Tag Archives: Safety

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.

What does transportation have to do with your health? . . . Everything!

By Natalie Draisin

Transportation is Public Healt graphic

Often, I get some confused looks when I tell people I’m doing an internship at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as part of my joint public health and business degrees at Johns Hopkins University. “What does transportation have to do with public health?” they ask.

Actually, transportation has a whole lot to do with public health. How did you get to work or school today? If you walked, drove, cycled, or took a bus, you were in danger of a life-changing incident. You could’ve been struck by another vehicle. Imagine the hospital bills, the lost productivity, and the debilitating consequences. Flown on a plane recently? Did your palms sweat a little when the turbulence started? You probably arrived at your destination safely, nonetheless. That’s because your pilot was well trained, following safety protocols and mitigating the inclement weather that in another situation, could have brought the plane down.

If you believe that you have the right to cross the street without worrying about being hit, injured, or killed by a drunk driver, or you believe that you have the right to board a plane, take off, and land safely – then you believe in transportation safety, and you believe in public health.

The two are integrally linked – think about the effects of a transportation incident on our public’s health. When a bus carrying an entire high school band crashes, it has a ripple effect, impacting the rest of the transportation system, the health system, and of course, the victims’ families. Miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic will follow, which could lead to further crashes, along with lost productivity when you, and everyone else caught in traffic, are late to work. Hospitals nearby will receive an influx of patients. In major incidents, it’s often more than one hospital can handle. Victims may not be able to function at the same level thereafter, and their families might be permanently scarred, in desperate need of mental health services.

When a pipeline bursts (pipelines are a mode of transportation, as they bring something from one place to another), it has economic, environmental and health repercussions. Remember the 2010 pipeline rupture and fire in San Bruno, California? More than 4 years later, that community is still rebuilding homes and infrastructure; families are still trying to pick up the pieces. Transportation incidents don’t occur in a bubble, they affect society at large, which inherently includes, of course, the public’s health.

What is it about public health that uniquely positions the field to address transportation, and particularly traffic, safety? Public health is about protecting and improving the health and safety of the population. Public health figures out what’s hurting and killing people, and then uses evidence-based initiatives to fix it. We call that preventing morbidity and mortality. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury in our country – 2,362,000 injured and 33,561 killed in 2012. The CDC estimates that Americans spend over one million days in the hospital each year from crash related injuries. In 2012, that translated into $18 billion in lifetime medical costs, and $33 billion lost in lifetime work, such as lost wages or benefits. That’s a lot of lives changed, expenses incurred, and productivity lost.

Though it may not seem like it, transportation incidents have a lot of characteristics similar to a disease, which public health analyzes through the lens of a host, agent, and the environment. In a car crash, the host could be the young driver; the agent, the impact of the car hitting another car; and the environment, the slippery roads at night. Like a disease, public health can intervene in a number of ways to reduce the occurrence of crashes – for example, implementing graduated driver’s licenses so youth can gain more experience before having full driving privileges, incorporating airbags and seat belts into cars to reduce the impact of a crash, or equipping roads with reflectors and guard rails to make it easier to see at night and in the rain, and harder to veer into oncoming traffic. Also like a disease, the incidence of these crashes can be tracked, so we can see if our interventions are working and revise them when they’re not.

The government recognizes that it has a responsibility to keep the public safe from incidents while using our transportation system, and that’s why they’ve created organizations like the NTSB. It’s not a public health agency, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t address public health issues. And the good news is that through the help of agencies like the NTSB, we can work towards decreasing crash rates. The NTSB investigates accidents, determines probable cause, assists families, and then issues recommendations to federal agencies to prevent future accidents. This leads to life-saving changes.

At the NTSB, though, I didn’t sit at a desk and analyze crash data. I helped the NTSB address all elements of the public health triad – the host, the agent, and the environment. In the Safety Advocacy Division of the Office of Communications, I helped craft messages to internal and external stakeholders, to obtain support for our recommendations. Working with staff from the Office of Aviation Safety, I’ve drafted some of the web content for the NTSB’s Most Wanted List. I also wrote advocacy blogs about traffic safety, and tweets for forums. Building on my prior drunk driving prevention work, I’ve researched state laws addressing ignition interlocks (breathalyzers on cars to prevent drunk driving), and Automatic License Revocation. Some of these projects I’ve dreamed of working on for years, since I first became involved in traffic safety after the tragic death of a friend in college who was hit and killed by a drunk driver.

Throughout my internship, I’ve picked up invaluable skills. I’m fortunate to work for an outstanding group who were equally committed to developing my skills, providing constructive feedback, while at the same time, finding the synergy between their important safety work and mine. They are equally as talented and dedicated, and they’ve given me the opportunity to work with them on a variety of topics and projects. This team is representative of many of NTSB’s employees, some of the smartest, most driven people I’ve encountered. So, what does traffic safety have to do with public health? Everything.

Natalie Draisin was a graduate student intern in the Safety Advocacy Division.

Driving Into a Safer Future

Auto ShowBy Debbie Hersman

On Monday, Detroit opened the North American International Auto Show, showcasing new concepts, new technologies and new ideas. During our visit to the auto show, my colleagues, Earl Weener and Mark Rosekind, and I heard firsthand from automakers and suppliers about their efforts to address safety. In particular, we learned more about their investments in two of this year’s Most Wanted List areas: collision avoidance technology and distraction.

They are clearly putting their investments into technology. We saw impressive new concepts for the future of safety, but more importantly we saw safety features becoming standard equipment on many different models. No longer are backup cameras, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems found only on luxury vehicles, they are now widely available across a spectrum of makes and models.

In the future, we will see even more advanced technologies in our cars and trucks, such as collision avoidance with active braking and lane maintaining technology. Every year the technology focused on the outside of the car is helping us become safer. When it comes to distraction, we need to make sure the technology on the inside of the car is focused on making us safer, too.

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.