Tag Archives: Jennifer Homendy

Honor Traffic Victims with Action

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

50 million deaths. Hundreds of millions of injuries.

That’s the worldwide cost of traffic violence, in human terms. It’s difficult to comprehend fully, which is why the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims is so meaningful.

This annual observance provides a time to reflect on the real people behind the statistics: mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, colleagues, best friends, and neighbors.

It’s a time to support those who’ve lost a loved one to the public health crisis on our roads.

And it’s a time to act, starting with NTSB recommendations.

Lessons from Tragedy

Since last year’s World Day of Remembrance, the NTSB has made 26 new recommendations to improve road safety. All remain open.

Where did these recommendations come from? They are the result of rigorous NTSB investigations into devastating crashes, outlined below. Each one is a lesson from tragedy, which is why we don’t rest until a recommendation is implemented.

At the NTSB, we believe the most meaningful thing we can do for victims of traffic violence is to advocate for our safety recommendations.

In other words: we choose to honor the victims with action.

Here are just some of the victims we’re remembering today — along with the recommended safety improvements to best honor their memory. 

Today we remember two people who were killed and seven who were injured in a Belton, SC, crash between an SUV and a bus carrying disabled passengers. The actions we demand on their behalf include the following:

  • Ban nonemergency use of portable electronic devices, like cellphones, for all drivers.  
  • Recruit cellphone manufacturers in the fight against distracted driving; they should automatically disable distracting functions when a vehicle is in motion.
  • Provide annual safety training for people employed to transport wheelchair users.  
  • Develop a side-impact protection standard for new, medium-size buses, regardless of weight — and require compliance.

We should honor the victims of the Pennsylvania Turnpike crash that injured 50 people and killed five others — including a nine-year-old child — by taking the following actions:

  • Develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology, connected-vehicle technology, and collision-avoidance systems — and require their use on new vehicles, as appropriate.
  • Require newly manufactured heavy vehicles to have onboard video event recorders.
  • Deploy connected-vehicle technology nationwide.
  • Take a comprehensive approach to eliminate speeding. Among other measures, this means thinking long and hard about the 85th percentile approach and using speed safety cameras, which includes working to remove restrictions against them. 

Here’s what we must do to honor the three people who were killed and the 18 who were injured when a bus overturned in Pala Mesa, California:

  • Require all new buses to meet a roof strength standard.
  • Sponsor research into safe tire tread depths for commercial vehicles.
  • Require seat belt use.

The best way to remember the victims of the Decatur, Tennessee, school bus crash that injured 14 people and killed two people, including a 7-year-old child, is to take the following steps:

  • Make lap-shoulder belts mandatory in new school buses.
  • Require lane-departure prevention systems on heavy vehicles.

And what about the nine people who died in a head-on crash in Avenal, California, on New Year’s Day — seven of whom were children? We must implement the following NTSB recommendations in their memory:

  • Require alcohol-detection systems in all new vehicles to prevent alcohol-impaired driving.
  • Encourage vehicle manufacturers to combat alcohol-impaired driving by accelerating progress on advanced impaired driving prevention technology and finding new ways to use existing technology, like driver monitoring systems.
  • Incentivize vehicle manufacturers and consumers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) systems. One way to achieve this is to include ISA in the New Car Assessment Program. Notably, ISA became mandatory in July 2022 for all new models of vehicles introduced in the European Union.
  • Develop a common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing by state officials.

Remember. Support. Act.

Even as we advocate for our safety recommendations, more crashes are occurring daily — which means more investigations. The work continues.

And yet, we cannot let the magnitude of the road safety crisis deter us.

We must keep fighting for zero, which is only possible through a Safe System Approach

We must fight for road users around the world who deserve to be safe.

We must fight for those whose lives are forever changed by traffic violence.

We must fight for those who are no longer here to fight for themselves.

For all these people and more, the NTSB will keep fighting. And so will I.

Time for Action: Passenger Vessel Safety Can’t Wait

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

Three years ago, I launched with the NTSB Go Team to Santa Barbara, California, to investigate the deadliest U.S. marine accident in decades.

On September 2, 2019, the Conception dive boat caught fire in the early morning hours, burned to the waterline, and sank less than 100 feet from shore. Tragically, the 34 people asleep below deck in the bunkroom — 33 passengers and one crewmember — were trapped. None of them survived. 

