Tag Archives: highway safety

When Safety Should Take the Back Seat

By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Image collage for strengthen occupant protection Most Wanted List Issue.As a public health professional, I have spent my career working in the United States and internationally to prevent injuries and deaths. At the NTSB, one of my primary roles is to advocate for the changes needed to prevent transportation accidents.

Significant advancements have been made to improve the safety of occupants in the front seats of passenger vehicles, including the development of advanced restraint and airbag systems, safer seat designs, and structural improvements to minimize injury due to intrusion. Today, 32 states have adopted legislation that requires front-seat passengers to use a seat belt, and we can celebrate that we have achieved a national daytime average seat-belt-use rate of 90 percent for front-seat passengers.

But what about rear seats? We have not seen similar technology advances in rear seats, and research shows that rear seat belt use is considerably lower, at 83 percent. How can research, engineering, and advocacy make an impact in increasing rear seat belt use?

In 2015, after decades of decline, the United States experienced the largest increase in motor vehicle crashes and resulting deaths. Another historic increase is expected for 2016.  In examining such a complex issue, we at the NTSB found ourselves asking the following: why aren’t people buckling up when they sit in the rear seat, and how can research, engineering, and advocacy increase rear seat belt use?

To answer these questions, we reached out to occupant protection experts drawn from the auto industry, the research community, safety advocates, and the government to participate in a workshop to help us find ways to strengthen occupant protection in the rear seat of passenger vehicles.

During the workshop, we discussed the current knowledge about rear seat occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and how these occupants utilize existing vehicle safety systems, such as seat belts.  We examined how the rear seat environment is different from the front, both in design and user demographics. The workshop also addressed advanced vehicle and emerging seat belt technologies, innovative seat designs, as well as areas of needed research and education.

Our workshop was designed to allow the sharing of experience and knowledge, as well as to encourage participants to collaborate on inventive strategies. As a result, in the detailed summary we are publishing today, participants identified short- and long-term goals that will require a greater amount of collaboration, engineering, design, and advocacy to achieve.

Together with researchers, automobile manufacturers, legislators, regulators, and safety advocates, we are identifying practical, real-world applications and opportunities to make rear seats safer for everyone.

For more information about the workshop, presentations and the summary document visit https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2016_rss_WS.aspx.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

By Leah Walton

Super Bowl LI is Sunday, and the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons undoubtedly have their game plans in place.

What’s your game plan?Graphic: choose one: Drink or Drive

The players aren’t the only ones that need to be prepared on game day. Fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston, at Super Bowl parties, and at sports bars must have their transportation plans lined up before kickoff to ensure a safe and enjoyable day.

Super Bowl Sunday is thought of by some as a national holiday, and, like many other holidays in the United States, many Americans celebrate with food, friends, and alcohol. This means that, like other holidays, we often see an increase in alcohol-impaired motor vehicle fatalities. Such a day of healthy competition, camaraderie, and celebration should not end in tragedy due to something that’s 100% preventable.

That’s why I say the best defense is a good offense—not only for football players, but also for fans. And a fan’s defense on Super Bowl Sunday should be to choose—in advance—to either drive or drink, but never both. Impairment begins with the first drink, and taking a chance on driving because you “only had a few” is a risky play that could endanger your life and the lives of others.

By designating a sober driver as a key part of the game-day festivities, safety is increased and the likelihood of being in a crash is significantly reduced. Sometimes everyone wants to celebrate, and that’s OK, as long as everyone has a sober ride home. In this day and age, there are many ways to get home safely, whether by taxi, public transportation, or by using NHTSA’s Safer Ride app. Or, go for the MVP title this year and volunteer to be the designated sober driver for your squad, making sure everyone arrives safely at their destination postgame. That’s a guaranteed win!

Remember: you can drink responsibly, you can drive responsibly, but you can never drink and drive responsibly. Make your choice, stick with it, and enjoy the game!

Which child safety seat is the right one for you?

By Stephanie D. Shaw

Graphic for Child Passenger Safety Week“Every 33 seconds a child is involved in a crash.”
“6 out of 10 car seats are installed improperly.”

For parents, these statistics might be terrifying and overwhelming. As a parent and volunteer child passenger safety technician, I take comfort in knowing that the best way to protect my own children is the proper use of age-appropriate child safety seats and booster seats. But with so many messages out there—and maybe not the same technical background or experience—how do you know if you’re making the right decisions for your children?

Today, I wanted to share the answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten from parents and caregivers.

Q. When is my child old enough to sit up front with me?

A. Until they properly fit an adult seat belt, they should always ride in the back seat, and they should always use the right child safety seat or booster seat! But different-size children need to be protected differently – read on.

