Helping Consumers Understand Collision Avoidance Technologies

By Member Earl F. Weener, PhD

Panelists at , Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

On October 27, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Safety Council (NSC) hosted an expert panel discussion, Reaching Zero Crashes: A Dialogue on the Role of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

NTSB and NSC came together to educate drivers about the benefits and capabilities of currently available collision avoidance technologies (or “advanced driver assistance systems”), which can prevent many common types of crashes. This issue appeared on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List in 2016 and remains on the 2017–2018 list because increasing the implementation of these technologies is a priority for us.

Crash avoidance technologies have improved and become widely available, and automakers have worked hard to get that message to potential buyers. As a result, consumers have been increasingly bombarded with a variety of safety technology-focused marketing campaigns. Our joint panel looked at ways to help consumers understand the functionality, benefits, and limitations of these technologies.

The full-day event featured presentations from policymakers, auto manufacturers, researchers, media and trade press writers/reviewers, industry associations, and safety advocates. The discussions covered technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning—to name a few—and what they mean for safety. We also focused on how we could all work together to better promote these technologies to consumers. By the end of the day, we could all agree that these technologies save lives, and more must be done to incorporate them into every vehicle and educate consumers about them.

Deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes increased by 7.2 percent in 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this is the highest increase in 50 years. This is a move in the wrong direction and is potentially the beginning of a very troubling trend. We believe that crash avoidance technologies could have prevented many of these deaths and that advanced driver assistance systems can play a significant role in saving lives.

Over the past 20 years, we have advocated for the use of driver assistance safety technologies and have issued 14 recommendations on collision avoidance technologies to date. We believe that, like seatbelts before them, these next-generation technologies will move vehicle safety forward, helping safeguard drivers and passengers.

When considering these safety-improving systems in your vehicle, it’s important to remember that they do have limitations. In other words, they are driver assisting, not driver replacement, systems. We have not yet reached a stage of autonomous—or driverless—vehicles, so drivers are, and must remain, in full control. These technologies are designed to work with a driver who is sober, well-rested, and fully engaged with his or her vehicle.

Reaching Zero Crashes was part of our effort to inform the public of the important aspects of collision avoidance technology. By bringing together interested safety advocates, we moved the dialogue forward and discovered new ways of promoting the technology.

I was impressed by the variety of related consumer education campaigns underway. For example, the AARP announced it would expand its Smart DriverTEK, a new and innovative vehicle technology education program specifically for seniors, developed jointly with The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. With the goal of encouraging adoption, the program uses in-classroom workshops and pop-up events to educate drivers on current and evolving vehicle technologies and how to use them.

In 2015, the NTSB urged NHTSA to expand its New Car Assessment Program 5-star rating system to include a scale that rates the performance of forward collision avoidance systems. At our event, I heard how NHTSA will, in fact, review some of these safety technologies as part of its 5-star safety rating program. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who also participated in the event, this week announced it would also be reviewing and rating vehicles for a TOP Safety Pick+ if they had good headlight systems and autobraking, among other factors. These are all promising developments for consumers.

Representatives of the media and trade press from such publications as Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, and US News and World Report discussed how seriously they take their jobs to provide consumers critical information about these technologies before buyers arrive at the dealership. Representatives from these outlets were testing, reviewing, and writing features for new buyers—and planned to do more in 2017.

Advocacy groups, academia, industry, media, the NSC, and the NTSB can—and must—take the message to consumers and lawmakers about how these technologies work and why they are beneficial. At our event, the NSC discussed its “My Car Does What” education program, a terrific online tool designed for all age groups that provides an overview of available technologies and how they work. Dealer groups, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, have committed to using these tools to educate dealers and consumers as they sell or buy vehicles with these features. Dealers will play a significant role in promoting these technologies.

Vehicle safety technology has come a long way over the past few decades, and these advances provide an opportunity to significantly reduce the unacceptable number of injury and fatality crashes each year.

If you were not able to join us for the event, I encourage you to watch it via our recorded webcast to learn more about these technologies. You can also find the complete event transcript on our webpage.

The Safest Generation?

On Monday, November 14, we unveiled the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 2017–2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements, our “road map from lessons learned to lives saved.” We know that these vital safety improvements will need continuing, concerted effort among industry, government, and the public; possibly for years to come. So, on the morning of the announcement, we arranged to talk with students from the American Studies Program (ASP) about how the NTSB communicates and advocates for these top 10 transportation safety issues.

ASP offers college students from across the country the opportunity to study and intern in Washington, DC, for a semester. The students serve as interns in various institutions, from congressional offices and federal agencies to think tanks and nonprofit agencies. Today, they are the best and brightest young millennials interested in public policy; tomorrow, some of them might be making public policy.

Giving the ASP interns a sneak peak of what went into unveiling the Most Wanted List offered them a case study in communications. NTSB Chief of Media Relations Chris O’Neil explained that many communication and advocacy efforts fail because they fail to define what success looks like. He stressed that not all goals require the same tactics, and that different organizations and groups envision communication success very differently.

“The Most Wanted List is a key part of our implementation phase, but implementation isn’t enough by itself,” said O’Neil. “You need to do your homework and come up with a plan.”

Board Member Robert Sumwalt continued the theme of making plans and setting goals, but also gave his view of leadership. Member Sumwalt explained to the interns that, when he was their age, his dream was to become an NTSB Board Member. Recounting the story of how his dream eventually came to pass, Member Sumwalt urged students to persevere and to think big. Turning to the topic of leadership, Sumwalt told them what they should look for, and what they should one day embody.

“Good leaders create a vision and truly live by those values,” Member Sumwalt said. “Good leaders are ‘servant leaders’ who care, support, and nurture those who work for them. Good leaders are willing to make the tough decisions that are not always popular.”

Finally, the students heard from Advocacy Chief Nicholas Worrell, who was an ASP student in 1994. Worrell interned at the NTSB, beginning a (thus far) 22-year journey with the organization. He explained to the students that knowing how to organize a campaign is key to public policy. He encouraged the students to set goals and make strategic plans for themselves, treating their own career paths as they would a successful advocacy campaign.

“All of you guys came here to DC with potential,” he said. “Success boils down to 10 percent performance, 30 percent image, 60 percent exposure. The more exposure you get, the better your chances will be in life.” Worrell closed by inviting the students to the 2017­–2018 Most Wanted List press event that afternoon, and many took him up on the offer, including Derek Ross, a communications major from Simpson University in California. “I felt that the NTSB did a great job in portraying their message and promoting the safety and well-being of others,” Ross said. “The quality of work produced by the NTSB showed a great deal of thoughtfulness and dedication, with the health and safety of all Americans in mind.”

Because we develop our Most Wanted List from specific lessons learned in accidents, it would be very difficult to add a safety improvement such as “reach out to future generations of leaders.” However, we are keenly aware that transportation safety not only disproportionately affects the young, but that future progress depends on today’s young adults, who will be tomorrow’s safety leaders.

NTSB Takes Safety Message to North Carolina’s Catawba County Youth

By Nicholas Worrell

Photo of Nicholas Worrell and students at NCNAACPWhen I asked the audience at the Catawba County Branch of the North Carolina NAACP in Maiden if they could identify the leading cause of death in teens, they replied with silence.

After waiting in vain for an answer, I told them. “Motor vehicle crashes,” I said, and explained that teens are 1.6 times more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes than adults.

NTSB Safety Advocate Stephanie Shaw and I were invited to this November 13 meeting by the chapter’s youth director, Lacolia Mungro, whose experiences driving an 18wheeler have encouraged her to spread the message about the risks of distracted driving.

I told the audience that 35,092 people died on US roadways in 2015, which is more than 10 times the population of Maiden. That number is on track to be even higher this year, which has prompted the NTSB to include issues like distracted driving, impaired driving, and fatigue on our 2017–2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. We emphasize outreach to teens because that demographic, overrepresented in highway crashes, has more to lose than older drivers, considering the years of life ahead of them and the milestones they have yet to experience, like graduation, job success, marriage, and raising children. Missing out on those life experiences is a stiff price to pay because of one bad choice made early in life.

We also seek out opportunities to speak to teens because they represent tomorrow’s road safety culture. It’s essential to instill safe driving practices in teens who have not yet accumulated a lifetime of unsafe driving habits.

In 2014, 40,650 crashes in North Carolina involved teenagers; 95 were killed and 10,491 were injured. As I told the group in Maiden, a properly worn seat belt is the greatest protection against injury and death in a vehicle accident. Of those 95 teens killed in 2014, 33 were not wearing seat belts.

“No call, no text, no update is worth a human life,” I told the audience. Then I encouraged them to join our advocacy efforts by buckling up and turning off their phones or putting them out of reach, because no one should have to miss out on life because of one bad decision made in youth.

Nicholas Worrell is the Chief of NTSB’s Safety Advocacy division

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List…and You

By Chairman Christopher A. Hart

mwlNext year, the NTSB will mark its 50th year of working to improve transportation safety, and there is no doubt that over those 50 years, transportation safety has improved. Unfortunately, however,  last year marked the worst setback in highway fatalities since the NTSB was formed. From 2014-2015, highway deaths increased by 7.2 percent, the worst single-year percentage increase since 1966. Worse still, it is estimated that these deaths increased by 10.4 percent between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2016.

This setback is a tragic reminder that safety is not a destination, but a journey, and our efforts to improve safety must never stop. It takes concerted and continuing efforts by industry, government, and private citizens to save lives.

This morning, the NTSB unveiled its Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements for 2017-2018, our roadmap from lessons learned to lives saved in all modes of transportation. In no particular order, this list is as follows:

Actions in these issue areas by government and industry can make transportation safer for all of us. But, as an individual, you do not have to wait for government or industry to act.

In many cases, you can take action now to make your own transportation safer. For example, you can and should commit to driving free of distractions, with enough rest, and without being impaired by alcohol or other drugs. You can also commit to protecting the passengers in your car – by using and requiring them to use the appropriate restraints. If you ride a motorcycle, you can commit to wearing a helmet that protects your face and head. Your own personal responsibility can also help you be safer in an airplane or any other mode of transportation.

Read through these issue areas and consider the actions that you (and your friends and family) can take.

Then join us, and spread the word because any person that you reach could potentially be a life that you save.

For more information on the 2017-2018 NTSB Most Wanted List visit

What if a Trucker Just Breaks the Rules?

By Dr. Robert Molloy

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) often responds to crashes in all modes of transportation with recommendations to regulators to ensure that vehicle operators are not fatigued or impaired. In commercial trucking, for example, we have made many recommendations to prevent fatigued truckers from getting behind the wheel. There are also long-established rules about the use of impairing drugs by commercial truck drivers.

But what if a trucker just breaks the rules?

Reduce Fatugie-related Accidents Most Wanted List posterOn October 4, the NTSB met to discuss a tragic crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which a tractor-trailer ran into a line of slow-moving cars at a speed of at least 78 miles per hour. This began a chain-reaction crash that killed six people and injured four others. The driver in this accident chose not to follow the hours-of-service rules and get appropriate rest before he began his trip. He also chose to use methamphetamine before getting behind the wheel. As a result, the driver was impaired by both drugs and fatigue as he approached a clearly visible work zone with slowed and stopped traffic. He deliberately ignored the rules that had been in place to prevent this very tragedy.

In such a case, what is there to learn about safety? What can be done to improve safety when a truck driver just decides to break the rules?

This question illuminates the value of a safety investigation that does not determine blame or fault, and does not conduct criminal or disciplinary proceedings. Rather, the NTSB’s sole mandate is safety. This means that we not only recommend better rules for truck drivers, but we also continue to look for ways to prevent future tragic crashes, even when a driver simply breaks the rules.

One way to prevent another crash like the one in Chattanooga is to keep such dangerous drivers away from commercial trucking. In the Chattanooga crash, we found that the driver’s employer could have used a pre-employment hair drug test to discover the driver’s history of drug use before he was hired. We also found that the state of Kentucky had a list of citations and previous collisions associated with the driver’s 5-year driving record, but his employer had only consulted the driver’s 3-year driving record in the hiring process.

In this case, we did make recommendations to the regulator, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), not to adopt new rules for truck drivers, but to help keep dangerous drivers that break the rules out of commercial trucking. We asked the FMCSA to disseminate information to carriers about hair drug testing. We also asked the FMCSA to specify that an employer must consider any evidence in a driver’s crash record that the driver had violated laws governing motor vehicle operation. We asked that the FMCSA evaluate motor carrier use of and perspectives on their Pre-employment Screening Program, and to collect and publish best practices for pre-employment investigations and inquiries.

In addition, we recommended that the states of Kentucky and Idaho include driver status, license expiration, driving restrictions, violations, and crashes in their 3-year driver records.

In the case of a tragic crash like the one that happened in Chattanooga, it is for other appropriate authorities to pursue punishment. Our findings and recommendations reflect our mission to improve safety.

NTSB 2016 Most Wanted List issue image for End Substance Impairment in Transportation, image collage of drugs, alcohol, vehicles and dead end signOur Most Wanted List of safety improvements includes ending impairment in transportation and reducing fatigue-related accidents. One way to make progress toward these goals is to ensure that truck drivers with a demonstrable pattern of unsafe behavior are filtered out of the transportation system before their behavior results in tragedy.

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

Making A Difference

By Nicholas Worrell

Group picture of teens and safety advocates at the NTSB Training CenterAmericans take an average of four car trips every day—that’s more than 1,400 per year. It’s no wonder that the chance of dying while inside a moving vehicle is about 1 in 6,700. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in teenagers, and second leading cause of death in all other populations. Without a doubt, driving is risky business.

