coronary artery disease treated with patent coronary artery bypass grafts, and documented up to 70-percent occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery.

These findings are discussed in detail in the medical factual report. The pilot’s severe progressive coronary artery disease and the impaired blood flow to an area of his heart muscle placed the pilot at high risk for an acute cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, anginal attack, or acute arrhythmia. Any such event would likely cause a sudden onset of symptoms such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath, palpitations, or fainting, and would leave no evidence visible on autopsy if death occurred in the first few minutes.

The Mahoning County Coroner Autopsy Report cited multiple blunt force injuries as the cause of death, with coronary artery disease and chronic hypertension contributing to the cause of death. Again, although the pilot died of blunt force injuries, the evidence supports our finding that the accident sequence was likely initiated by his incapacitation due to a cardiovascular event.

These cases illustrate how we integrate medical findings into our investigations. We also provide interested parties with links to publicly available, detailed information that supports our findings. In both of the cases described here, the medical factual reports document significant medical issues in pilots who were operating under sport pilot rules; however, we only determined the medically related probable causes after thorough, scientific, peer-reviewed analysis of all the available facts concerning the human, the machine, and the environment.

Our goal is to identify medically related hazards that may be causal to or resultant from the accidents we investigate, and then work with the experts on the investigative team to develop mitigation strategies, which take the form of safety recommendations, that target and eliminate these hazards and improve transportation safety.

Inside the NTSB’s General Aviation Investigative Process

By Member Earl F. Weener

This is the first in a new series of posts about the NTSB’s general aviation investigative process. This series, written by NTSB staff, will explore how medical, mechanical, and general safety issues are examined in our investigations. I hope you take time to read these posts and, in doing so, come away with a greater understanding of the NTSB, our processes, and our people.

It has been my ongoing honor and privilege to serve as a Member of the NTSB over the past seven years, and I’ve been impressed by the diverse professionals who make up the NTSB staff. They work in different modes—rail, highway, pipeline, marine, and aviation—and specialize in engineering, human factors, medicine, safety outreach, and recorders, to name a few, but they all share a common goal: to protect the traveling public through recommendations aimed at improving transportation safety.

The NTSB is made up of approximately 430 dedicated employees who have a wide range of educational backgrounds and relevant experience. Our ranks include MDs, JDs, and Ph.Ds. Among our investigators, we count former members of law enforcement, industry professionals, and technical experts. When we investigate an accident, a multidisciplinary team is selected to fit the needs of the investigation.

Member Weener and investigators at the scene of the July 2013, crash of a de Havilland Otter Air Taxi, in Soldotna, Alaska

I’m often asked how the NTSB—particularly our crash investigation process—works. The NTSB is required by law to investigate every aviation incident in the United States, and our aviation safety staff investigate more than 1,200 aviation events each year. Our investigative process looks at three factors—human, machine, and environment—to determine the probable cause of accidents and incidents. This process has evolved during our 50 years, leveraging the skills, talents, and professionalism of our people, who use the latest investigative techniques and tools to find facts, analyze those facts, and determine why and how an accident happened.

Investigators consider what may have caused or contributed to the events of every accident. They look for issues in areas such as mechanical failures, operations, and weather conditions. They doggedly work to recover all onboard recorders and other sources of data, even when those recorders may be severely damaged. They also consider pilot performance, collecting evidence regarding possible fatigue, medical fitness, prior training opportunities, and specific aircraft experience.

Evidence is gathered through cooperation with pilots, witnesses, law enforcement officials, the FAA, airport officials, industry, and other stakeholders; in extreme cases, our staff can also issue subpoenas to obtain needed evidence. Investigations cannot and do not try to answer every question of why and how, but focus on questions of what caused the accident, or made it worse. Probable cause is the factor—or factors—that, based on all available evidence, the Board concludes most likely resulted in the accident. It generally takes around a year to produce a final report, which includes a probable cause and contributing factors.

Based on our investigations and special studies, we issue safety recommendations to regulatory agencies, industry, and other parties to an investigation who are positioned to implement our suggestions and improve transportation safety. The NTSB isn’t a regulatory agency, so we cannot compel compliance with our recommendations; however, of the more than 14,500 safety recommendations issued in our 50-year history, more than 80 percent are acted upon favorably. This is testimony to the NTSB’s diligence, investigative acumen, and commitment to transportation safety.

Looking back over the years and contemplating the NTSB’s contributions, I am proud to see that transportation safety has, in fact, improved greatly—especially in commercial aviation. We have seen significant improvements in aircraft crashworthiness; the introduction of life-saving technologies, such as collision avoidance and ground proximity warning systems; implementation of safety policies and regulations aimed at preventing pilot impairment, distraction, and fatigue; and emphasis on safety management systems and enhanced flight crew procedures. NTSB investigations identified the need for these advancements and helped incentivize remarkable safety improvements. Modern commercial aviation is safer now than ever before.