Q. Which child car seat is the safest?

A. All child car seats must meet the same federal safety standards. But car seat designs vary. That’s why it is critical that you look for a seat that is recommended for your child’s height and weight.

Q. So just buy the right car seat?

A. Not so fast. Buying the right seat for your child is the first step. But, it still falls on the adult to install and use the car seat properly every time.

Q. How do I install and use a child safety seat?

A. Read carefully and follow the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. It’s important to read both, as they provide steps for how and where to install the seat in your vehicle. All children should ride properly secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. If you would like help installing your seat, visit Safe Kids Worldwide to locate a child passenger safety technician in your area.

Q. When do you change from rear-facing to forward-facing seats?

A. Children under the age of 2 are best protected when they are in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as their spine and neck are not developed enough to support their head in the event of a crash. Even for children older than age 2, it’s recommended that they remain rear facing until they outgrow the rear-facing height or weight limit for their seat. When children outgrow a rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with an internal harness and tether.

Q. When is my child ready to ride like an adult passenger?

A. Not until the adult seat belt fits them properly – usually when they are 4’9” tall. Until then, they should use a booster seat. Booster seats help children fit in an adult seat belt. Children seated in a booster seat in the back seat of the car are 45 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than children using a seat belt alone.

Q. How can you tell when an adult seat belt fits them properly?

A. seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face.

Q. What are the common mistakes to look out for in using the car seat?

A. Some common mistakes parents and caregivers make include:

  • using a forward-facing child car seat too soon;
  • installing the car seat too loosely and allowing the seat to move more than one inch at the belt path;
  • allowing the harness straps to fit loosely so they fail the pinch test; and
  • placing the chest clip too low, rather than at armpit level.

To help avoid some of these common mistakes, read the instructions that came with your car seat and also your vehicle owner’s manual. Reading these instructions will help you determine whether to use a seat belt or the lower anchors, and when to use the tether to secure your seat.

Your car seat instructions will help you position the car seat (rear facing, forward facing, or reclined); properly use the internal harness, chest-clip and buckle; and determine how best they should fit to protect your child.

Q. Can I get hands-on help?

A. You’re in luck! It’s Child Passenger Safety Week. Child passenger safety technicians and other safety professionals will host events nationwide, where parents and caregivers can get hands-on help to ensure their child is in the most appropriate car seat, installed and being used properly. (Such help is also available year-round.)

Car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are a child’s best defense against injury and death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. As a parent and a technician myself, I encourage you to find a car seat check event or child passenger safety technician in your area to make sure you’re using the right seat, every trip, every time.

Saturday, September 24, is National Seat Check Saturday. To find an event in your community, visit www.safercar.gov.

Stephanie Shaw is a NTSB Safety Advocate in the Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Your Car Is a Public Health Tool

By: Vice Chairman Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr

We don’t often think of our cars as public health tools, but safety features in vehicles can protect us from injuries, much as vaccines protect us from certain diseases.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S.’s public health agency, declared Motor Vehicle Safety one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th Century, along with well-known successes such as immunizations, recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard, and fluoridation of drinking water.

In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year.  What changed?

Importantly, seat belts, child safety seats, and air bags came into use. Changes also were made to enable other parts of the vehicle to be more “forgiving” for occupants in a crash thanks to the installation of a wide range of technologies—shatter-resistant windshields, energy absorbent steering wheels, and head restraints—that reduced lacerations and blunt force trauma, especially to the head, neck, and torso areas.  Increased roof strength, as well as front and side protection also improved the crashworthiness of a vehicle in different types of scenarios, reducing the severity of injuries to drivers and passengers.

As we entered the 21st Century, in addition to crashworthiness technology, crash avoidance technologies were increasingly introduced. Many crashes occur simply because drivers are not paying attention or are otherwise distracted behind the wheel.

Since the mid-1990s, the NTSB has recognized the significant benefit of technology countermeasures to prevent and mitigate motor vehicle crashes. Last year, the NTSB released a new report focusing on forward collision avoidance systems (CAS), which typically consist of warning to drivers of an impending crash, and autonomous emergency braking that automatically applies brakes.

In 2012 alone, more than 1.7 million rear-end crashes occurred on our nation’s highways, resulting in more than 1,700 fatalities and 500,000 more injuries. As part of the study, the NTSB issued a Safety Alert entitled Addressing Deadly Rear-End Crashes for consumers and commercial fleet owners. Collision avoidance technologies—such as forward CAS, lane departure warning and blind spot detection—could help to mitigate or even prevent many such crashes; they are passive technology “vaccines” against the risk of motor vehicle crashes.

