Tag Archives: MWL2015

President Obama: “Let us pledge to always drive sober”

The blog was co-authored by:

Christopher A. Hart, Chairman, NTSB

Michael P. Botticelli, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Mark Rosekind, Administrator, NHTSA

Americans are well aware of the terrible consequences of drunk driving and are increasingly learning about the dangers of drugged driving. More than 10,000 people are killed in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes every year. Driving under the influence of drugs, an increasingly common occurrence, is also dangerous – and preventable.  Every American can play a role in reducing the frequency of these incidents. This is why President Obama observed the month of December as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month:

“During National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, let us pledge to always drive sober and alert and to avoid distractions behind the wheel. Together, we can help ensure all our people are able to enjoy the holiday spirit and make memories with those they care about while safeguarding the well-being of everyone on the road.” – President Obama

In 2013-2014, the National Roadside Survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that more than 22 percent of drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs. To tackle this increasing problem, the Administration is working tirelessly with Federal, state, and local partners. At the Federal level, the 2015 National Drug Control Strategy, released by ONDCP, aims to reduce drugged driving by raising public awareness, working with states to enact legal reforms to address drugged driving, improving drug tests and data collection on our Nation’s roads, and increasing law enforcement’s ability to identify these drivers.

In a 2013 report,  the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that drivers are at increased risk of a fatal crash even before their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level reaches the legal limit.  By the time a driver’s BAC reaches 0.08 percent, his or her fatal crash risk has more than doubled. The NTSB 2015 Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements calls for several countermeasures to eliminate substance-impaired driving, including stronger laws, high-visibility enforcement, increased use of ignition interlocks, and targeted measures for repeat offenders. The NTSB also suggests consulting with your doctor to understand possible impairing effects of medications.

During National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, we recommitted to preventing accidents due to drugged and drunk driving by acting responsibly and promoting responsible behavior in those around us.

Learn more about what you can do to encourage safe driving: https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/drugged-driving

Michael P. Botticelli is the Director of National Drug Control Policy. Christopher A. Hart is the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Mark R. Rosekind is the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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.

Procedural Compliance: Taking the Problem to Industry

By Earl F. Weener, PhD

Today, the NTSB hosted members of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), a group of key government and commercial aviation stakeholders working toward improving commercial aviation safety. CAST meets bimonthly and is focused on finding ways to reduce the commercial aviation fatality risk in the United States by at least 50 percent from 2010 to 2025.

At this meeting—hosted in the NTSB Board Room—I was proud to introduce an NTSB produced video to highlight a safety problem we see emerging from our accident investigations: failures of procedural compliance. “Procedural Compliance” is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of critical transportation safety improvements.

During investigations, we too often find that pilots have deviated from or failed to follow procedures related to flying stabilized approaches. Crashes have occurred because pilots did not maintain a sterile cockpit, monitor critical flight parameters, including airspeed, or heed aircraft limitations. Our investigators have discovered missed or incomplete pre-flight briefings and checklists, and callouts.

Our video highlights findings from seven crashes, including the Asiana flight 214 crash in San Francisco, California, in 2013, and the UPS crash in Birmingham, Alabama, also in 2013—as well as some lesser known crashes.

The key takeaways from this video that we shared with this room of pilots, operators, and regulators included:

  • SOPs are an important barrier to crew errors caused by fatigue, distraction, stress, or inattention
  • SOPs must be trained
  • SOPs must be consistently applied and reinforced by both companies and pilots
  • The crew concept is an important part of SOPs

Everyone plays a role in ensuring procedural compliance—the airline operator, the regulator, and the pilots. They must work together to develop clear, concise and reasonable procedures; make sure train to the procedures; and make sure procedures are followed. By achieving consistent and strong procedural compliance, we can continue our success in making commercial aviation one of the safest forms of transportation.

Dr. Weener is a Member of the NTSB Board.

Weighing the Benefits of Weigh Stations

By Amy Terrone

Have you ever driven by a weigh station on the side of the highway and wondered what happens to all those trucks that enter that parallel roadway?

And why do some trucks get to whiz by, while others crawl into the station?

NTSB Highway investigators at a weigh station in Boise, ID
NTSB Highway Investigators Mike Fox (L) and Dave Pereira (R) talk with a CMV officer at a Boise weigh station.

I learned the answer to these questions recently when I joined NTSB highway investigators for a tour of one of Idaho’s busiest weigh stations. This visit was sponsored by the Idaho State Police (ISP) commercial motor vehicle enforcement team, which works closely with the Idaho Transportation Department, the lead agency for size and weight and encompasses the Port of Entry Inspectors and weigh stations. The ISP is the lead agency for safety; they inspect commercial trucks for safety violations and put them out of service if they aren’t complying with state and federal regulations.