Reducing that risk was the focus of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) Open House and Transportation Education Day held at the agency’s training center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Friday, October 14th. The event brought together local law enforcement, federal officials, safety advocacy groups, and dozens of high school students from Virginia for a day of hands-on learning and activities designed to promote safe driving habits and educate the next generation of drivers about the consequences of making poor decisions while operating a vehicle. The event was a prelude to National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct 16–22), the annual week-long initiative created by Congress 10 years ago.

Friday’s event, organized in conjunction with the advocacy group DRIVE SMART Virginia, featured a teen-driving panel discussion that included speeches, presentations, and firsthand accounts from crash victims, NTSB investigators, and advocates. One of those who spoke was Brad Hughes, a Virginia police officer who was hit by a pickup truck driven by a districted driver. Hughes had been helping a fellow officer on the side of the highway during an ice storm in March 2014 when he was struck. As a result of the crash, Hughes lost both of his legs. “The man who hit me got a suspended sentence and only served 5 days in jail,” Hughes said. “I got a life sentence.”

More than 150 students at the event also took part in real-world distracted driving simulations designed to show just how vulnerable young drivers can be, especially those who are distracted, not wearing a seat belt, fatigued, or impaired in some other way. Teens in attendance had the chance to use a driving simulator to attempt to text and drive at the same time. Law enforcement personnel distributed “impairment goggles” to allow teens to see how different levels of impairment could affect their driving. The teens were also encouraged to spread driving safety messages to their friends. Students were informed that each year, thousands of people die from—and millions more confess to— distracted driving. They were told that, in addition to increased public awareness and tougher laws and enforcement, part of the solution to this problem must be a cultural change—a change that can begin with them.

Beyond that, parents also need to be a part of the cultural change. A survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that only a quarter of all parents have had a serious talk with their kids about the key components of driving. However, teaching children how to drive safely shouldn’t stop when they receive a license or learn how to change a flat tire. Parents should continue to talk to their teenagers about safe driving and remind them of their responsibility on the road.

The NTSB is committed to saving lives, but we can’t achieve that goal alone; community effort is required to make a difference. So, take the time to talk to your teenagers about driving safely and responsibly—a luxury parents of car crash victims no longer have. Beat the odds of your teen getting in a crash, as so many do within their first year of driving, and let’s keep our young drivers safe.

Please visit our website at for more information, and join our discussion using hashtag #1goodchoice on Twitter.

Nicholas Worrell, is Chief of the NTSB Safety Advocacy Division.

A Wake-Up Call for Employers and Employees

By Jana Price

Poster encouraging drivers to get enough rest and not drive drowsyMy brother is a district sales manager who sells manufacturing supplies to companies across Wisconsin. He spends about 75 percent of his work time in his car, traveling on sales calls throughout the state, often driving 5 hours for a 2-hour sales visit before driving back home. Because he drives a company car, his employer pays for his insurance and gas. When I asked him what types of driving safety training or policies his company has, he told me that the driving safety policy is clear: No texting or hand-held phone use while driving, and always wear seat belts.

“But what about drowsy driving?” I asked him. No policies, no training, even though he spends as much time on the road as many interstate truck drivers.

Drowsy driving is a serious problem. According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one in five fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver. As an accident investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board, I have spent a good part of my career investigating crashes that could have been prevented if drivers made better choices to stay alert, and if employers had proactive strategies to prevent drowsy driving. All of us need sleep, and none of us—even the most experienced drivers—is immune to the consequences of getting behind the wheel while drowsy. In the blink of an eye, your car can drift off the road, risking your life and the lives of those around you.

This week is Drive Safely Work Week, sponsored by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, and one of this year’s central themes is the importance of sleep to ensure that employees stay healthy and safe. To prevent drowsy driving and increase safety, companies can establish fatigue management programs, which can include setting maximum work times and minimum rest hours to ensure that workers have sufficient time for sleep, educating workers about the importance of sleep for health and safety, providing screening and treatment for sleep disorders, and encouraging drivers to report sleep, fatigue, or workload problems.

Even if your company doesn’t have a fatigue management program, there are steps you can take to stay safe and alert while driving. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night; avoid driving during early morning hours when the brain is wired for sleep; get checked for sleep disorders, especially if you are drowsy during waking hours; and if you feel drowsy while driving, get off the road and stay safe.

I am thankful that my brother’s company has paid for hotel rooms the handful of times he felt he was too tired to drive home. But employers and workers can—and must—do more to ensure that drivers are alert and safe for every trip.

Jana Price, PhD, is a Senior Human Performance Investigator in the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

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