New car assessment programs (NCAPs) around the world, such as the U.S.-based NHTSA NCAP and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, are part of Global NCAP and work to test vehicle crashworthiness in order to determine the safety of cars for the consumer. As technologies are introduced into vehicles, it is important that we do all we can to educate consumers on their life-saving benefits and how to use them. In addition, education campaigns like MyCarDoesWhat.org help to bring awareness to consumers as well.

With the vision of a future with no motor vehicle crashes, deaths, and injuries, it’s important that we continue to improve crash prevention technologies, while also striving for advances in technologies to improve vehicle crashworthiness, especially as it relates to occupant protection.

Inflatable seat belts, smart air bags, and knee bolsters are advances in occupant protection that can reduce injury severity, especially as we age. As vehicle design changes to adapt to these new restraint technologies, we also face the challenge of how these changes affect the rear seat passenger.

Car frames may be made more rigid in order to be crashworthy for front seat passengers with more advanced restraint systems, but is there a trade-off for the rear seat passenger?  Are technologies in the rear seat keeping up with overall vehicle changes?  These questions and others will be addressed tomorrow, April 26, 2016, at the NTSB’s Rear Seat Safety in Passenger Vehicles Workshop. Tomorrow’s workshop will bring together leading experts to address this component of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List issue Strengthen Occupant Protection.

Prevention is the philosophy of public health and prevention of deaths and injuries is truly an important public health achievement.  Our cars represent incredible technologies that have made us more mobile.  Our challenge will be to continue to improve vehicle safety features so that we can continue to use this public health tool to prevent deaths and injuries on our roads.

This blog also appears on the MyCarDoesWhat website.  MyCarDoesWhat has received permission from the NTSB to reproduce it on the MyCarDoesWhat website. This permission does not constitute an endorsement of MyCarDoesWhat by the NTSB.

Targeting Road Safety Now and in the New Year

By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

As the year draws to a close, many of us are traveling to see family and friends – across town, across the country, or perhaps even across the globe. No matter where you are going or how you choose to get there, I urge you to do everything you can – such as buckling up whenever there are seat belts (yes, on airplanes, taxis, and buses, too!) – to make sure you and your loved ones are as safe as possible wherever you are going for the holidays.

Although some people will take planes, trains, ferries and boats, the majority of us will be on the roads for at least part of our trip – whether it’s using a car, motorcycle, bicycle, bus, or even our own two feet. It is clear that road safety affects us all, no matter where we are driving, riding or walking.

Dinh-Zarr (second from right) with delegates from Spain and the UK
Figure 1. Dinh-Zarr (second from right) with delegates from Spain and the UK.

I was reminded of that last month when I participated in the Second High Level Meeting on Global Road Safety in Brasilia, Brazil, as a member of the U.S. delegation, which also included my federal colleagues from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office of Global Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This meeting brought together 2,000 key leaders and advocates in public health and transportation safety from around the world to take action in preventing the more than 1.2 million deaths (and tens of millions of injuries) that take place on the world’s roads every year – with more than 30,000 deaths occurring in our own country alone.

The result of the meeting was the Brasilia Declaration, which reaffirmed the goals of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and called on governments to address key risk factors related to road safety – ranging from preventing impaired driving and improving infrastructure to manufacturing safer vehicles and increasing emergency health services.

Dinh-Zarr with members of Safe Kids Worldwide
Figure 2. Dinh-Zarr with members of Safe Kids Worldwide.

While the specific topics are many, two themes seem to run through this Declaration: (1) road traffic safety is a public health issue, so the transportation and health sectors can and must work together to reduce deaths and injuries; and (2) it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people – children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists, people with less means – so that everyone can have equal access to safe transportation.

In addition to the Declaration, there were official side events related to this High Level Meeting. I was privileged to speak in the Target & Indicators session, which was introduced by World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, and in the Children & Youth session, which was organized by YOURS/Youth for Road Safety and the Child Injury Prevention Alliance/CIPA.

Dinh-Zarr with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Ayalde
Figure 3. Dinh-Zarr with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Ayalde.

Following this historic meeting, while still in Brasilia, I had the pleasure of meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, the Honorable Liliana Ayalde. I am truly grateful to the ambassador and her staff at the U.S. embassy in Brazil for their work to help us attend this important lifesaving conference and for their service to our country throughout the year.

Ambassador Ayalde and I share a common background in public health, and I know that public health – and the interdisciplinary collaboration among health, transportation, and other sectors – will be vital to setting and achieving our goal to save millions of lives on the roads in the coming years.

