Tag Archives: NTSB

Saving Lives – State by State by State

ignition_interlockBy Debbie Hersman

As I write this blog entry, there’s a lot of legislative activity at the state level where so much is decided that affects the quality of our lives—education, job creation, community services, and importantly for us at the NTSB—transportation safety.

Every state’s legislature will convene in 2013, with 43 state legislatures in session right now. We pay close attention to this since states are the recipients of many NTSB safety recommendations—measures that improve safety and save lives.

For example, 20 years ago the NTSB recommended graduated driver licensing, a three-stage driver-licensing system that reduces teen driver exposure to risk by restricting their nighttime driving and teen passengers. GDL laws are important because young, inexperienced drivers, especially 16-17 year-olds, are vastly over represented in fatal crashes. At the time of the NTSB recommendation, no state had a GDL system. Today, after intensive advocacy by a host of traffic safety organizations, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of graduated driver licensing. NHTSA reports that GDL laws have led to a substantial decrease of crashes for young people, “anywhere between 20 and 50 percent.”

This year, there are a number of actions pending in the states that address NTSB recommendations and can make a huge difference in transportation safety. For one, a Georgia state senator recently introduced a bill to the Georgia legislature to require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders. These devices have proven to be effective in addressing impaired driving. In fact, last December the NTSB recommended the use of ignition interlocks for all offenders.

In another key traffic safety issue, ten states and the District of Columbia now prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Our investigations have highlighted the deadliness of distraction across all transportation modes, which is why “Eliminate Distraction in Transportation” is on our Most Wanted List. It’s also why we will be advocating for states to enact legislation to ban all non-emergency use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices while driving.

Do you know what’s going on in your state to make transportation safer? The best way to influence change and save lives is to get involved. For more information on the NTSB’s priorities, see our MWL.

Motor City, Here We Come

(Jan 2013) Detroit, MI North American International Auto ShowBy Debbie Hersman

Next week, Board Members Mark Rosekind and Earl Weener and I are visiting the North American International Auto Show, one of the top automotive events of the year. While there’s been a lot of attention on the 50 vehicles that will be unveiled at the show, our team is more interested in the safety features that are being developed and incorporated on new cars.

There are a number of new technologies that can help prevent crashes, such as forward-collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems. These technologies, along with automatic braking and electronic stability control, can go a long way to help prevent the huge loss of life on our roadways each year, a number that tragically tops 30,000 fatalities each year. That’s why we put Mandate Motor Vehicle Collision Avoidance Technologies on our 2013 Most Wanted List.

We’re also looking forward to seeing the progress being made on self-driving cars, especially the work being done by Audi and Toyota that was unveiled at this week’s 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It was interesting to see safety through more autonomous vehicles, unveiled in Las Vegas, when we expect to see a lot of in-car electronic and entertainment features unveiled in Detroit, features that can distract drivers from focusing on the road. While the NTSB has commented on guidelines for in-vehicle systems – it is important for the manufacturers to put safety first when it comes to vehicle design and options. Eliminate Distraction in Transportation is also on our Most Wanted List.

We live in a rapidly changing world. Our work at the NTSB is focused on making it is a safer world.

Finding Out What Happened To Prevent It from Happening Again

ABC NY Photo of Ferry AccidentBy Debbie Hersman

Today, what should be an uneventful commute in New York City was disrupted when a passenger ferry that travels daily between Atlantic Highlands and Conners Highlands in New Jersey to lower Manhattan, made a hard landing when docking in New York City.

Details are sketchy right now, as they often are right after an accident. We know from New York City first responders that scores of passengers are injured and some critically. Our investigative team, led by Board Member Robert L. Sumwalt and Investigator-in-Charge Morgan Turrell, is on their way to New York City. The goal, as always, is to find out what happened so we can make recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

Last April, we completed an investigation of another New York passenger ferry, the Andrew J. Barberi that lost propulsion control and struck the Staten Island St. George terminal and injured dozens of passengers and crewmembers. That was the second accident involving the Andrew J. Barberi. The earlier accident, in 2003, killed 11 people and injured 70.

Living Longer, Driving Longer

aging driversBy Debbie Hersman

Here’s something to think about as you draw up your list of New Year’s resolutions: driving and mobility planning.

Just as we plan ahead for financial stability in retirement, it’s important to plan for mobility as we age. Mobility is so important for independence, social connectedness and quality of life, but it’s often overlooked when planning for the golden years.

When I visit my mother she hands me her car keys. I give them right back. She needs to keep her skills up. Research shows that it’s low-mileage drivers — under about 3,000 miles a year — who are more at risk for accidents.

There’s a lot more we know about aging and driving than when my mother worried about her mother’s driving a generation ago. For one, there are more Americans over age 65 than at any other time in U.S. history and they are keeping their driver’s licenses longer. We also know from accident data that older Americans are driving more safely. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the rate of fatal crashes per licensed driver age 70 and older dropped about 37 percent from 1997 to 2008.

It is still the young novice drivers who are the greatest risk on our roadways.

Older drivers are better at self -regulating and tend to be more safety conscious. They wear seat belts and drive less frequently at night or in bad weather. They’ll avoid rush-hour traffic and stick to routes and roads that they know. And, they are less likely to drink and drive.

Yet, as we age we can lose the abilities that help us be good drivers. The decline in vision, both in sharpness and in the ability to see contrast, is just one functional loss. There’s also a falloff in the speed in which we perceive and process information, as well as degradation in memory and cognition. These performance limitations are associated with medical impairments – impairments more likely as we grow older.

With impairments come treatments, including medication, a huge issue for safe driving. If the medication is labeled “do not operate heavy machinery while using this medication,” be assured that your two-ton personal vehicle is heavy machinery. We’ve seen the deadly effects of medication-impaired driving in too many accident investigations.

Of particular concern for driving safely is dementia. Those are the drivers whose accidents make dramatic headlines, like the 100-year-old driver who backed into a group of people last summer in Los Angeles. Advanced age can make a big difference, as we saw in our recent special investigation of wrong-way driving accidents on limited-access highways. Our research showed that drivers over age 80 were dramatically overrepresented in wrong-way driving crashes with almost 30 times more wrong-way drivers.

But, there’s good news for my mother and her cohort. In December, during the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) Older Driver Awareness Week, I checked in with Elin Schold Davis, who coordinates the association’s older driver initiatives. Schold Davis said the first sign of a problem in driving doesn’t mean the older driver has to give up the car keys.

It’s like any other health condition. A warning sign should prompt the driver, as well as concerned family members, to figure out what is causing the problem so it can be addressed. It may not require a choice between driving and not driving. It could mean a vision check and stronger eyeglasses or cataract surgery, more self-regulation or getting a driving fitness evaluation, which is offered by many occupational therapists.

There are a host of resources, from AAA, AARP, AOTA, among others, that can help older drivers plan for mobility in order to safely retain their independence and quality of life. The younger generation can help older family members in this planning. That’s why “Talk with Mom about mobility planning” is on my list of 2013 New Year’s resolutions. Then, I’ll hand her the keys.