Several NTSB Highway Safety Investigators and I were attending the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) annual conference in Boise, Idaho, last week when the ISP presented us with an opportunity to view the live operations at one of their weigh stations. (The outgoing CVSA president is an ISP major.)

The CVSA conference brings together commercial vehicle truck inspectors (mainly law enforcement), truck and motorcoach fleet owners, regulatory agencies, and other commercial motor vehicle safety advocates around the nation to discuss the latest safety innovations, regulatory requirements, and inspection tactics for commercial motor vehicles.

It turns out that trucks which have been pre-screened and which have a current good safety record, similar to the TSA pre-check for airline passengers, can skip specific roadside weigh stations. Idaho uses a bypass system called NORPASS. With about 30 commercial motor vehicle enforcement officers covering the whole state of Idaho, the goal is not to spend time focusing on the truck drivers/operators who are making the commitment to operate safely and follow regulations.

Those drivers who don’t participate in NORPASS must come in to be…yes, weighed. If the loaded truck weighs more than 80,000 pounds, give or take, then the driver may be asked to pull over and unload.

Why do we care about weight? Because too much weight can tear up the roadway, creating a safety hazard for all drivers. Plus — and the NTSB has seen this in our investigations — overweight trucks can cause additional damage if involved in crashes.

But other information can come out of these weigh station stops.

The weigh station manager showed us how information pops up on their screens as trucks come through that indicates the trucks weight, height, safety score and paper credentials, i.e. registration, taxes, and any out-of-service violations or suspensions. 

ISP commercial motor vehicle officers onsite may also conduct a random inspection. If such an inspection uncovers serious violations, then the truck, the driver, or both may be placed “out of service” — meaning they can’t continue to operate until the unsafe condition has been corrected.

What happens if a truck without the NORPASS transponder runs the station? Commercial motor vehicle enforcement officers chase them down. 

The station manager shows NTSB staff their weight-tracking system.
The station manager shows NTSB staff their weight-tracking system.

I was impressed by how smoothly the operation ran at the Boise weigh station. There was a separate lane for “regulars” so to speak who traverse the station daily or at least multiple times weekly. A person sits behind the window and watches every truck going through, carefully noting the license plate, VIN, and other identifying vehicle information.

With “Strengthening Commercial Trucking Safety” on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of safety critical improvements, it was important for NTSB to be at the CVSA conference and tour sites such as this roadside weigh station. More than 4,000 people die each year as a result of truck crashes, and truck crashes have been on the rise. Our visit to the ISP weigh station gave us a first-hand look at the work being done to combat this truck safety problem and how information obtained from them can provide us with valuable information in our crash investigations.

Like many of us on the roads, I didn’t know all that was happening inside these non-descript buildings on the side of the road. The men and women who staff them are our eyes and ears on the roads – looking for bad trucks and bad drivers. And, ultimately, the work they do is a critical component of the highway safety process that will help reduce crashes, along with injuries and fatalities on our roadways.

Amy Terrone is a Writer-Editor in the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Industry Outreach: Keeping our Finger on the Pulse

By Christopher A. Hart

The transportation of goods and people almost always succeeds without anything going wrong. In those rare cases where something does go wrong, however, the NTSB steps in to investigate. We make recommendations aimed at preventing a similar recurrence and we promote—or advocate—for the implementation of our recommendations.

To inform our investigations and make thoughtful recommendations, it is critical for us to understand how it all works at the operator level. We are trying to spend more time learning from those who manage the business of transportation without mishaps so that we won’t have to spend as much time investigating crashes that could have been prevented.

Chairman Hart with NTSB Colorado Regional staffLast week, NTSB staff and I visited seven transportation organizations in Kansas and my native Colorado to promote NTSB views on safety and, perhaps most importantly, to learn about how they implement safety into their day-to-day operations.

I was pleased to discover many safety processes in place that were recommended by NTSB. We had informative discussions about how to approach safety proactively in order to prevent the kind of catastrophic accidents we investigate. Fortunately, most that we talk to in the industry, it seems, are taking crash prevention seriously.

For more than 80 years, Jeppesen has been helping aviation professionals worldwide reach their destinations safely and efficiently. They offer an array of informational products, services, and software—not only to their air transportation partners, but also to a growing line-up of sea and land transportation partners.

I was given an overview of their digital technology products, toured their customer support center, and learned about their electronic data-driven charting applications.

The NTSB has seen how bringing new technology to bear to enhance transportation safety can yield great benefits. Jeppesen takes pride in safety, and that was apparent during my visit.