A plaque to honor the 34 victims of the Conception dive boat tragedy on September 2, 2019, sits in Santa Barbara Harbor. Photo by Rafael Maldonado, News-Press

The Conception tragedy was my first marine investigation as an NTSB Board member. As I have previously shared, I am forever changed by the time we spent on scene—especially my time speaking with the victims’ families.

Unfortunately, they are not alone. Including the Conception, the NTSB has investigated seven passenger vessel accidents since 1999 that have claimed a total of 86 lives.

Eighty-six lives lost unnecessarily. Eighty-six people who’ve left behind bereaved families and friends.

Enough is enough.

It’s time for meaningful action to improve passenger vessel safety — and it starts with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Our Marine Safety Partner

The USCG is NTSB’s closest marine safety partner. Our relationship is an outstanding example of government collaboration focused on saving lives and improving safety.

It is no exaggeration to say that we could not carry out our marine safety mandate without the USCG. Every accident we investigate is supported in a variety of ways by the dedicated men and women of the USCG, and my sincere thanks goes out to every one of them.

Many NTSB marine safety recommendations are directed to the USCG because, as the industry’s regulator, they are best positioned to improve safety.

Improving passenger and fishing vessel safety is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL).

Lessons from Tragedy

There are currently 21 open NTSB recommendations to the USCG focused on improving passenger vessel safety. “Open” status means the recipient of our safety recommendation has not, in the Board’s estimation, sufficiently addressed the safety risk.

That’s 21 unacted-upon opportunities to prevent further passenger vessel tragedies, like the Conception

Every day that an NTSB recommendation lingers as “open” is unacceptable. But, sometimes, we must measure inaction on our recommendations not in days, weeks, months, or even years.  That’s the case with several NTSB recommendations to the USCG.

Here are some of the safety gaps the USCG needs to address — all of which are on the MWL.

Fire Safety

The Conception is a heartbreaking example of the need for rigorous fire safety standards for small passenger vessels.  

We determined the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the operator, Truth Aquatics, to provide effective oversight of its vessel and crewmember operations. The lack of both oversight and adherence to certain safety requirements allowed the fire to grow undetected.

We also found that the lack of a USCG regulatory requirement for smoke detection in all accommodation spaces and inadequate emergency escape arrangements from the vessel’s bunkroom contributed to the undetected growth of the fire and the high loss of life.

As a result of our investigation, we issued 7 new safety recommendations to the USCG and reiterated a prior recommendation calling on the USCG to require safety management systems (SMS) on U.S.‑flag passenger vessels.

The Conception disaster was so compelling that Congress felt our safety recommendations needed to be codified into law. Legislators mandated the USCG implement our recommendations in the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The USCG took an important step to carry out this congressional mandate by issuing an interim rule, most of which took effect in March of this year. We look forward to the final rule implementing our recommendations.

Until then, our recommendations from the Conception investigation remain open. 

Safety Management Systems

The second safety issue involves SMS: a comprehensive, documented system to enhance safety. They’re so effective that the NTSB has recommended SMSs in all modes of transportation.

For nearly two decades, we’ve called for SMS on passenger vessels. This call to action is on the MWL, which is our single most important tool to increase awareness of important needed safety improvements.

The first time we issued a marine SMS recommendation was due to the October 15, 2003, ferry accident involving the Andrew J. Barberi. The vessel struck a maintenance pier at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, killing 11 passengers and injuring 70 others. We issued a recommendation to the USCG to “seek legislative authority to require all U.S.-flag ferry operators to implement SMS.”

Congress granted the necessary authority in 2010 — but the Coast Guard still didn’t act.

We then investigated a second accident involving the Andrew J. Barberi. This time, the ferry struck the St. George terminal on May 8, 2010, resulting in three serious injuries and 47 minor injuries.

Between the 2003 and 2010 accidents, the New York City Department of Transportation Ferry Division had implemented an SMS. Based on differences between crew actions in the two accidents, we concluded that the SMS benefitted passenger safety.

But the USCG still didn’t act on our SMS recommendation.

Several more accidents followed — in all of these, we determined an SMS would have either prevented the accident or reduced the number of deaths and injuries:

  • In 2013, the Seastreak Wall Street hit a pier in Manhattan, seriously injuring four passengers; 75 passengers and one deckhand sustained minor injuries.
  • In 2018, a fire aboard the small passenger vessel Island Lady killed one passenger and injured 14 others.
  • In 2019, the Conception tragedy claimed 34 lives.

