Tag Archives: Distracted Driving

ACT TO END DEADLY DISTRACTIONS

Distracted(NoCall).jpg

By Acting Chairman Robert Sumwalt

Distracted driving kills, on average, nine people every day on our highways and injures even more. Every day, families are left to grieve the loss of a loved one killed in a highway crash, their lives suddenly in disarray. These preventable tragedies must stop. We must all do our part and take action so that families no longer lose loved ones to a preventable death.

Often, the families and friends left behind after a fatal car crash become survivor advocates, turning their tragedy into action. This week, we will be hosting some of these survivor advocates at our second distraction roundtable, Act to End Deadly Distractions. We will be teaming with Stopdistractions.org, DRIVE SMART Virginia, and the National Safety Council to host this discussion.

I’m excited to facilitate this event, which is designed to focus on survivor advocates’ experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t in their fight against distracted driving. Above all, this roundtable is designed to facilitate effective action. The survivor advocate community will be exploring ways to act in their own towns and states to “move the needle” toward zero distracted driving deaths.

Our first distraction roundtable brought together experts to dive into what we know and don’t know about the science of distraction. At that event one fact became clear: distracted driving is taking lives. According to one market research company, since 2007, the percentage of Americans ages 13 and older with smartphones went from 6% to more than 80%. Although there have always been distractions competing with our focus on driving, these devices are especially addictive and, despite what we tell ourselves, we cannot safely or effectively multitask. To turn the tide will take a change in culture, especially in attitudes about portable electronic devices.

Experience with other causes of highway deaths shows that the science alone will not be enough to stop tragedy. Nor will awareness efforts. Heightened awareness, the right laws and policies, and tough enforcement all must play a role. The NTSB often makes recommendations aimed at changing safety culture within a company or even within a whole industry. We have recommended that states pass legislation to ban drivers from nonemergency use of portable electronic devices. We can’t “recommend” a way to change the minds and behavior of a whole nation of drivers, so we’re facilitating a conversation among survivor advocates and experts in awareness campaigns and in state houses.

We hope that you’ll join us. The roundtable begins at 9:00 am, April 26, in the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC. The event is convenient to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. You can also watch the event live at http://ntsb.capitolconnection.org/ and comment via Twitter @NTSB using #Act2EndDD.

 

Act to End Deadly Distractions

By Robert L. Sumwalt

Every year, more than 3,000 people are killed—and 100 times more than that are injured—in accidents caused by distracted drivers. Whether the distraction is due to a driver using a hand-held personal electronic device or engaging in a wide range of other activities that take a driver’s attention off the road, the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities resulting from distraction is on the rise. It will take a concerted effort by lawmakers, law enforcers, and transportation safety advocates to end this deadly trend.

Save the date card for the "Act to End Deadly Distractions" eventThis year marks the ninth time that the NTSB has included “eliminate distractions while driving” on its Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Although it’s not a new issue, ending deadly distractions in all modes of transportation is again on our signature priority list because it is one of the most critical issues facing the traveling public today.

More must be done to raise awareness about this issue, which has appeared on the MWL for far too long. To that end, the NTSB, in partnership with StopDistractions.org, will host a roundtable, titled “Act to End Deadly Distractions”—its second such event in 25 months aimed at shedding light on the issue of distracted driving and focusing on practical and measurable solutions to this growing problem. This upcoming roundtable will build off the momentum from our first distraction roundtable in March 2015, and will examine existing public policy and laws in several states that have reduced the number of crashes attributed to distraction. Our panel of participants will highlight ways that advocates and community influencers can work with law enforcement to continue to ensure distracted driving laws are enforced consistently. And, perhaps most importantly, victims’ families will speak about how they’ve been affected by these preventable crashes.

I have the pleasure of hosting this year’s event, which will be held on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the NTSB Conference Center in Washington, DC. More details can be found at the Act to End Deadly Distractions Roundtable webpage. The roundtable is open to the public and will be live streamed on the Web.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month; this roundtable comes at the perfect time to raise awareness and spur action toward eliminating distraction.