As I said in my remarks in Brazil, there is no doubt that our targets for road safety must be feasible, they must be measurable, and they must be based on sound science. But they also can – and should be – ambitious. Targets allow us to imagine what the world would be if our efforts and work were as effective as they could be. Targets allow us to imagine a world where no one dies because they were not properly restrained, where we know our cars and roads will protect us if we make a mistake, where no one thinks about getting behind the wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs, and where we can send our loved ones to school or work and know they will come home safely. Targets allow us to imagine a better, safer, and healthier world for everyone.

No matter where you are traveling as the year draws to a close, even if it is simply across town, I wish you a safe journey and a safe and healthy 2016. And, remember, there are people around the world, including right here at the NTSB, who are working hard every day to make sure we all get home safely.

Happy New Year!

Talking Transportation Safety with Black and Hispanic State Legislators

By Nicholas Worrell

Every community is different, but some things are the same. Everybody wants – and rightly expects – to return home safely from work, school, or play.

I recently attended the conferences of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) to learn about these legislators’ concerns and to explain the NTSB’s transportation safety recommendations. Much of the work that we do begins with legislators, and to accomplish our goals and objectives we must go where they are.

In my recent blog, Developing Future Safety Advocates: Reaching the Millennials, I discussed educating youth about highway safety. At the NHCSL and NBCSL, I learned about the viewpoints of legislators from two distinct communities, and I had the opportunity to explain how proposed safety measures could benefit their respective communities.

To reach minority communities with safety messages means getting a seat at an already crowded table. The NTSB’s message regarding better education, legislation, and enforcement related to transportation safety, for example, might be lost among news stories emphasizing more contentious issues.

In many cases, these state legislators are pivotal figures in implementing safety recommendations, and many of them are champions of transportation safety in their own communities.

The NHCSL held its annual conference in November, with a focus on improving legislative involvement by and for their constituents in the Hispanic community – the largest and fastest-growing minority in the country, and one that faces particular transportation challenges.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that pedestrian death rates are higher for Hispanic males than for all males (3.93 per 100,000, vs. 2.29 for all males). Rates are higher for Hispanic females as well – 1.29 compared with .92 for all females.

Such disparities are not unique to Hispanics; in fact, Native Americans are confronted with even higher pedestrian death statistics. However, factors contributing to these disparities change from community to community.

Among Hispanics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) points to possible contributing factors affecting newer arrivals.

Initially, many walk or ride a bicycle, which puts them at higher risk of a pedestrian or bicyclist motor vehicle injury. Additionally, new arrivals must learn uniquely American rules of the road and driving customs and the meaning of U.S. traffic signs and rules. Language barriers might also affect their level of safety.

So for this group, pedestrian and bicyclist safety is of vital importance.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the NBCSL. The theme of the conference was “Leading by Balancing Justice and Opportunities.”

Some of the many discussions at the conference included youth development and education, and community safety issues.

In a 2006 analysis of fatal crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that while Whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics all had about the same chance of dying in a motor-vehicle crash, African-Americans were particularly likely to die in a crash involving a bus.

African-Americans killed in passenger-vehicle crashes were also more prone to be unrestrained.

While this study is older, year after year, the National Occupant Protection Use Survey continues to record that, while seat-belt use by African-Americans is growing, it is still below the national average – and we know that seat belts save lives.

In my view, getting my fellow African-Americans to recognize the importance of using seat belts and child restraints on every trip is a community issue – as is the installation of restraints on school buses, motorcoaches, and medium-sized buses.

The early estimates for 2015 point to a dramatic increase in the number of highway deaths nationwide. Better economic conditions are often cited as fueling more travel, and in turn, more tragedies.

Traveling more increases the chances of a crash. But eliminating impairment, distraction, and fatigue – and improving occupant protection – can turn around the statistics for all of us.

Many states still require stronger legislative action on issues such as these. I also had the opportunity to talk with legislators about other transportation issues, such as rail tank car safety, commercial trucking, and mass transit safety that affect their communities, as well.

For me, attending these conferences was about learning from the legislators and, hopefully, they learned a bit from me about how to improve transportation safety.

The NBCSL conference closed with the question, “are you fit for your job?” It was meant to encourage each of us to look at our medical, mental, and psychological fitness for duty. It gave me an opportunity to also talk about the NTSB campaigns for medical fitness for duty and against impaired driving.

The NTSB’s recommendations have no color and no ethnicity, but they resonate differently for different communities.

It was a privilege to join the conferences of our two largest minority state legislators and to review their special transportation safety challenges. While the mosaic that makes up this great nation is complex, safety has no complexion.

 

Nicholas Worrell is Chief of the Safety Advocacy Division in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

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.