The USCG initiated steps in January 2021 to implement our SMS recommendation by publishing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). In the ANPRM, the Coast Guard discussed that the NTSB “has identified issues associated with failed safety management and oversight as the probable cause or a contributing factor in some of the most serious casualties involving U.S. passenger vessels.”

That was over 18 months ago. We’ve been calling for such a requirement for almost 20 years. We will persist for as long as it takes.

I look forward to working with Admiral Linda Fagan in her new role as Commandant and call on the USCG to prioritize the rulemaking in the weeks and months ahead.

The Work Ahead

When it comes to safety, time is of the essence. That’s why we fight so hard for NTSB recommendations: to improve passenger vessel safety and save lives.

On the third anniversary of the Conception disaster, I’m calling on the USCG to act on the 21 open NTSB passenger vessel recommendations.

Doing so can’t undo past tragedy — but it can prevent similar suffering for other families.

I can think of no better way to honor the memory of the 34 Conception victims, whose loved ones we hold in our hearts today.

Reaching Zero, from Helsinki to Hoboken

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

This is the last post in a three-part series examining the safety of vulnerable road users, as new federal data show a rise in traffic deaths among motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians last year. You can read the first two posts here and here.

I just got back from Helsinki, Finland, where I attended the International Transportation Safety Association’s annual meeting.

I am amazed at the Finn’s approach to road safety, especially their focus on road design and infrastructure that separates and protects pedestrians and bicyclists from each other and road traffic, which has enabled them to achieve a safety feat in their capital city that people in the United States still consider impossible: zero pedestrian deaths.

Pedestrian crossing sign in Helsinki

A Tale of Two Countries

The public health crisis on U.S. roads is devastating and getting worse. People at the greatest risk are vulnerable road users, which includes anyone lacking the protection of a vehicle in the event of a crash, such as bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.

In fact, bicyclist deaths were up 5% over 2020 levels, while motorcyclist deaths increased 9% over the same period, according to 2021 estimates recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But the most astonishing take-away is that pedestrian deaths soared 13% to 7,342 lives lost in 2021.

That means, every single day last year, more than 20 families had to plan a funeral because their loved one was killed while walking, running, or rolling on our roads.  

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s not in Finland.

For a fair international comparison, we can look to the estimated 2019 roadway death rate provided by the World Health Organization. Using this apples-to-apples measure, it’s easy to see how much more dangerous our roads are.

For every 100,000 people in each country, less than four died on Finland’s roads in 2019. That’s the same year Finland’s capital of Helsinki recorded zero pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.

In the U.S.? Over a dozen people died on our roads for every 100,000 — more than triple Finland’s death rate.

Lessons from Helsinki to Hoboken

Many villages, towns, and cities around the world are having incredible success in saving the lives of vulnerable road users, including here in the United States. And they all have one thing in common.

Whether we’re talking about Helsinki or Hoboken, New Jersey (which has achieved zero traffic deaths for four consecutive years!), these communities all embrace the Safe System approach.

Far from a new fad, the Safe System approach derives from the Vision Zero movement in the 1990’s in Sweden, when it was called Vision Zero. It’s a philosophy or way of thinking, not a single action or “quick fix.” The core belief is that even one roadway death or serious injury is too many. 

It’s so successful that Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. 

Places that successfully eliminate traffic deaths through the Safe System approach understand that all parts of society share the responsibility for roadway safety:

  • This includes government workers in agencies at the local, state, and federal levels that design and build our roads — and set and enforce the speed limits.
  • It includes the people who make life-and-death decisions every day at companies that manufacture vehicles. Decisions like which safety technology comes standard and how to market new features ethically, among others.
  • It includes emergency responders who arrive on-scene following a crash, from the firefighter to the tow truck driver and everyone in between.
  • And it includes individual road users, who must make safe choices every time they walk, run, bike, drive, or roll.

The Safe System in Practice

What does a Safe System look like in practice? Here’s how Hoboken and Helsinki are bringing the concepts of safe streets, safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe road users, and post-crash care to life.