One fatality due to a distracted driver is one too many. We know what it will take to eliminate these tragedies, and we are confident that the upcoming roundtable will be a step that direction.

Emerging from Tragedy to Inspire Others to Disconnect

By Nicholas Worrell

Fletcher speaking to youth advocatesAs we go into Valentine’s weekend, where we give our love and commitment to our significant others, I wanted to share a story of a young man who has shown extraordinary love and commitment to his community and to young people across the United States. His gift is not roses or chocolates, but the gift of his story and the lessons he imparts.

Fletcher was a high-school athlete on the verge of entering college. He was fast, but not the fastest – so he developed moves that other guys didn’t have. He was strong but not the strongest – so he spent hour after hour in the gym developing his body. Time after time, Fletcher overcame obstacles and excelled, despite the odds, through sheer commitment.

Fletcher didn’t get the attention of the big colleges, but his combination of intensity, work ethic, and on-the-field flash landed him a football scholarship to attend Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee.

But all that hard work to play at the collegiate level was nothing compared to the challenges he would face next.

On September 10, 2009, as Fletcher was driving with a friend near his home, he was struck by an oncoming car driven by a distracted driver. Fletcher vaguely recalls the lights of the driver’s phone in her face before the horrific crash, which paralyzed him.

Fletcher speaking with teensLast year, I had the privilege of meeting Fletcher during the NTSB’s Youth Open House and Transportation Education Day, an event aimed at teaching teens about safer driving practices and empowering them to become advocates for safe driving. Motor vehicle crashes remain the number one killer of teens – even more than the toll of cancer, drugs, and violence. In the last decade, more than 2,000 teens have died every year in such crashes.

Fletcher eagerly accepted our invitation to tell his story about the impact of distracted driving. As he told his story to the rapt teens in the audience, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how that same commitment to become a great athlete – no matter his size and other obstacles – quickly reemerged again after his tragic accident and found a focus on teen education. Fletcher had doubled down, pouring all that same intensity and commitment into youth education – and being in a wheelchair didn’t hinder him in the least.

Through his story, he reminded the audience that driving safely prevents needless tragedies. Although technology and teens go hand in hand these days, he urged teens to put down the phones and avoid distractions while driving. While his plans for athletic glory had been tragically cut short, he told teens that they can pursue their dreams – and not to take risks that might remove that option from their future. His powerful story is told in a video from AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign, which was produced with an ESPN team.

Fletcher lost the use of his lower body because another driver was not disciplined enough to put down a portable electronic device while driving. That driver, sadly, was never caught and convicted. Yet, as he talked to teens at our open house about the dangers of distracted driving, Fletcher smiled.

He smiled because he has a new purpose. He smiled because, although he lost the use of his lower body, his mental toughness has increased two-fold. He has a new goal in life that saves lives. He’s still in the game and he knows it.

So this Valentine’s day, I encourage you to think of Fletcher and give a gift to your fellow mankind: when you’re behind the wheel, focus only on the task of driving. 

Nicholas Worrell is the Chief of the Safety Advocacy division

Honoring Hispanic Contributions to Transportation Safety

By T. Bella Dinh-Zarr

NTSB’s Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr, Highway Investigator Dr. Lisandra Garay-Vega and Fara Guest, Director, Office of EEO, Diversity and Inclusion pictured with Dr. Perez.
NTSB’s Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr, Highway Investigator Dr. Lisandra Garay-Vega and Fara Guest, Director, Office of EEO, Diversity and Inclusion pictured with Dr. Perez.

¡Bienvenidos a todos!

Our country observes National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 every year. During that time, we celebrate the cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America.

Hispanic Americans have played a key role in our country’s proud heritage and the building of our nation. After all, the United States has the second largest population of Hispanics in the world.

