Lifeboats and Life Jackets

By Debbie Hersman

Lifeboat from the Titanic, as seen from the RMS Carpathia

Ninety-nine years ago today, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic. While 700 people survived, some 1,500 passengers and crew members were left behind to perish at sea. In that iconic accident, the heart of the tragedy was that there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers.

From my office in Southwest Washington, DC, if I look due south I can see Washington Channel Park where the Women’s Titanic Memorial is located. This is a memorial dedicated “to the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic … they gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”

Over the past century, numerous improvements, including international regulations (Safety of Life at Sea Convention) for stability, watertight integrity, and lifesaving equipment for all persons on board have made merchant vessels safer.

Here in the United States, commercial safety on our inland waterways is improving, but, tragically, there are still many accidents in recreational boating. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that in 2009, 736 people died and 3,358 were injured in recreational boating accidents. Of those fatalities, about three-fourths were from drowning. Many of these could have been prevented. In those fatality statistics is the hard fact that 85 percent of the people who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

I applaud the resolution the National Boating Safety Advisory Council issued earlier this month calling for the U.S. Coast Guard to mandate wearing life jackets in certain segments of the boating community.

The next time you go boating, take some precautions so that the women and children — and everyone — onboard might be saved if calamity strikes. Make sure there are enough life jackets for everyone on board. Better yet, wear them.

Celebrating Volunteers and Supporting our Troops

By Debbie Hersman

This is National Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate what we all can accomplish through service and the stronger communities we build when we take time to help others. As President Obama said when he proclaimed April 10-16, 2011, as National Volunteer Week,

“During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the profound impact of volunteers and encourage all Americans to discover their own power to make a difference. Every one of us has a role to play in making our communities and our country stronger.”

Chairman Hersman dines with soldiers at Walter Reed

In that spirit, yesterday employees from the NTSB hosted our annual Walter Reed Army Medical Center Volunteer Dinner. Our employees collected books for the Walter Reed library, donated nearly a $1,000 worth of gift cards to give to service members, and provided homemade meals for the service members and family members who attended the dinner. I especially enjoyed having the opportunity to greet each guest and join my colleagues in thanking our servicemen and their families for their sacrifices and service to our country.

Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel

By Debbie Hersman

There’s a great article by health writer Jane E. Brody in the April 12 issue of The New York Times about medical doctors spreading the word about the dangers of distracted driving. Brody quotes Dr. Amy N. Ship of Harvard Medical School who says, “Driving while distracted is roughly equivalent to driving drunk.”

Last year, nearly 33,000 people died in traffic accidents. As Dr. Ship explained, “Any activity that distracts a driver visually or cognitively increases the risk of an accident.”

Distracted driving has long been a priority issue for the NTSB. This is an especially crucial issue for young drivers: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In 2003, we placed a recommendation on our Most Wanted List asking states to restrict the use of wireless devices by novice drivers.

NTSB poster highlights agency policy on distracted driving

Knowing the most effective teacher is modeling the behavior you want to see, on the day I was sworn in as NTSB Chairman I implemented an agency policy to curb the use of electronic devices while driving. The policy prohibits employees driving on NTSB business from using any wireless device, including hands-free devices, and further prohibits using NTSB-issued electronic devices while driving their own cars.

The rules apply to me. I no longer use my Blackberry during my hour-long commute. The risk of catastrophic consequences is just too great. As Brody cited in the article, “The National Safety Council estimates that at least 1.6 million crashes — 28 percent of the total — are caused each year by drivers using cellphones or texting.”

Pull over if you need to make or take a call. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, “The life you save may be your own.”

Fatigue is a Serious Safety Issue

By Mark Rosekind, Ph.D.

Fatigue was cited as a Probable Cause to this accident in Miami, OK

Fatigue has been on the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements since the List was first created in 1990. The NTSB has identified fatigue as the probable cause or a contributing factor of accidents in every mode of transportation. Based on its accident investigations, the NTSB has made more than 190 fatigue-related safety recommendations. One recent accident illustrates how fatigue can lead to tragedy.

On June 26, 2009, in Miami, Oklahoma, a commercial truck driver going 69 mph with his cruise control on ran into a line of vehicles that had stopped due to another accident. Before the truck finally stopped, it hit 6 vehicles, took 10 lives, and injured 5 more.

Continue reading Fatigue is a Serious Safety Issue

You don’t have to fly for a living to be a professional

By Earl Weener

NTSB Board Member Earl Weener

Domestic airline operators have racked up a remarkable safety record  in the past two years.  Large commercial transport aircraft experienced not a single fatal accident during this period – a welcome trend for commercial operations.  I wish I could say the same for general aviation (GA).  Sadly, in the recent ten day period from March 25th through April 3rd, ten fatal accidents occured involving GA light airplanes, ranging from a Cessna 150 to a Beechcraft Baron.  That’s a rate of an accident per day, and just reflects the fatal accidents.  Generally, there are five to six times as many accidents that do not involve fatalities but result in substantial damage or injuries, or both.

A soon-to-be-released NTSB statistical study of aircraft accidents from 2007 through 2009 will show the accident rate for Part 91 flying as essentially flat from 2000 through 2009.  There were approximately 6 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, with about 1 in 6 of those accidents involving fatalities.  This statistic includes both corporate and on-demand air taxi operations, which have accident rates approaching those of the commercial airlines.  These operators, like the commercial operators, are to be congratulated on their safety record.  However, as I pointed out, this is not the case for all Part 91 operations.

Continue reading You don’t have to fly for a living to be a professional

Getting a Glimpse of Life on the Road

By Debbie Hersman

Chairman Hersman (second from left, first standing row) at the Salute to Women Behind the Wheel (photo by Paul Hartley, Add Media)

Last week, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse into what life is like for the professional truck drivers who drive the heavy trucks on our nation’s highways to deliver the goods — and who contribute to our economy and to our quality of life.

I learned a lot from my five teachers — Stephanie Klang, Jill Garcia, Clarence Jenkins, Angela Jordan, and Jo Carty — who safely drove me from Washington, DC, to Louisville, KY, so I could attend the Mid America Trucking Show and attend Women in Trucking’s (WIT) Salute to Women Behind the Wheel. As I told the professional women drivers at that event, I have a CDL (commercial driver’s license), but I think my biggest contribution to safety is not to drive a commercial vehicle. I leave that up to the professional drivers.

I was impressed by every driver’s commitment to safety and by their ability to handle big rigs in good weather and bad . We had all types of weather on our 632 miles, including snow, sleet, and fog! After last week’s trip, I feel safer driving on the road next to big rigs. I was also pleased with the discussions we had about the issues that the NTSB addresses in its investigations and recommendations, such as hours of service, fatigue, and government oversight.

For example, when I talked with Stephanie about the challenges of complying with hours of service, she said the rules are there to protect you. Even when they’re not in your favor, you have to respect them.

As for respect, I gained a lot more respect for these professional drivers behind the wheel and I want them to know that I will keep an eye out for them whenever I’m out on the interstate.

Here’s a link to the talk I gave at Women in Trucking’s Salute to Women Behind the Wheel on April 2.

Hitting the Road with Professional Women Drivers

By Debbie Hersman

Chairman Hersman (left) with Stephanie Klang

Late on Wednesday, I hit the road on a two-day, four-state journey from Washington, D.C. My final destination is Louisville, Kentucky, and the 2011 Mid-America Trucking Show, the world’s largest forum for the heavy trucking industry. On Saturday, I’ll have the honor of speaking with about 1,200 of America’s professional women truck drivers at the second annual Women in Trucking (WIT) “Salute to Women Behind the Wheel.” More on that in a moment.

But for now, let me tell you a bit about my journey to get there. I’ve covered some 460 of my 632 mile road trip so far. You might be asking yourself, “Why not just fly to Louisville?” Well, quite simply, it is hard to know what it is really like to be on the road from a federal office building in Washington. When Ellen Voie of WIT offered me the opportunity to “ride” to Kentucky, I jumped at the chance.

There is no better way to get a feel for the issues facing the industry than spend time in the cab with professional truck drivers. Besides, is there any better way to travel to the nation’s largest trucking show than to experience the ride, technology and accommodations in 5 different heavy trucks?

I’ve learned a lot since leaving NTSB headquarters last evening. I have listened to the drivers and they each have a different perspective and have impressed me with their knowledge and professionalism.

Let me start by telling you about my first leg of the trip. I spent the first 150 miles with Stephanie Klang, a driver from Con-Way. As we made our way out of the dark and grey city, passing monuments and cherry blossoms, Stephanie remained focused on one thing — safety. In fact, that’s the common thread that I am seeing on this trip. So far it’s been five different and diverse drivers from all over the country — all with one thing in mind — getting to their destination safely, delivering their load, doing it again and again to support their families. Stephanie carefully maneuvered through Washington’s rush-hour hour traffic and calmly faced rain, snow, and, worse yet, sleet in the dark. The entire time, her eyes were on the road. Did I mention that Stephanie has 2.74 million safe miles in her logbook?

When I speak at WIT’s “Salute to Women” event on Saturday, I’ll be saluting Stephanie Klang, Jill Garcia, Angela Jordan, Jo Carty and hundreds of other women who drive safely, every day, on our nation’s highways — delivering the goods to the rest of us.

Got to go and get back on the road again, but I will share more of my experiences soon.

Over and out (for now).

The Official Blog of the NTSB Chairman

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