Sierra Nevada Corporation works in the commercial space sector, an area of keen interest for the NTSB, and the next frontier for transportation safety. As the commercial space sector grows, we continue to grow in our knowledge of the industry.

I received an overview of the corporation and of Sierra Nevada’s view of the space systems business, small satellite manufacturing, and space technologies manufacturing. Our hosts also shared information on their new spacecraft, its Engineering Test Article, Flight Simulator, Vehicle Avionics Integration Laboratory, and Flight Integration Control Lab.

It was an eye-opening look at one of the many companies working in the commercial space sector, and I was impressed by this industry’s willingness to collaborate. Commercial space operators are now learning, as did their aviation counterparts before them, that when it comes to safety, companies must share and collaborate on new safety approaches — even as they compete in other aspects of their business. 

Chairman Hart at Air Methods CorporationWe have issued several recent recommendations over the years regarding emergency medical service operations, so I was excited to tour Air Methods Corporation, one of the nation’s largest operators of air medical transport.

I learned about its Helicopter Air Ambulance program, and toured the Completion Center, Operational Control Center, Technical Services, and United Rotorcraft, Operations, Maintenance and Clinical facility — all play a critical role in the safety of their helicopter operations.

As I spoke to future helicopter pilots and medical trainees at Air Methods, I took the opportunity to help encourage their culture of safety, as they face the many challenges that are inherent in their business, by sharing with them our passion for transportation safety.

I grew up in a Denver with few mass transit options, so it was a pleasure to see the expansion of rail, light rail, and bus operations in my hometown through the Denver RTD FasTracks program. As I toured the east rail line and the 225 rail line, it occurred to me how important it was for Denver’s FasTracks to pursue a proactive approach to make Mass Transit Safer –an NTSB Most Wanted List issue area this year – which I was pleased to see them emphasize.

Chairman Hart at UPS in ColoradoI also visited with leaders from the Colorado Motor Carriers Association (CMCA), a non-profit organization that has provided support for Colorado’s trucking industry for more than 75 years, and with multimodal shipping giant UPS, in Denver, CO.

Both groups were eager to discuss ways to Strengthen Commercial Trucking Safety, another item on NTSB’s Most Wanted List of critical safety improvements this year.

I learned about the distinctive features of the new UPS 2015 Kenworth truck-tractor. The truck is equipped with some of the most advanced safety systems for heavy-duty trucks, which include the latest in collision avoidance, collision mitigation, and stability-control technologies. Making collision avoidance systems standard in commercial vehicles is a recent NTSB recommendation, the result of a special investigation report released in May.

I was impressed by the extent of driver training that many commercial drivers undergo; however, the large size of commercial trucks — and, consequently, the damage they can cause in any crash — makes it imperative to continuously look for ways to improve commercial trucking.

All of these transportation giants share a common goal: continually look for ways to improve safety. To succeed, they must continue to take a proactive approach to safety, and, like all those organizations committed to safety and protecting lives, they must be both bold and humble.

Humble — because even an organization with the best safety record can have a major accident tomorrow—and bold — because anticipating and preventing accidents are the best ways to move safety forward.

Chin Up…and Avoid Distraction!

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

Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr at the 3rd Annual Virginia Distracted Driving SummitLast week, I attended the 3rd Annual Virginia Distracted Driving Summit to share ideas, gather information, and learn about best practices related to the issue of distraction. It was an honor to be among these advocates and researchers, who are continually working on efforts to reduce the dangerous – and unhealthy – practice of distracted driving.

NTSB has been battling distraction for several years; it has been a contributing cause of accidents in all modes of transportation. The issue is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements and has been for the past few years. This issue is important to me, the NTSB, and the millions of people who share our roads.

My training is in public health and prevention is the cornerstone of this field. Public health professionals believe almost everything – from diseases to distraction – can be prevented if we can just figure out the cause and disseminate the treatment, whether that treatment is a vaccine or a behavior modification.

To prevent distraction, the culture of safety in the United States and across the world must be changed. Most people don’t think of being distracted as unhealthy. They think of it as simply a part of life. But it is unhealthy.

It is becoming harder and harder to disconnect from technology, because we have the means to stay connected with what’s going on each and every second of the day. Since the advent of the automobile, we have had to deal with the issue of distraction. Drivers felt distracted by windshield wipers, by the radio, by their passengers, and by many other things. Distraction is a complex issue and a difficult topic to tackle because its study (and its prevention) encompasses many factors – the road, the vehicle, and the person. There are so many ways we can tackle this problem – work environment, laws and enforcement, behavior change, technology, safety culture, to name a few. It is also an issue that has affected many people, including myself.