Our nation’s diversity has always been one of our strongest assets. And the Hispanic American community is a valuable component of our multicultural society.

One such valuable contributor to our society is Dr. Miguel Perez, director of the Center for Data Reduction and Analysis Support at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, we invited him to speak to us about his efforts related to “naturalistic” driving study design and analysis, data standardization, data preparation, and data mining.

Naturalistic studies involve monitoring individuals in their natural driving environment as they do the things they normally do while driving. This work is critically important because data yielded from such studies help researchers and folks in the transportation safety business like the NTSB better understand how people operate their vehicles in real-world situations.

Dr. Perez’s primary focus is on driver distraction and how drivers respond to distractions—both on the road and in the vehicle. This is also a significant interest area for the NTSB. In fact, “Disconnect from Deady Distractions” is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

Dr. Perez showed NTSB staff several videos from his studies, showing distracted drivers and drivers involved in unexpected situations. Although these drivers know they are being monitored on video, it is still amazing the kind of risks they take. It reminds us again of the dangers associated with distracted driving and the potential impact that technology could make to mitigate or prevent crashes caused by distraction—another area he and his institute is studying.

One of the virtues of the Hispanic community, said Dr. Perez, is their unity. The transportation safety community, of which he is a part, is also unified in one mission: to apply all our unique skills to understand driver behavior and save lives. We will—and must—continue to work together with experts like Dr. Perez to better understand driver behavior so we can recommend solutions that make a difference.

For his contribution to our observance of Hispanic Heritage Month and his efforts to promote diversity and collaboration in transportation, the NTSB awarded Dr. Perez with a special plaque.

Without a doubt, Hispanics are making a difference and shaping our world—just as this community helped to shape my world from early on.

I remember dancing at Cinco de Mayo celebrations in elementary school and celebrating the quinceañera of a friend in high school in Texas. As a newly arrived immigrant myself at that time – albeit from a different part of the world – I remember being impressed that my new country welcomed and celebrated our many diverse heritages.

As a college and graduate student, I spent time in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Paraguay. And today, my husband and I are raising our young son in a multilingual household and often speak and read together in Spanish.

These diverse cultural influences have made my own life richer and I am confident that they have also made our country stronger by helping us understand each other better.

Dr. Perez said his work and life were inspired by a famous Hispanic, ballplayer Roberto Clemente. I think we can all heed the advice of Clemente, who said: ”Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH, is Vice Chairman of the NTSB.

NTSB Reminds School Bus Drivers to be Focused and Medically Fit for Duty

By Thomas E. Zoeller, Managing Director

“Raise your hand if you don’t use caution when operating your vehicle.”

Are you raising your hand?

Probably not.

Photo of NTSB Medical Officer Dr. Mary Pat McKay presenting
NTSB Medical Officer Dr. Mary Pat McKay speaking to Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers.

And neither did any of the nearly 700 Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers earlier this week when NTSB Medical Officer Dr. Mary Pat McKay asked this of them.

The point she was making was that most drivers believe they are fit to drive and capable of multi-tasking while driving if need be. But Dr. McKay’s message to bus drivers, who carry a most precious cargo, was that, while we think we may be ready to hit the roads, we may not always be at our best.

She then went on to explain that the labels on over-the-counter and prescription medications too often go unread. Consider, for example, one such warning on the box of an allergy medicine: “Use caution when operating machinery or driving a motor vehicle.”

At the county’s annual back-to-school training event for bus drivers and attendants, Dr. McKay and NTSB Safety Advocates Nicholas Worrell and Stephanie Shaw emphasized the importance of staying medically fit for duty and also reminded them about the dangers of driving distracted.

Dr. McKay presented results from an NTSB study on fatally injured pilots, which showed a significant increase in positive toxicology findings for potentially impairing medications. One big surprise was the increasing use of sedating over-the-counter medicines, such as cold remedies, allergy treatments, and sleep aids.

Each bus driver must ensure he or she is medically fit for work each day; this means being awake and alert and ready to perform in as safe a manner as possible, she said. This also means ensuring that a temporary illness or new medical condition—as well as the treatment of such conditions—will not impair the driver’s perception, judgment, or response time. Dr. McKay urged the drivers to discuss their important job duties with their healthcare providers, ask about the risks any new medications might pose to safe driving, and carefully read the warnings on ALL medications, regardless of whether they are prescribed or over the counter. She emphasized the importance of looking for warnings about effects like sleepiness, drowsiness, or difficulty with coordination.

NTSB Safety Advocate Nicholas Worrell speaking to the Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers.
NTSB Safety Advocate Nicholas Worrell speaking to the Loudoun County, Virginia, school bus drivers.

Most of these medications are not safe to take when driving a school bus, or any vehicle, for that matter—and there is often an alternative with fewer side effects.

Bus drivers also must ensure they remain focused and avoid the temptation of distraction. Advocates Worrell and Shaw discussed specific highway and school bus accidents caused by distracted drivers.

“Distraction does not just include portable electronic devices, and it does not go away just because you have a hands-free headset,” Worrell said. Distraction takes many forms: cognitive (your eyes are on the road but not your thoughts); manual (physically engaged in something other than driving); visual (looking elsewhere instead of where you need to be looking); and auditory (when sounds distract).

School bus drivers bear a heavy responsibility and might experience any one of these types of distractions on any given day: thinking about the next stop prior to getting there, looking too long in the rearview mirror as they monitor kids for trouble, loud talking and noises, trying to discipline kids while driving. These are all potential distractions challenging school bus drivers.

Despite all the challenges school bus drivers face, it’s important to note that school buses are still the safest vehicles on the roads. That’s just one of the reminders the NTSB will be bringing to Loudoun County parents and the general public next week when it hosts a press event and safety demonstrations in coordination with Loudoun County Public Schools, Youth of Virginia Speak Out, Safe Kids Fairfax County, Virginia Safe Routes to School, and the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office. Students who walk, bicycle, drive, or are driven to school also need to know how to do so as safely as possible.

The NTSB message to school bus drivers is to go to work fit for duty, to operate with caution all the time, and to stay focused on the driving task.

The same message can save lives in the family car.

The issues of distracted driving and medical fitness for duty are on the NTSB’s 2015 Most Wanted List of safety improvements. For more information, visit Disconnect from Deadly Distractions and Require Medical Fitness for Duty.

Teen Driving Safety: Changing Attitudes and Changing Behavior

Rob Molloy, Acting Director, Office of Highway Safety presents to students at the National Collegiate Prep School.
Rob Molloy, Acting Director, Office of Highway Safety presents to young men and women from the National Collegiate Prep School.

By Rob Molloy,

Acting Director, Office of Highway Safety

 

Annually, for the past seven years, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has issued its Traffic Safety Culture Index. And, as in past years, the 2014 Traffic Safety Culture Index has found that U.S. licensed drivers still have a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude when it comes to dangerous driving behaviors.

As a father, I try to set a good example for my children when it comes to driving. I try to drive in the manner I hope they will drive. I believe that nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice yet set bad examples.

Rob Molloy with students at the National College Prep School
Rob Molloy with students at the National College Prep School

As a professional working to reduce the crashes that lead to deaths and injuries on our roadways, the idea of my children driving is terrifying. I imagine it terrifies most parents. And with good reason: the leading cause of death for our children is motor vehicle crashes. More children between the ages of 15 and 20 die in motor vehicle crashes than by suicide, drugs, violence, and alcohol combined.

May 1st kicks off Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. This is a month dedicated to reducing the preventable deaths of youth around the world. And let there be no doubt that crashes are preventable. I had the honor of addressing young men and women from the National Collegiate Prep School, in Washington, DC, who were excited to get involved in and learn more about how they can reduce and prevent injuries and fatalities on our roadways.

Sharing my experiences with crash investigations and educating youth about some of the major concerns of driving—such as distracted, drugged, and impaired driving—and the importance of seat belt use was a thrill. Unfortunately, the world of crash investigation is full of sad stories, which I often share to help bring light to these issues. Take the case of the North Texas teen driver who fell asleep at the wheel of the family’s SUV on their way to Disney World. He was driving the family late at night after school, and the vehicle went off the road and flipped over. His parents and three siblings died. Although the NTSB ultimately did not launch to this crash, it is still a good reminder of the dangers of fatigued driving.

When it comes to our teens, we focus a lot on texting while driving—and rightly so—but fatigue is a very real problem too.

I believe that the young men and women who gathered today at the National College Prep School will be at the forefront of changing the attitudes of their peers who may act irresponsibly while driving. We too, as adults, must make the commitment to change our attitudes—from “do as I say, not as I do. If we don’t want our children to text and drive, we must not text and drive. If we want our children to be rested when driving, we must be rested. If we want our children to wear seatbelts, we must wear seatbelts.

We owe it to our children to set a good example, to show them the safe, responsible way to behave behind the wheel. We have to show them that driving is a privilege that can lead to tragic consequences if they don’t act responsibly.

Protect Your Business, By Protecting Your Employees

By Robert L. Sumwalt

MWL 2015 - Disconnect from Deadly DistractionsAs we approach the end of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we recognize that today, April 28th, is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This date provides us an opportunity to focus on the unique challenges of the phenomenon of distracted driving in the workplace. As we heard at last month’s NTSB Disconnect from Deadly Distractions Roundtable, the growing threat of on-the-job distracted driving has created a legal minefield for unsuspecting, and unprepared, employers.

Sound far-fetched? Think again. Back in 2002, a major investment banking firm was sued by the estate of a motorcyclist who was struck and killed by a firm employee using his cell phone behind the wheel. Although the accident occurred on a Saturday night – not during work hours – and the employee was using his own cell phone in his own car, he had been cold-calling clients of the firm when he struck the motorcyclist. In another case, a driver was seriously injured when a Georgia construction company worker tried to check voicemail on a hands-free, dash-mounted cell phone and caused an accident. The construction company settled the case for $4.75 million. Even more recently, in 2012, a Texas jury awarded $24 million to a woman whose car was struck by a soft drink delivery driver using her cell phone at time of the accident.

Employers – especially small business owners – can be one distracted accident away from potential financial ruin. How can employers protect themselves, and their employees? They can protect both by implementing and reinforcing policies that ban personal electronic device (PED) usage behind the wheel while on company business.

PED_Policy_posterAt the NTSB, we’re walking that particular walk. Since 2009, we have had an agency-wide policy to prohibit employee use of PEDs while on NTSB business. Even when driving in our own vehicles, on our own time, we cannot use agency-issued PEDs behind the wheel. It was a difficult transition for many, but the result has been to set an example for safety we hope employers across the nation will emulate.

Organizations like the National Safety Council (NSC) have already made it easier for companies to follow our example. In addition to its white paper examining potential employer liability for distracted driving by employees, the NSC has developed a cell phone policy kit ready-made to empower businesses to implement safer PED use policies.

At its core, the movement behind Distracted Driving Awareness Month is intended not only to raise awareness about the dangers posed by divided attention behind the wheel, but also to prompt action to stop it. Through the creation of sound cell phone use policies, employers are uniquely situated to effect this kind of real and immediate change in employee behavior – change that can carry over into employees’ personal lives, as well. Once employees are freed from the nagging demands on their attention by cell phones in their company cars, they may very well choose to put down their PEDs in their own vehicles.

Working to end distracted driving on behalf of your employees protects your workforce, protects the traveling public, and protects your bottom line. It just makes sense. Disconnect from deadly distractions.