Arrive Alive

By Deborah Hersman

World Day of RemembranceAcross the United States families and friends will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. According to AAA, about 38.2 million people, or 90 percent of holiday travelers, plan to drive this Thanksgiving. While we have experienced a decline in traffic fatalities in recent years, more than 30,000 people in the United States and nearly 1.3 million people across the globe perished on the roadways last year.

Today is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Started in 1993 by victim and nongovernmental organizations, this day commemorates those killed or injured in road crashes. In 2005, the United Nations issued a resolution designating the third Sunday in November for this remembrance and asked Member States and the international community to recognize this day. While we remember those that have perished, at the NTSB we recognize that too many unnecessary fatalities occur on our roads.

Please stay safe on roadways during the busy holiday travel days by minimizing your risks:

Avoid fatigued or drowsy driving: Stay alert behind the wheel by getting plenty of rest before you set out and plan and take breaks.

Don’t drink and drive: Alcohol degrades driving skills and slows reaction times, regardless of an individual’s tolerance. Separate your holiday drinking from your driving.

Keep your eyes on the road: Distracted driving is a major cause of traffic accidents. Just two seconds of distraction time doubles the chances of an accident, so pull over before you use your cell phone or text.

Slow Down: Allow plenty of space between you and the car in front of you and reduce your speed.

Buckle up: Seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 45 percent – please buckle up and make sure that those riding with you are properly restrained.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.

Who Is Watching the Tracks?

By Deborah Hersman

Earlier this week, the NTSB met to consider the draft report on an accident at Miami International Airport (MIA). On November 28, 2008, a three-car people mover train operating along a fixed guideway failed to stop at the passenger platform and struck a wall at the end of the guideway. Six people were injured.

What happened? This accident occurred because the primary stopping mechanism failed and maintenance technicians had intentionally bypassed the secondary fail-safe system. Yet, as in so many accidents that the NTSB investigates other factors contributed to the accident. In this case, one key element was the absence of effective external oversight.

External safety oversight of public transportation systems is essential to identify and correct safety risks that may not be apparent or effectively addressed by the operator. External oversight at MIA could have detected that the maintenance company did not have formalized maintenance procedures, which allowed the trains to operate without a vital backup safety system.

Effective oversight becomes more critical as our transportation infrastructure ages. In the case of the Miami airport people mover, the train system was installed in 1980. Furthermore, the previous maintenance company expressed concerns that the trains were past their design life. We have seen the challenges of maintaining aging infrastructure in many of our investigations, including the June 2009 collision of two Washington Metro trains near the Fort Totten Station. With old and new infrastructure, we will always need proper maintenance and oversight to confirm that the system is performing to the highest safety standards.

For additional information on the NTSB investigation of the Miami crash, see the Board Meeting summary.

The Outstanding Contributions of Flight Simulation to Aviation Safety

By Deborah Hersman

This week, the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Flight Simulation Group is holding a conference on “The Contribution of Flight Simulation to Aviation Safety.” Gathered in London are some of the finest minds in flight simulation.

The NTSB’s interest in flight simulators dates back to the late 1960s with recommendations to perform engine-out training in flight simulators rather than airplanes. We are just as interested in their considerable safety benefits today, which is why I was pleased to have the privilege of speaking virtually to the conference.

I recognized the outstanding contributions of the attendees and challenged them to do even more with flight simulator technology to further improve aviation safety, including addressing loss-of-control accidents, such as the tragic Colgan Air crash in February 2009.

Be an Alert, Safe Driver . . . Driving Drowsy is Dangerous

By Mark Rosekind

Man asleep at the wheelAt the end of a drive, ever pull in to your destination but don’t remember how you got there? Every year, 1.9 million drivers have a fatigue-related crash or near miss. Drowsy driving can be as lethal as driving under the influence of alcohol, yet drivers continue to underestimate the risk or don’t take actions to drive safer. Fatigue is often identified by the NTSB as a cause of major accidents where lives were lost or people were seriously injured.

So what causes drowsy driving? Adults need about 8 hrs of sleep but most average less than 7 hrs; and getting even 2 hrs less sleep than you need can impair performance. Over time, when you lose sleep, it builds into a cumulative sleep debt and it could take a couple nights of sleep to zero out your debt. Our brains are programmed to have us awake and active during the day and asleep at night (circadian rhythms). So, when you are driving at night, in the early morning hours, your brain’s natural state is sleepy. Being awake too many hours, using sedating medications, sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea) and other factors can create fatigue and make you a drowsy driver.

How can you be a safer, more alert driver? First, learn the warning signs for drowsy driving. Before you drive, be sure you have sufficient sleep to be awake and alert. Plan for driving breaks, even if you don’t feel tired. Long drives and night time driving deserve extra planning to ensure your alertness. Short naps and caffeine can boost performance and alertness; learn about their effective and strategic use. Classic strategies to stay awake, such as rolling the window down, turning up the radio or having the interior lights on may help but only for 10 minutes. Learn more about drowsy driving and effective strategies. Driving drowsy is dangerous. Don’t underestimate it . . . take actions to always drive alert!


Member Mark RosekindMark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

Let the Ghosts and Goblins Be Scary: Don’t Drink and Drive

By Mark Rosekind

Historically, Halloween has been a night where many alcohol-impaired drivers take to the road. In 2009, nearly half of the highway deaths on Halloween night involved impaired drivers. This is especially scary because on this night our children trick-or-treat across our streets and through our neighborhoods. However, this year many communities across the country are taking actions that should scare alcohol-impaired drivers — they are stepping up enforcement with sobriety checkpoints and targeted law enforcement efforts.

Last month, I visited two sobriety checkpoints in Northern Virginia. They were the result of a collaboration of the Fairfax County Police, the Prince William County Police, and the Virginia State Police. These checkpoints covered both directions of one busy road and successfully identified numerous alcohol-impaired drivers. The overwhelming police presence demonstrated the community’s zero tolerance for alcohol-impaired driving.

Halloween is a night when the police will be out in full force. There is no need to drive after having too much to drink. As you and your friends plan your Halloween celebrations, before you even leave plan on how you will get home safely. Identify the designated driver before you head out or bring enough money for a cab. There are also free services, such as the SoberRide program in the Washington, DC area, that you can use.

Please make Halloween safe for everyone and let the “scaring” be done by the ghosts and goblins and not by the drivers on the roads.


Member Mark RosekindMark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

Saluting School Bus Safety

By Deborah Hersman

Chairman Hersman with NAPT Executives
Chairman Hersman with NAPT Executives

Earlier this week, I joined the professionals who safely transport our nation’s children on all those big yellow buses to celebrate the unparalleled school bus safety record. School buses are, by far, the safest way for students to get to school, home, and to a host of school-related activities.

Here’s a measure of school bus safety: Among student fatalities during normal school hours, more than half were traveling with a teen driver, under one-fourth with an adult driver, and just 1 percent were traveling by school bus.

In addition to transporting our children safely, there’s another big benefit to the big yellow bus. It would take 36 cars to carry the students who travel on one school bus. On a yearly basis, school buses keep an estimated 17.3 million cars off the roads surrounding our schools.

Here’s a big shout out to all the professionals responsible for taking such good care of our students. Here’s what I told the professionals at the National Association of Pupil Transportation on Tuesday morning.

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.

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