One of the biggest opportunities to move the needle on safety across the U.S. lies in safe vehicles. The NTSB has made many recommendations to NHTSA that, once implemented, will save lives by making new cars safer for people outside the vehicle. Here are a few of our recommendations:

  • Develop test criteria for vehicle designs that reduce injuries to pedestrians, which NTSB has recommended since 2017 — and has been a reality in Europe since 1997.
  • Test and require new cars to be equipped with technologies that prevent collisions with vulnerable road users, such as pedestrian automated emergency braking. This is something our European counterparts have been doing since 2016, and which we’ve recommended since 2018.
  • Incentivize vehicle manufacturers and consumers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems (ISA) by including ISA in the New Car Assessment Program. Even though NTSB recommended this back in 2017, Europe is again ahead of us: ISA systems in passenger vehicles will be mandatory in the European Union starting next month.

For even more NTSB recommendations aimed at saving the lives of vulnerable road users, check out the NTSB’s special investigation report on pedestrian safety and my earlier post on bicyclist safety.

Zero: A Bold — But Achievable — Goal

If you think Helsinki or Hoboken are outliers when it comes to eliminating roadway deaths, think again.

This interactive map shows places all over the world that have done it — many for several years in a row, including here in the U.S. (You can change the map language to English by clicking the flag in the top-right corner.)

The DEKRA Vision Zero Map records all cities with over 50,000 inhabitants that have gone at least one calendar year without traffic deaths in built-up areas since 2009.

To be sure, zero is a bold goal. But it’s not impossible. The current world leader is Siero, Spain, which has had zero roadway fatalities for over a decade.

That’s a safety record worth celebrating…and stopping at nothing to emulate. The NTSB will continue to push our safety partners at NHTSA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and in state and local governments to implement our recommendations to move our country farther along the road to zero.

We Need to Change the Bike Safety Conversation

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

This is the second in a three-part series examining the safety of vulnerable road users, as new federal data show a rise in traffic deaths among motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians last year. Read the first post.

I love nearly everything about bicycles, from riding around Virginia to creating art for the NTSB office with old parts. I say “nearly” everything because U.S. roads are far too dangerous for bicyclists — and it’s getting worse.

Wall art by Chair Homendy from bicycle parts hangs at NTSB headquarters

On World Bicycle Day, I’m calling on every road user to help change the conversation.

Outdated Thinking is Deadly

Bicycles have been around for two centuries. But that’s no excuse for our safety approach to be stuck in the past, as it currently is.

We have to stop telling bicyclists not to get injured. We have to let go of the idea that educating bike riders will solve the problem. This type of thinking is too narrow to stem the public health crisis on our roads — and clinging to it is proving to be deadly.

Chair Homendy on a bike ride with NTSB team member Ivan Cheung

Of course, we implore all road users to make safe choices to protect themselves and others. But we’re missing the bigger picture when we only focus on individuals’ actions. It’s certainly not how we get to our goal of zero traffic deaths!

Instead, we should be talking about how the entire system is failing to protect bicyclists and other vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and motorcyclists. This means asking new questions such as the following:

  • Are vehicles equipped with technology to prevent crashes with bicyclists?
  • Are drivers traveling at speeds that would make it unlikely for a bicyclist to survive a crash?
  • Is the road itself designed to prevent crashes and protect bicyclists?
  • If a crash does occur, how effective was the emergency response in its goal of saving lives and treating injuries?  

These questions help us “zoom out” and see that we can’t solve our road safety crisis by focusing solely on individual road users. We also have to consider safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe roads, and post-crash care. That’s why Protect Vulnerable Road Users through a Safe System Approach is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. 

In a truly Safe System, the safety burden is shared by all, from individual road users to traffic safety and highway engineers, regulators, vehicle manufacturers, and more. Absolutely everyone is responsible for preventing crashes.

Because even one death is one too many.

Tragically, the stakes have never been higher. According to data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 985 cyclists died on our roads last year — a 5% increase over 2020 levels. Combined with the 9% increase in motorcycle deaths and the 13% jump in pedestrian deaths, you can see how dire the situation is for vulnerable road users.

We have to do better. And that means considering all components of a Safe System. The best place to start is with the implementation of NTSB safety recommendations.