I often quote author Douglas Adams, who tells us that people are almost unique in their ability to learn from others, but remarkable for their resistance to doing just that. You may have heard the old saying, “knowledge is power.” We believe “knowledge is safety.” I hope you take a moment to learn about the NTSB’s investigative process in the next several blog posts, and that you come away with a greater understanding of how we at the NTSB strive to turn our knowledge into safer transportation.

ADAS Must be Implemented in CMVs Now

By Rob Molloy, PhD

On July 24, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a roundtable discussion that addressed strategies to increase implementation of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) —or collision avoidance systems—in the trucking industry. Many of the truck crashes we have investigated may have been mitigated or even completely prevented if the vehicles involved were equipped with ADAS. Considering that these technologies have been available in some shape or form since the 1990s, this conversation was long overdue. (See our Special Investigation Report and Most Wanted List fact sheet for more details.)

We joined forces with the National Safety Council to bring together some of the key players in the industry to discuss how we can increase ADAS implementation throughout trucking fleets. The benefits of technologies like collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) are nearly indisputable, as shown in a number of published studies.

Dr. Robert Molloy leads roundtable discussion

Joining us at the table were technology suppliers, truck manufacturers, fleet owners, government officials, researchers, trucking associations, and highway safety advocates. One universally agreed-upon takeaway from this group was that the technology is improved and effective enough now that there is no reason more truck fleets shouldn’t have it in their vehicles. As one roundtable participant noted, “Don’t let what-ifs hold up proliferation of these technologies; this technology is ready to go . . . and the longer we wait, the more crashes will happen.” In response to concerns about occasional false alerts, another noted, “We can’t wait for the technology to be perfect.”

We talked about the current state of industry, driver training and acceptance, the challenges to implementation, the benefits of regulation versus voluntary compliance, and, ultimately, we identified ways to increase implementation.

So, what did we learn?

  • Strong cases exist for accident reduction and positive return-on-investment, and they need to be shared more. For example, Schneider reported a 95-percent reduction in accident severity and a nearly 70-percent reduction in frequency in vehicles with ADAS technology. The legal costs of accidents are tremendous and also serve as an incentive for ADAS adoption. “It only takes one accident to put a small fleet out of business,” one participant noted. We must keep reminding businesses of this.
  • We are talking about driver assistance systems, not driver replacement systems. Driver acceptance and training is key. Drivers must understand what certain alerts mean and the systems’ limitations. Performance standards will be a necessary component for more universally understood systems.
  • Regulations would speed the implementation process and will eventually be needed to reach all fleets and create a level playing field. In the meantime, there is also a model for voluntary compliance that works, such as the passenger vehicle AEB commitment made last year. In fact, at our roundtable, Volvo Trucks reminded us of their announcement to make a suite of ADAS standard on all of its newly manufactured trucks. Although Daimler Trucks hasn’t taken the step to make such systems standard yet, its representatives did note a doubling in the take rate of ADAS technology to 66% in their newly manufactured trucks.
  • Data from these systems can be used to develop better systems, validate their benefits, and understand driver activities. Much work needs to be done regarding the retention and use of this data.
  • ADAS technologies are only as successful as the underlying braking and stability systems with which they are integrated. Brakes must be properly maintained, and the electronic stability control mandate must be implemented.

Although this event was targeted toward truck fleets, the general public should care, too. Why? Because truck crashes, as compared to passenger vehicle crashes, disproportionately result in fatalities. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased by 8 percent, from 3,749 to 4,050, and the number of large trucks involved in injury crashes was 87,000. The traveling public—the ones in the cars in front of, beside, and behind these trucks—should be leading the drum beat to ensure all trucks are equipped with the technology that could stop the vehicle if the driver can’t, or warn a driver if another vehicle suddenly stops or gets into their lane.

As I mentioned, late last year, passenger vehicle automakers committed to installing AEB in all passenger vehicles by 2022—some even earlier, so I challenged the trucking industry to do the same, with the NTSB facilitating the effort. The trucking industry should step up to this challenge now and send a message that this is an industry concerned with safety. From the many conversations that I have had with truck operators and drivers, this is a story I already know is largely true: the truck industry—one so vital to our economy—cares about the safety of its drivers and the overall safety of vehicles on our roads. A commitment toward using available technology in all its operations will drive that point home.

 The recording of the roundtable event is available on YouTube. Also see the NTSB website page for more details on the event.

 Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Preventing Crashes with Technology

By Erik Strickland

I’m a transportation geek. It’s an odd niche, but I’ve decided to own it. I’m also a fan of the latest-and-greatest when it comes to technology. I normally can’t afford to be an early adopter, but I keep an eye on things and jump in when the tech has started to prove itself.