In late 1996, in Houston, I was involved in a crash caused by a distracted driver. It was a morning I’ll never forget.

I was driving down Almeda Road in Houston, Texas, on my way to the Texas Medical Center to turn in my thesis for my Master’s degree in public health, when a distracted driver coming out of the dry cleaners attempted to cross the road and crashed into my vehicle and another vehicle, sending me and another woman to the emergency room.

Because of that crash, I had six months of physical therapy due to injuries to my neck, shoulder, and back. These areas still flare up today.

Why was the gentleman distracted that day? Because he was trying to adjust the radio. When I later learned that I was enduring hours of painful physical therapy every week because someone was adjusting his radio, I was mad. And there are many families today who are mad, but they have found a way to channel those emotions towards efforts to reduce distractions in transportation. At the Summit, I had the honor of meeting some of these families who have become strong advocates against distracted driving.

Looking back, I realize just how lucky I was that day in Houston – lucky because the crash was not as severe as it could have been and lucky because the first responders were there quickly.

I walk or ride my bicycle almost every day – taking turns with my husband to take our son to school or pick him up. Lately, I’ve been hearing the young people in my neighborhood say “chin up” to people who are walking on the sidewalk with their heads down absorbed in their electronic devices. My 7-year-old son loves that saying, and, when we are on our bikes waiting to cross a street, he has even tried to say it to people in their car at a stop who have their heads down.

Chin up – it is a reminder to people to lift their heads, disconnect from whatever the distraction might be, and pay attention to the world around them when sharing a sidewalk or the roads. Chin up – it is also a reminder to traffic safety researchers and advocates to keep up the important work of finding the best, evidence-based interventions and then implementing them widely to keep our communities safe.

Chin up and disconnect from those deadly distractions. Chin up to save lives and prevent injuries.

The Importance of Procedural Compliance

By Roger Cox

Image of crashed UPS cargo flight in Birmingham, ALThe August 14, 2013, crash of UPS flight 1354 in Birmingham, Alabama, was one of several recent accidents that involved crew deviations from standard procedures (often referred to as standard operating procedures—SOPs). The Asiana 214 accident in San Francisco in 2013 could have been avoided by closer adherence to standard procedures. Procedural non-compliance is also strongly implicated in several other recent accidents, including two wrong airport landings in 2014, still under investigation.

When I reviewed the facts of the UPS investigation, I was reminded of the familiar feeling I got when I was an airline captain planning and briefing an approach under potentially adverse circumstances. When things were not working out like I expected, I wondered if I was being set up for failure. My caution flags went up. Today, I ask myself how I would have felt and reacted, given what developed during the Birmingham approach.

Being a bit high on descent is allowed and pretty common, but it can throw your planning off. Going to a shorter runway than expected—and one not equipped with an instrument landing system—is another common complication. Having to conduct an unfamiliar non-precision approach at night, in the weather, just adds to the difficulty. The preflight and current weather information said the airport at Birmingham was essentially operating under visual flight rules, with good visibility and a 1,000 foot ceiling—but, alas, these were not the conditions. Finally, due to the proximity to the airport, software versions installed, and high descent rate, the automatic altitude callouts and terrain warnings—provided by protective systems we have come to expect in state-of-the-art airliners—weren’t enabled or were not as effective in alerting the crew to the seriousness of their situation. Yes, I thought, this situation was a set up for failure.

What should be a crew’s first defense against such adverse or unexpected situations? In my mind, it is adherence to standard procedures.

When crews develop the habit pattern of following checklists, doing briefings, and making callouts every time, they begin to do these things reflexively, even when they are stressed, distracted, and tired. The NTSB found that, while the crew adhered to good SOPs during preflight, climb and cruise, they made several critical errors and omissions during the approach that should have been caught if they had carefully and precisely followed procedures.

When a fatal accident occurs, everyone at the affected airline feels the pain. Pilots in particular feel it because they not only have had long friendships with the lost crew but they share a kind of kinship earned through common joys and hardships related to piloting. As they face the fact that they cannot undo what has happened, they ask how can we undo a similar tragedy in the future.

I hope the pilots who read the NTSB report on the UPS accident and watch the video released this week highlighting the issues that led to the UPS crash will take them in the spirit they were intended. Our goal always is to find a safer way in the future. To that end, I ask that we pilots recommit to standardization. In 2015, one of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List priorities is to Strengthen Procedural Compliance. This means: follow your SOPs. If you think one of your procedures is inappropriate or unwise, ask your company to consider changing it, but until they do, follow it and potentially avoid a catastrophic incident.

Roger Cox is a Senior Aviation Safety Investigator in the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety.