Taking Stock: The IRF Caribbean Regional Congress at 10

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

The year 2012 seems not so long ago in some ways, but in other ways, it seems like another age. That was the year of the first International Road Federation (IRF) Caribbean Regional Congress during the UN’s Decade of Action on Road Safety. The group focused that year on halving the yearly toll of 1.25 million road traffic deaths around the world.

Sadly, it has only gotten worse. The annual toll of road violence victims is now up to 1.35 million per year. In a word, we failed to change things, and real people paid the price worldwide. These losses are spread across every region of the world, including the sun-splashed apparent paradise of the Caribbean.

For the loved ones of 1.35 million people a year now, there’s someone they want to call out to or share a joke with, perhaps even someone whose phone number they began to dial before realizing again the eternal disconnect of their loss. For some loved ones, there are weddings or graduations forever relegated to a hypothetical, never-to-be-realized future. Perhaps young children still look for some of those lost before they remember again the intolerable fact of their absence. And of course, some of those lost are young children themselves.

None of these losses are necessary or unavoidable. None is acceptable.

I have participated in most of the ten Caribbean regional congresses, both as a representative of the NTSB and as a Bajan by birth (a native of Barbados.) The 10th IRF Caribbean Regional Congress addressed the twin challenges of road safety and climate-resilient infrastructure. As Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados & Minister of Transport, Works and Water Resources of Barbados Santia O. Bradshaw said in her opening address, “natural hazards can reverse years of development by continuous destruction of infrastructural, economic and social capital.”

A high-level meeting was called for, and last week’s Congress fit the bill.

The Ministerial Session

As IRF Senior Vice Chairman Dr. Bill Sowell said on June 8, “The extraordinary turnout today tells us that momentum for ambitious and coordinated action in the region is growing.” The ministerial session that I mediated that morning reinforced his statement.

During the ministerial session, I helped facilitate a dialogue among the ministers, media, and audience members about the intersecting concerns of development, climate change, and road safety—and these ministers brought their A game. Ninety minutes flew by as they described how responses to today’s challenges can result in lives saved tomorrow, if their nations, and ours, act.

Road Safety Leadership – A Safe System Approach to Zero Road Deaths for the Caribbean

“Leadership,” as James C. Maxwell said, “is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Later that day, I participated on the Safety Leadership panel. I shared with the delegates how the NTSB works to influence the transportation community to take the safe way forward, and I had plenty to share.

Other delegates often touched on the Safe System Approach to preventing traffic injuries and fatalities, and they appreciated that the same approach was embraced by the NTSB, which is lauded internationally as the gold standard of crash investigations and transportation safety studies.

During this leadership session, delegates committed to coming together in a coalition of Caribbean nations and territories to meet quarterly instead of annually.

A Challenging Farewell

On Friday, June 10, I delivered capnote remarks to the final plenary session to help close out the regional Congress. I recounted what author Jim Rohn calls “the law of diminishing intent” – the principle that the longer you wait to take action, the less likely you are to take action.

I touched on the five pillars of the Safe System Approach, and the connectedness we all share to the lives that we will save. I touched on resilience in the face of the pandemic and of climate change, and I talked about the urgency I feel to take intentional, immediate action. But the audience hardly needed my encouragement!

By the end of the IRF’s 10th Caribbean Regional Congress, commitments had been made to take the following steps:

  • Ministers have agreed to form a coalition that will meet quarterly for continued discussions around road safety in the region.
  • Ministers promised to collaborate on financial endeavors for road safety projects in the region (one of the biggest concerns in the region).
  • The IRF committed to finding support for the region.
  • Delegates agreed to place a greater commitment on data sharing.
  • Leaders and delegates committed to intentional efforts around road safety by acting now and showing results next year.

After 10 years, this Congress—like the global road safety community, and the safety community here in the United States—is ready for some wins. It will take a sustained effort to achieve success, and a change of safety culture among all of us. But it can be done.

I thank my hosts at last week’s 10th IRF Caribbean Regional Congress for the opportunity to see this awareness taking hold throughout the Caribbean region.

Episode 48: James Anderson

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @ NTSB, we have a conversation with James Anderson, the Audio Visual Communication Specialist in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications and the Producer of the NTSB podcast. James shares how he got interested in audio and video production, his career path to the NTSB, and some notable projects he’s worked on at the agency.

You can view the video James produced about the NTSB investigation of the Sinking of US cargo Vessel El Faro, on our YouTube channel.

To learn more about the work of the NTSB visit our YouTube channel.

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

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

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.

A Call to Action from Kennedy

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

This week, I visited NASA, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Space-X at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. KSC has been a leader in space exploration for over 50 years. The Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs took off from there, as did the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Rover project, and New Horizons, the first spacecraft to visit Pluto.

To visit Launch Complex 39A and stand where the Apollo and Space Shuttle astronauts once stood before they launched into space was humbling, and as I watched Space-X’s Transporter-5 launch and land from the balcony of Operation Support Building 2 and the return of Boeing’s Starliner Spacecraft virtually, I was reminded of how important it is that we learn from the past as we advance into our future.

Exactly sixty-one years earlier, to the day, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a truly ambitious goal: landing a man on the Moon. Not just landing a man on the Moon but returning him safely to Earth. He called for national leadership and implored Congress and the country to take a firm and sustained commitment to a new course of action, “a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.” And he demanded that the whole of government, working together as one, dedicate themselves to jumpstarting a future he knew was in the best interests of our country.

The vision that President Kennedy laid out 61 years ago continues to shape our nation and the world. Today, NASA is developing its deep space rocket, the most powerful rocket it has ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS), while commercial space companies transport cargo for the federal government and private businesses to space as well as to the International Space Station (ISS). These companies have also begun transporting passengers.

Commercial spaceflight is a rapidly evolving industry and shows tremendous promise. Over the last decade, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-licensed commercial launches and re-entries have grown tremendously, from 1 licensed launch and 0 licensed re-entries in 2011 to 54 licensed launches and 6 licensed re-entries in 2021. The federal government needs to be prepared for these exciting technological advances. For NTSB, that means ensuring we remain ready if an accident occurs. If the past has taught us anything, it’s not a matter of “if” an accident will occur, it’s a matter of when.

The NTSB has investigated accidents involving space vehicles for over 30 years. In 1986, we participated in the investigation in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster; in 1993, we investigated the Orbital Sciences Pegasus accident; we again participated when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry and 7 astronauts died, in 2003; and in 2004, we assisted NASA with the Genesis Sample-Return Capsule crash investigation. More recently, in 2014, we investigated the in-flight explosion of SpaceShip Two.

All this is to say, we aren’t new to commercial space. The fact is NTSB is world renowned for its reputation as the “gold standard” for thorough, fact-based, independent investigations of accidents in all modes of transportation, whether those accidents occur on our roads, railways, waterways, or in our skies. We have been at the forefront of safety and the advancement of new technologies and new ways of moving people and goods for decades. We’re used to new challenges, and we’re ready for them.

The key to our success is our independence. That independence is what sets us apart. We aren’t tasked with exploring space; that’s NASA’s mission. We aren’t tasked with promoting, licensing, or regulating the safety of the commercial space industry; that’s the job of the FAA. Our entire mission is focused on determining what happened when a tragedy occurs, why it happened, and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing it from happening again. In other words, our one and only goal is to save lives and prevent the reoccurrence of terrible tragedies.

These past few months, I’ve spent time with our safety partners at FAA and NASA in hopes of ensuring we’re all prepared should tragedy occur. I’ve done this because I believe that the disparate arms of the federal government must work together to ensure the safety and success of this burgeoning industry. The commercial space industry is American innovation at its finest. As a government, we don’t want to get in the way of awe-inspiring technological innovations we once thought unimaginable, but we want to provide guardrails and cooperation, guidance and protection of the public, and we all need to work together as one to make that happen.

Sixty-one years ago, President Kennedy called on us to work together for the best interests of our country. The need for all of us to work together resonates as much today. I call on our safety partners at NASA, at FAA, at the Departments of Commerce and Defense to work with us and the stakeholders who I visited this week, among others, to ensure that safety remains a top priority alongside commercial space innovation.

The Official Blog of the NTSB

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