In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, we talk with Nicholas Worrell, Chief of Safety Advocacy and Chris O’Neil, Chief of Media Relations, in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications, about the NTSB Most Wanted List.
Earlier this week we announced our 2019–2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. The Most Wanted List (MWL) was developed from safety recommendations that we’ve issued but that haven’t been acted on acceptably.
In 2017, the last year for which we have complete numbers, 38,958 people died in transportation accidents and incidents in the United States—that’s 107 per day (or, about the capacity of the room in the National Press Building where we unveiled the MWL). These losses are unacceptable and, most often, completely preventable.
At the MWL unveiling, we shared the lessons we’ve learned from far too many transportation tragedies, and we reemphasized the actions that should be taken on the related recommendations we’ve made to prevent similar accidents and crashes. The 2019–2020 MWL promotes several specific safety recommendations that can—and should—be implemented during the next 2 years. It also features broad, longstanding safety issues that continue to threaten the traveling public.
Distractions come in all forms, and anything that takes a driver’s or operator’s attention away from the task at hand is potentially dangerous. Personal electronic devices are now commonplace, and distractions from these devices are a growing problem that must be curbed.
Each year, more than 10,000 people die in highway crashes related to alcohol impairment. This does not account for highway deaths due to impairment by drugs other than alcohol. As the face of impairment continues to change, we must keep up with new developments while continuing to fight against an old nemesis—drinking and driving.
Our investigations have shown that moving ethanol by rail and crude oil by pipeline can be unnecessarily hazardous. These essential commodities must be conveyed in a manner that ensures the safety of those who are transporting it as well as those in the communities it passes through.
One year ago today, NTSB investigators were on scene in Cayce, South Carolina, investigating a collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train. Like the 149 other rail accidents we have investigated over the years, this accident was preventable with positive train control (PTC).
PTC has been mandated by Congress, but there has been delay after delay in fully implementing the life-saving technology. Each day that we go without PTC, we risk another PTC‑preventable accident.
Speed kills. It contributes to more than 10,000 deaths each year on our nation’s roadways. It’s a factor in nearly one-third of all highway crash deaths—about the same proportion as alcohol.
Yet, there is little stigma to speeding, and we underuse speeding enforcement tools. If we are to reduce speeding-related crashes, we must combine education, enforcement, and technology together in a comprehensive strategy.
“Part 135” aircraft flight operations include services such as medical flights and on-demand charter flights. Although many Part 135 flights operate with very high levels of safety, our accident investigations have highlighted that Part 135 operations aren’t required to meet some of the stringent safety regulations that are required for scheduled air carriers operating under Part 121 (such as scheduled airline flights). Our recommendations in this area seek to provide Part 135 passengers more of the safety benefits Part 121 passengers enjoy.
Collision avoidance systems can prevent and mitigate the severity of crashes. In fact, collision avoidance systems could potentially save more than 1,000 lives each year that would otherwise be lost in rear-end collisions.
We support the broader adoption of collision avoidance systems, including their inclusion as standard equipment in all newly manufactured vehicles.
It is estimated that fatigue played a role in 90,000 highway crashes in 2015. But this problem goes beyond highway transportation; we have investigated accidents in all transportation modes that involve fatigue. We have 42 outstanding safety recommendations related to this widespread and life-threatening issue.
We have repeatedly investigated fatal accidents in which a transportation operator was fatigued due to undiagnosed or improperly treated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and we have repeatedly called for OSA screening. The Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration initiated rulemaking to require such screening, but rescinded it in August 2017.
This inaction is unacceptable. Until we have robust requirements for OSA screening and treatment for operators, people will continue to die.
Our investigations have shown that occupant protection systems must be improved to protect passengers in an accident or crash. In school buses, for example, compartmentalization alone isn’t enough to protect passengers in rollover crashes. In severe side-impact crashes and high-speed rollovers, three-point restraints provide additional protection. We believe all new school buses should be equipped with lap/shoulder belts. Motorcoach occupants will benefit from window glazing and improved roof strength, and greater crashworthiness standards are needed for passenger rail cars, as well.
Our Most Wanted List is data-driven, based on the results of our investigations of tragic, senseless, and often preventable deaths. Our recommendations, if acted upon, will result in safer transportation and save countless lives.
We’ve issued a call to action. Although any member of our five-person Board can speak on these issues and testify by invitation to legislatures and to Congress, we have no power of our own to act. We are counting on industry, advocates, the safety community, and government regulators to implement these recommendations, and quickly. We are counting on you!
In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @NTSB, we talk with Kenny Bragg and Rafael Marshall, Senior Human Performance Investigators, in the NTSB Office of Highway, about the collision of a pickup truck and medium-size bus, on March 29, 2017, near Concan, Texas. Kenny and Rafael talk about the circumstances of the crash, the probable cause, and the safety recommendations issued to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
Let’s face it: the NTSB isn’t an agency that often has good news to report. As an accident investigation agency, we deal with the hard facts regarding terrible shortcomings in our nation’s transportation system. This week, however, I’m pleased to report some good news.
On Wednesday, the Partnership for Public Service released its annual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” rankings. The overall rankings are determined by the Best Places to Work employee engagement score, which is calculated using a proprietary formula that looks at responses to the US Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. For the third straight year, NTSB ranked among the top 10 small agencies in the Partnership’s Best Places to Work in Federal Government rankings. We maintained our 2017 rank of number 6 out of 29 small agencies (in 2017, 28 small agencies were assessed). I take great pride in working with the fine men and women of the NTSB who allow this agency to be such a great place to work. That said, our goal is to be even better, and our leadership team is committed to making that happen.
The second piece of good news revolves around a very special recognition for one of our senior leaders. Last evening, NTSB Chief Financial Officer Edward Benthall, Jr, received the prestigious Presidential Rank Award (PRA). Two categories of rank awards are available: “Distinguished,” for leaders who achieved sustained extraordinary accomplishments, and “Meritorious,” for leaders who have achieved sustained accomplishments. Ed joins a list of only 45 other 2018 Distinguished PRA recipients.
Bestowed by the President of the United States, the PRA is one of the highest awards conferred to Career Senior Executive Service (SES), Senior-Level (SL), and Scientific-Professionals (SP) within the federal government. The review process is extensive, and candidates are vetted with a federal background investigation. Names of the finalist are sent to the White House for final selection.
Ed was recognized for his work to safeguard the NTSB’s financial status and stellar reputation. He and his team have worked tirelessly to ensure that, for the 16th consecutive year, the NTSB received a clean (unmodified) financial audit opinion from outside auditors. When I announced to NTSB employees last week that Ed would receive the PRA this year, Ed brought his team front and center to acknowledge their contributions.
What’s amazing to me is that this is the fourth consecutive year that the NTSB has had a Distinguished PRA recipient. Considering that the Distinguished PRA is only bestowed to fewer than 50 employees government-wide each year, and considering that we have only about 20 SES, SL, and SP employees, this record speaks volumes for the fine caliber and dedication of our employees. With leaders like this, it’s no wonder the NTSB is one of the best places to work in the federal government.
In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @ NTSB, we have a conversation with Board Member Jennifer Homendy. Member Homendy shares with us her passion for transportation safety, her past work to improve rail, pipeline, and hazardous materials safety and the path she has taken to become an NTSB Board Member.
Every year, I hear that the holiday season has gotten too long—that holiday music, commercials, and sales begin too early. Traditionally, the season starts on Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November.
I think the season should actually start even earlier this year—on the third Sunday in November, World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Why? Because to truly give thanks for what we have, we have to imagine losing it. Around the world, about 1.3 million people lose their lives in automobile crashes every year; 20 to 50 million more survive a crash with injuries, many of which are life-altering. Here in the United States, annual traffic deaths number around 37,000—more than 100 a day—and a motor vehicle crash is the single most likely way for a teen to die.
If you’ve lost somebody to a crash, you probably need no special reminder. Your loved one will be missed at the holiday dinner table, on the way to the home of a friend or out-of-town relative, and throughout the holidays. But for the rest of us, the Day of Remembrance is a time to think of those needlessly lost on our roads.
I encourage us all to go beyond remembering those lost in highway crashes, to thinking of victims of transportation accidents in all modes who won’t be joining family and friends this holiday season. Before we give thanks next Thursday, let’s take a moment to remember those who have been lost, and then take steps to make our own holiday travel safer.
Fatigue, impairment by alcohol and other drugs, and distraction continue to play major roles in highway crashes. Here’s what you can do to keep yourself and those around you safe on the road.
If your holiday celebrations involve alcohol, ask a friend or family member to be your designated driver, or call a taxi or ridesharing service.
In a crash, seat belts (and proper child restraints) are your best protection. Always make sure that you and all of your passengers are buckled up or buckled in!
Make sure you’re well rested! A fatigued driver is just as dangerous as one impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
Avoid distractions. In this video, survivor-advocates share their stories of personal loss—and the changes they’re working for now.
Don’t take or make calls while driving, even using a hands-free device. Set your navigation system before you start driving. If you’re traveling with others, ask them to navigate.
By Bus or Train
We’ve made recommendations to regulators and industry to improve passenger rail and motorcoach operations and vehicle crashworthiness, but travelers should know what to do in an emergency.
Pay attention to safety briefings and know where the nearest emergency exit is. If it’s a window or roof hatch, make sure you know how to use it.
If you’re unsure of where the exits are or how to use them, or if you didn’t receive a safety briefing, ask your driver or train conductor to brief you.
Always use restraints when they’re available!
By Air or Sea
Airline and water travel have become incredibly safe, but these tips can help keep you and your loved ones safe in an emergency.
When flying, make sure that you and your traveling companions have your own seats—even children under age 2.
Don’t forget your child’s car seat. The label will usually tell you whether your child car seat is certified for airplane use; the owner’s manual always has this information.
If you don’t know the rules for using a child’s car seat on your flight, call the airline and ask what you need to know.
Pay close attention to the safety briefing! Airline and marine accidents have become very rare, but you and your family can be safer by being prepared.
Whether you’re on an airplane or a boat, know where to find the nearest flotation device.
This holiday season, no matter how you plan to get where you’re going, remember that, for many, this time of year is a time of loss. Honor survivors and remember traffic crash victims by doing your best to make sure you—and those around you—make only happy memories on your holiday travels.