Celebrating Railroad Safety

By Debbie Hersman

Chairman Hersman with Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman

Today, I was pleased to attend the annual Harriman Awards luncheon. These awards recognize the U.S. railroads with the lowest employee injury rates. Congratulations to Norfolk Southern, which claimed its 22nd consecutive gold medal, and to KCS, which received its fifth straight Harriman Award for its category. The Buffalo & Pittsburgh and Gary Railway claimed the top honors in their categories.

In March, I attended Norfolk Southern’s Safety Expo and Awards and visited its export coal operations. I saw stenciled on a railroad shed: “think safe, work safe, home safe.” Yet, safety is more than a slogan at Norfolk Southern. It is a vigorous and mature safety program as well as 22 consecutive Harriman Awards.

This was the 99th year for the Harriman Awards, which started in 1913 when tens of thousands of workers, passengers, pedestrians, and assorted ‘trespassers’ perished in railroad accidents. The railroads have come a long way in safety — from thousands killed on the job a century ago to an annual average of 20 employee-on-duty fatalities over the past ten years.

Yet, as I told the luncheon audience, as we saw last month outside Red Oak, Iowa — when a train collided into a maintenance-of-way equipment train and killed two railway workers — there is more work to do, especially in addressing the human element. It’s important to always be vigilant and to never stop working on safety improvements.

Making Roads Safer — All Over the World

By Debbie Hersman

Cars on a highway
Today kicks off the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020

Today, people are coming together worldwide to kick off the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. Proclaimed by the United Nations and coordinated through the World Health Organization, the Decade of Action provides a framework for countries and communities to take action to save lives on the world’s roads.

Each year, 1.3 million people die due to road traffic collisions. That’s more than 3,000 each day. Globally, road traffic fatalities are the tenth-leading cause of death. These are staggering numbers.

While here in the United States, highway fatalities have declined the last few years, there were still more than 32,000 fatalities last year, with many more people injured. And, in the United States, as is the case around the world, motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of death for young people.

So many lives cut short underscores the immediate need for action. Walt Disney said it best: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

At the NTSB we have a host of safety outreach efforts underway. Yesterday, we began a 2-day forum on truck and bus safety. Next month, we are scheduled to announce our new Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, highlighting critical transportation safety issues. Look for highway safety to be represented!

Yes, it’s a Decade of Action, but every step every day is important. Ensure everyone in your car uses a seat belt – every time. Use a DOT-compliant helmet when you ride a motorcycle. Make sure children are properly restrained. And when you are the driver, hang up the phone. Make good choices.

Exploring Ways to Improve Truck and Bus Safety

By Robert Sumwalt

Truck & Bus Safety Forum LogoToday, I had the privilege of chairing the first day of the NTSB’s public forum on Truck and Bus Safety. We heard an outstanding exchange from a diverse array of organizations representing federal and state oversight agencies, the trucking and bus industries, safety advocacy groups, and labor organizations. I was especially pleased this morning to welcome Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro since much of our first panel on Carrier Oversight focused on implementing the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.

We began by noting that injuries and fatalities from accidents involving heavy vehicles are at an all-time low. Clearly, much progress has been made in improving highway safety since the Board last held a motor carrier forum in 1999. As evidenced by the Board’s ongoing investigations into an October 2009 tanker explosion in Indianapolis and a March 2011 tour bus crash in New York City, however, much work remains to be done. The subject matter experts speaking today advocated a comprehensive approach to safety, involving a more robust system of carrier oversight, active management of driver fatigue, and adoption of safety management systems. Although some of our panel experts may have disagreed about the best tools available to advance motor carrier safety, each agreed on the need to reach that particular goal.

Tomorrow, the forum will focus on drivers and vehicles. We will hear from several motor carriers implementing novel programs to improve driver health, as well as companies developing groundbreaking technologies to mitigate – and even avoid – truck and bus accidents. I expect another day of lively debate on the state of safety in the trucking and bus industries.

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

Graduated Driver Licensing – We’ve Come a Long Way

By Robert Sumwalt

Teen Driver
May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month

Talk to people who have been driving for 20 or 30 years and ask them what it was like to get their drivers license. You will realize quickly that things are really different now. Back then, you could go to your local DMV on your 16th birthday, pass a test, and walk out of there with a license that gave you full, unfettered driving privileges. It was as simple as that. In fact, you could leave the DMV, go pick up a carload of your friends at the high school, and celebrate your birthday until late that night. It was great! Or was it?

A lot has changed since those days, I think for the better. Many states today have graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs in which new drivers attain full driving privileges in stages. After completing one stage, a novice driver “graduates” to the next stage, gaining more responsibility, such as driving without a supervising adult or driving at later hours.

Continue reading Graduated Driver Licensing – We’ve Come a Long Way

Having Fun, Staying Safe

By Christopher Hart

A DOT-approved helmet is a key piece of safety gear.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. As the days get longer, bikers across the country are getting their Cruisers, Sport Bikes, Street Bikes, and scooters tuned up for summer fun. Riders gather at various bike rallies, bike weeks, or round ups in places such as Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, and Daytona Beach.

If you know anything about bike rallies, they are usually about the freedom of the road. Often, that means no helmets.

I am writing this because head injuries are a leading cause of death among motorcyclists. Too many bikers perish on our roads each year. Yes, motorcycle riders are exposed to the elements and that’s part of their appeal. Yet, if something goes wrong, riders do not benefit from the solid surroundings they would have in a car or truck so are at greater risk for injury. In a crash, a rider’s single greatest defense against debilitating injury or death is a DOT-approved helmet.

Some riders who don’t use helmets argue that helmets interfere with their ability to see or hear, cause injuries, or can’t be that effective since helmeted riders also die in crashes. Research shows these claims are not true. Just recently, researchers reviewed more than 40,000 cases in the National Trauma Data Bank® and found that compared with non-helmeted riders the riders who wore helmets had lower odds of experiencing a cervical or traumatic brain injury after a crash.

So, please enjoy your motorcycle. Have fun. And, if you wear a helmet, science and safety will be on your side.

For additional information, see our Motorcycle Safety Questions & Answers.


Honorable Christopher Hart, Vice ChairmanChristopher A. Hart was sworn in as a Member of the NTSB on August 12, 2009 and designated by the President for a two-year term as Vice Chairman of the Board on August 18. Member Hart joined the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a Member of the NTSB.

What Baseball Can Teach Us about Building a Safety Culture

By Debbie Hersman

I talked about the national pastime in a speech I gave today to the Air National Guard’s Executive Safety Summit.

Albert Pujols
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols

In ten years, Albert Pujols, first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals, has never hit below .300, never had fewer than 100 RBIs, and never hit fewer than 30 home runs. Yes, number 5 has talent, but he works at it. It’s interesting to see the parallels between what Pujols does and what organizations can do to build a strong safety culture.

One, it starts at the top. Just like Pujols focuses on a single goal — winning the World Series — the organization must place top priority on achieving and maintaining a strong safety culture. Commitment and responsibility start at the top.

Two, to have a strong safety culture you must work at it, like number 5. Pujols has a disciplined workout routine. For example, on Monday, he does one set of exercises. On Tuesday, it’s another set to focus on another set of muscles. And so on. As for his game, Pujols works hard at that, too. He takes 15,000 to 20,000 practice swings a year.

Similarly, an organization needs a well-defined and rigorous safety program, such as a safety management system. Safety Management Systems (SMS) enable organizations to identify and manage risk and to have processes that enable them to manage risk far better than before. The discipline and standardization from an SMS sets the stage for the culture to follow.

Three, in a strong safety culture, there is a commitment, and there are mechanisms, to keep learning. Just as Pujols makes it a point to learn from players he admires, an organization needs to keep learning — not just from mistakes, but from others, and from detecting trends. This is why data gathering programs are so important. This is how you detect, and address, any weak links.

Celebrating Career Achievement

By Debbie Hersman

Sharon Bryson
Congratulations to Sharon Bryson for her selection as a finalist for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals

One of the joys of heading up a stellar agency like the NTSB is that I get to lead a group of people who are some of the best and brightest in Federal government. Today, I am pleased to brag to you about one of our “stars.” Sharon Bryson has been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. The “Sammies” honor federal employees whose work has made significant contributions to our country. Sharon’s dedication to the families of transportation accident victims has certainly been a significant contribution of which we are proud and grateful.

In 1996, the U.S. Congress tasked the NTSB with providing assistance to family members following major aviation accidents. Sharon joined the NTSB in 1997 to be part of this important new mission, and in 2000, she was named director of the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division. Sharon worked diligently to create and define a program that has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of family members of those killed in, and survivors of, transportation disasters. Sharon has participated in the family assistance efforts following more than 140 major transportation accidents. But Sharon went beyond the task set by Congress and extended the program’s reach to smaller accidents and to accidents in other modes of transportation investigated by the NTSB.

Continue reading Celebrating Career Achievement

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