This is how many vehicle manufacturers look at transportation safety technology, as well. They may develop a piece of tech, do tons of tests on it, and then roll it out on limited, trim levels; applying it first only to high-end models. That’s great for that new widget that makes the windshield wipers automatically kick on, but some things, like safety technology, need to be on all vehicles, not just on the high-end models. Last fall, we held a forum to discuss the importance of getting safety tech (like automatic emergency braking and collision avoidance systems) into passenger vehicles. It was a great discussion, and folks were amazed at how many vehicles lack these safety advancements.

But safety technology isn’t just for passenger vehicles; it’s just as important for commercial vehicles, like heavy-duty trucks and semi-tractor trailers. Safety technologies are incorporated into commercial vehicles at a much lower rate than they are in passenger vehicles, yet when heavy-duty vehicles are involved in a crash, the damage is often more severe than what you see in a passenger vehicle crash. What’s more, although many commercial vehicles are being designed and built to accommodate the new safety technology, operators are not requesting the tech or installing it.

Technology doesn’t replace the need for a safe driver, but, just like a seat belt, it acts as a secondary line of defense in case a crash does occur. We believe operators should include new safety tech in their vehicles just as they do seat belts, and we’re not the only ones who think that.

Next week, we’re co-hosting an event with the National Safety Council that will bring together leaders from all related stakeholder groups to discuss technology in heavy-duty trucking and how we can increase adoption rates.

Check out who’s coming to the roundtable and tune in to watch it online. It’s going to be an informative afternoon, and I hope everyone walks away as excited about transportation safety tech as I am, with great ideas on how to use it to make heavy-duty vehicles safer.

 

Erik Strickland is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications

The Best Days of Their Lives

By: Stephanie Shaw

The school year has come to an end and summer vacation is in full swing! For many young people, summer vacation means summer jobs, trips away from home, and late nights with friends. It also means more time behind the wheel. As we embrace the excitement and freedom of summer, it’s also important to recognize that, for teens, it’s the beginning of the “100 Deadliest Days”—the driving season in which crashes involving teens ages 16 to 19 years old increase significantly. Youth drivers are getting behind the wheel with cellphones in hand or drowsy from long, summer nights.

Our Most Wanted List strives to end alcohol and other drug impairment, distraction, and fatigue‑related accidents, and calls for stronger occupant protection; during the 100 Deadliest Days, young drivers are often faced with many of the challenges included on the Most Wanted List, which makes the collaboration between the NTSB and youth‑serving organizations so vital.

It is imperative to engage in conversations with the young people who travel our roadways and discuss unsafe driving behaviors that could potentially impact their travels. Peer-to-peer programs have the power to influence meaningful change; youth are more likely to listen to and follow the example of their peers. We use our expertise in traffic safety and safety advocacy to enhance youth leaders’ traffic safety knowledge and support the work of peer-to-peer organizations dedicated to keeping youth safe on the roads. For example, we recently attended the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) National Conference and the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) National Leadership Conference to inform young people about common driving dangers and discuss safe driving behaviors.

At the SADD Conference, youth leaders from across the United States gained valuable knowledge about safety advocacy and effective techniques for influencing policy in schools, communities, and states. At the FCCLA Conference, over 150 young leaders and advisors filled our session on drowsy driving, eager to gain a comprehensive understanding of sleep and drowsy driving. At both conferences, youth and advisors talked with us and shared what they were doing in their communities and schools to prevent their peers from making decisions that could end their lives. Many who

FCCLA students and advisors attend the Wake Up! 2 Drowsy Driving session at the 2017 National Leadership Conference

spoke with us were simply inspired to help others and to make a difference, but others’ concerns were much more personal. Countless youth stopped by and shared stories of the tragedies that led them to take action—classmates, friends, sisters, fathers who had been killed in drowsy, impaired, and distracted driving crashes. Friends killed and permanently injured because they weren’t wearing their seat belts when they were involved in a crash. Mothers sharing stories of their children killed in crashes so that no other family would have to experience the same loss.

One of the most effective methods for creating positive change in young peoples’ lives is to empower them to address the safety issues facing their schools, communities, and states. SADD and the FCCLA provide youth with the leadership skills, safety knowledge, and programming to collaborate with their peers and influence safe driving behaviors for future generations. To make our roads safer and reduce traffic fatalities, youth must use their voices to speak up, advocate for causes they care deeply about,

Students work together to develop advocacy campaigns during the Developing Future Safety Advocates workshop at the 2017 SADD National Conference

and create change in their peers’ lives by setting a positive example. The knowledge gained from experiences like the SADD Conference and the FCCLA Conference allows youth to identify and advocate for the solutions that will prevent teen deaths.

As youth entered the opening session of the SADD Conference, they were greeted by the song lyrics “This is gonna be the best day of my life.” For far too many youth, their lives will be cut short because of a crash during these 100 Deadliest Days. This summer, we encourage you to talk with the young people in your life to ensure that the best days of their life don’t end this summer.

Stephanie Shaw is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications