Saving Lives: Helping More Teens Drive Safely

By Robert Sumwalt

This week is National Teen Driver Safety Week — and of all the lifesaving weeks in the year — this is one that can make a real big difference. Traffic accidents account for 36 percent of all deaths among 15 to 20 year olds. In fact, car crashes kill more young people every year than suicide, drugs, violence, and alcohol – combined. This is why the NTSB placed Teen Driver Safety on its Most Wanted List.

Teen Driver Safety is one of the NTSB’s highest national advocacy priorities, and an area in which we see far too many states moving far too slowly.

This week, I had a wonderful opportunity to address the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) National Teen Distracted Driving Summit. I applaud NOYS for its aggressive stands on underage drinking and driving, seat belt use, and Graduated Driver Licensing.

As I said in my remarks at the National Teen Distracted Driving Summit, it is in the area of Graduated Driver Licensing where NOYS can make an enormous, and immediate, impact. You don’t have to wait on your state legislatures to change their laws on GDLs, or underage drinking and driving. You can reach out to your peers directly and educate them on the right behaviors, the safest behaviors. It’s that personal, one-on-one interaction that can effect meaningful change.

To help you — as a teen, a parent, or a friend or neighbor — to take action to improve teen driving safety, here’s a first step. Watch this riveting video that NOYS showed at the summit on the importance of teen driving safety. You can bet that I am going to make sure my 17-year-old watches it, too.


Member Robert Sumwalt Robert L. Sumwalt has been a Member of the NTSB since 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the blog.

Know the School Bus Danger Zone

By Deborah Hersman

 The winning poster in the National Association of Pupil Transportation’s (NAPT) annual safety poster contest

The theme of this year’s National School Bus Safety Week (October 17 – 21) is “Be Aware — Know the Danger Zone.” Pictured is the winning poster in the National Association of Pupil Transportation’s (NAPT) annual safety poster contest. You probably know the danger zone is the area around the bus where students can get hit by passing vehicles and from vehicles on the shoulder of the road. Yet, thanks in large part to school bus community’s outstanding safety outreach, including poster contests and national safety week, traveling on the big yellow bus is the safest way for our students to get to school.

Next week, I am speaking at NAPT’s Annual Summit. I look forward to congratulating the many professionals in the pupil transportation community for their outstanding work to produce an unequalled safety record. School bus accidents are rare. And, when they do happen, because of the school bus community’s commitment to safety, they seldom result in fatalities or serious injuries to bus occupants.

It is up to everyone on the road to follow traffic laws and safe practices when approaching school buses. So, the next time you see a big yellow bus, be aware and know the danger zone.

V2V – Communicating Vehicle to Vehicle

By Deborah Hersman

This week, I was in Orlando, Florida, for the ITS World Congress. ITS stands for Intelligent Transportation Systems, which, in short, means using technology to improve transportation safety and efficiency. Before I spoke at a session about using technology to improve safety for aging drivers, I had the opportunity to see a demonstration of the Department of Transportation’s Safety Pilot program.

Safety Pilot  involves testing connected vehicle technologies to determine their effectiveness in reducing crashes. Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) or “Connected vehicles” enables vehicles to “talk” to each other. For example, I rode in a Mercedes Benz and then a Ford with Gregory Winfree, Acting Administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, at the ITS demonstration. These were just two of the many cars from eight different manufacturers that were equipped with V2V technologies at the testing site. During my test ride, I experienced vehicles that assisted the driver with blind spot detection and other warnings to prevent collisions through aural, visual or haptic alerts.

These were not self-driving cars, but rather technology assisting the human driver in making decisions. Connected vehicle technology is emerging and holds promise to help improve safety on our roadways. With 33,000 annual fatalities on our roads, this is important technology to pursue.

We need to use all the tools in our toolkit — including putting down our cell phones and listening to alerts — to save lives and prevent needless tragedies. I commend the Department of Transportation’s RITA and all the manufacturers and organizations involved in the pilot for the work they are doing to test and deploy technology to improve safety on the road.

Keeping the Elderly Moving – Safely

By Deborah Hersman

Did you know that older women often give up driving earlier than they should? Or, that older drivers have far fewer accidents than teens? And, that three-fourths of older Americans live in suburban or rural areas where public transportation is limited?

Those are just some of the things we learned at last year’s NTSB forum on Safety, Mobility, and Aging Drivers. We gathered a host of experts from across government, research, and industry to talk about safe mobility for the elderly.

Today, I am speaking on Safety and the Aging Population at the ITS World Congress in Orlando, Florida. I suggest the intelligent transportation community take a two-pronged approach to improve road safety for older drivers: prevention and mitigation.

Using safety technologies, such as electronic stability control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, will especially benefit the elderly. Mitigation is also important since older adults are more likely to be injured or die as a result of a crash because their bodies are fragile.

The ITS community should think about safety improvements with the older driver in mind, because when safety is improved for the elderly it is improved for everyone. That rising tide of safety will make a huge dent in saving lives in the most essential and most fatal form of transportation.

Put the Brakes on Fatalities

By Debbie Hersman

Monday was Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day. It’s a day to be ambitious and work toward zero fatalities on our nation’s roadways — one day at a time. This campaign brings together State, Federal, private industry, and safety advocates from across the country to spread the message on what causes transportation fatalities, especially highway deaths, and how we can avoid them. As in years past, this year’s education efforts focused on driver behavior, vehicle safety, and roadway improvements to reduce traffic deaths across the country.

This campaign is supported by 21 states. Pictured is one of the winners of the 2010 Kansas poster contest. This child’s poster makes a powerful point, especially since traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for toddlers through age 34.

Sadly, many accidents, injuries, and deaths are the result of a tragic choice — the choice not to use a seat belt or to properly restrain a child, the choice to drive distracted, the choice to drive impaired by alcohol or fatigue. This day is an opportunity for everyone to remember that each one of us has a personal responsibility to make safe decisions when we are behind the wheel.

More people die on our roadways than in all other forms of transportation combined. This is why the NTSB placed Addressing Alcohol-Impaired Driving, Teen Driver Safety, Motorcycle Safety, and Addressing Fatigue on our Most Wanted List.

Every day — drive safely and put the brakes on fatalities.

Getting to Zero

By Don Karol

Eliminating deaths on our highways is a winnable battle. Just ask the thousands of transportation safety advocates who work tirelessly to achieve the goal of zero deaths on our highways. This week more than 450 medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, state and local officials, and more met in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) annual meeting.

The meeting included presentations and lively discussions on ways to reduce the nearly 34,000 deaths each year on our nation’s highways. Many focused on motorcycle safety, teen driving, occupant protection, aging drivers, and drunk driving. These are issues the NTSB has been focusing on for years, many of which are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List.

A common theme throughout the meeting was the need for all of us to change the way we approach driving. When behind the wheel, driving should be the focus. All of the distractions we have available today in our cars, buses, and trucks should not divert our attention. Driving can be enjoyable – not because of the many gadgets now available in vehicles – but because we are able to arrive at our intended destination safely without harming others.

The NTSB welcomes the partnerships that it has forged with groups like GHSA. We have seen accidents firsthand and know full well the alarming rate in which highway deaths occur. We also understand the audacious task of working to dramatically improve the safety on our roadways. It is up to the highway community – and everyone who drives – to change the driving culture. And for parents, it is no longer as simple as teaching our children how to drive. They also need to fully understand the responsibility for themselves and others that goes with them when they climb behind the wheel.

One strong message from the meeting is that getting to zero deaths on our nation’s roadways means creating a culture that embraces safe driving behavior as the norm. The NTSB couldn’t agree more and is working to achieve that goal.


Don Karol is Director of the Office of Highway Safety.

Fatigue At the Helm

By John DeLisi

Everyone has gotten up from a night’s rest feeling more tired than the night before.  Often, it is from staying out too late, getting up early, or having something on your mind making it hard to sleep.  Yet, for some, no matter how early they go to bed and how late they get up, they feel tired.  One cause could be obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Today, the five-member Board of the NTSB met to review the report of a marine accident that occurred in Port Arthur, Texas, on Jan. 23, 2010.  While transiting the Sabine-Naches Canal, the oil tankship Eagle Otome collided with a general cargo vessel and was subsequently hit by a barge being pushed by a towboat.  This series of collisions resulted in a leak of an estimated 462,000 gallons of oil into the canal.  One of the issues revealed in the investigation was the first pilot’s untreated OSA.

Unfortunately, this was not the first accident — across all modes of transportation — the NTSB investigated in which OSA was identified as an issue.  In the marine environment, several accidents have highlighted the need for a timely and effective medical program to identify and treat mariners who are at risk for OSA and other sleep disorders.  For example:

The U.S. Coast Guard has been working to develop educational materials about sleep disorders and their diagnosis, but more needs to be done.  At the helm of a several-hundred-thousand-ton oil tanker, cargo ship, or cruise ship is no place for a fatigued pilot.


John DeLisi is Acting Director, Office of Marine Safety

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