Here are just some of the ways we could make streets safe for all road users:

  • Invest in bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, like separated bike lanes and safety treatments at intersections. The recent infrastructure law presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make such lifesaving investments.
  • Reduce speeds, especially in areas where there are a lot of vulnerable road users, like bicyclists. This can be accomplished through infrastructure improvements, like road diets; granting local jurisdictions the authority to set safe speeds for their own community and implement speed safety camera programs; and requiring auto manufacturers to install advanced speed-limiting technology on vehicles.
  • Require in-vehicle technologies, such as automatic emergency braking, that can help prevent crashes before they occur — and not just crashes with other cars and trucks, but with bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists as well.
  • Require large vehicles to be equipped with visibility-enhancement systems to better detect cyclists and pedestrians in their blind spots.
  • Prevent impaired driving, which leads to one in four traffic fatalities. NHTSA should require vehicles to come equipped with technology that will detect and prevent drunk driving. States should lower the per se blood alcohol content (BAC) to .05, an action only Utah has taken (with proven success!). States should also implement laws requiring all drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving to use an interlock device.
  • Require front, side, and rear underride guards on newly manufactured trucks to protect cyclists and pedestrians from going beneath large trucks.
  • Collect and analyze data, including hospital data, on the level of bicycling activity, crashes, and injuries. State and local leaders should use this data to design countermeasures and evaluate outcomes to measure effectiveness. How do you know if a project or program is successful if you aren’t tracking progress?

My Next Project — And the Nation’s 

My next bike project has already begun. I’m restoring an old Sears Spaceliner that I picked up at my local thrift shop. And I’m planning a few rides with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

I’m also using World Bicycle Day as an opportunity to assign you a project of your own: Join NTSB in changing the bike safety conversation. Ask new questions. Stop putting the entire safety burden on bicyclists. Embrace the Safe System approach.

The lives of vulnerable road users depend on it.

Motorcycle Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility

By Chair Jennifer Homendy

This is the first in a three-part series examining the safety of vulnerable road users, as new federal data show a rise in traffic deaths among motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians last year.

When it comes to learning, I’m one of those people who doesn’t just want to read about something — I want to experience it firsthand whenever possible.

That’s why I got my motorcycle endorsement.

In fact, enrolling in the training course was one of the first things I did when I became an NTSB Board Member back in 2018. I wanted to feel the thrill of operating a motorcycle, learn from my classmates about their love of riding, and gain a deeper understanding of the safety risks all riders face.

Most of all, I wanted to become a more effective safety advocate.

Photo of Chair Jennifer Homendy at a Wheels Up Motorcycle Training Course, in Fredericksburg, VA.

A Tragic New Record

Motorcyclists — motorcycle riders and their passengers — have the highest risk of fatal injury among all motor vehicle users. A major reason is that motorcycles afford riders less protection in a crash.

This means, for every mile they traveled in 2020, the average motorcyclist’s risk of death in a traffic crash was 28 times greater than that of a passenger car occupant.

The picture is only getting bleaker. New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that 6,101 motorcyclists died on our roads last year. Not only is this an all-time high — it’s a 9% increase from 2020, which held the previous record.

That means the last two years are the deadliest on record for motorcyclists in the United States.

What Needs to be Done

We know what needs to happen to save motorcyclists’ lives.

First and foremost, we need to adopt the Safe System approach to protect  vulnerable road users, such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s so important that it’s on our 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

A Safe System addresses all aspects of traffic safety: road users, vehicles, speeds, roads, and post-crash care. We must make better safety investments, from road treatments, vehicle design, and collision-avoidance systems to strong traffic safety laws to mitigate risk and save lives for all road users.

But what does that mean in practice? The first step is to change the way we think and talk about safety. When it comes to motorcycle safety, it means we must stop spending so much time talking about what riders should do to mitigate their risk.

It’s not only unfair to put the full safety responsibility on motorcyclists, but it’s also ineffective. In a truly safe system, no individual road user’s action or inaction can cost them their life; there are redundancies built in so that if one part fails, a person is still protected.

The NTSB took a deep dive into motorcycle safety with our 2018 research report, which has specific recommendations to protect motorcyclists. And, because motorcyclists are at such risk in crashes with passenger vehicles, we should also heed NTSB recommendations in our reports on speeding and substance-impaired driving.

Combined, these three reports have 50 safety recommendations — that’s 50 opportunities for regulators, states, policymakers, manufacturers, and associations to save lives on our roads.

As we close out Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and head into the deadly days of summer, now’s the perfect moment to implement NTSB safety recommendations.

The Time is Now

Getting my motorcycle endorsement helped me see the road from a rider’s perspective. It also deepened my resolve to ensure every motorcycle rider and passenger is safe on our roads.

But you don’t need to have firsthand experience to understand how dire the situation is. After all, we set a tragic new record for motorcyclist deaths last year. 

We can’t wait another day. The families of the 6,101 riders we lost last year deserve action.