Tag Archives: Substance Impaired Driving

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!

What if a Trucker Just Breaks the Rules?

By Dr. Robert Molloy

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) often responds to crashes in all modes of transportation with recommendations to regulators to ensure that vehicle operators are not fatigued or impaired. In commercial trucking, for example, we have made many recommendations to prevent fatigued truckers from getting behind the wheel. There are also long-established rules about the use of impairing drugs by commercial truck drivers.

But what if a trucker just breaks the rules?

Reduce Fatugie-related Accidents Most Wanted List posterOn October 4, the NTSB met to discuss a tragic crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which a tractor-trailer ran into a line of slow-moving cars at a speed of at least 78 miles per hour. This began a chain-reaction crash that killed six people and injured four others. The driver in this accident chose not to follow the hours-of-service rules and get appropriate rest before he began his trip. He also chose to use methamphetamine before getting behind the wheel. As a result, the driver was impaired by both drugs and fatigue as he approached a clearly visible work zone with slowed and stopped traffic. He deliberately ignored the rules that had been in place to prevent this very tragedy.

In such a case, what is there to learn about safety? What can be done to improve safety when a truck driver just decides to break the rules?

This question illuminates the value of a safety investigation that does not determine blame or fault, and does not conduct criminal or disciplinary proceedings. Rather, the NTSB’s sole mandate is safety. This means that we not only recommend better rules for truck drivers, but we also continue to look for ways to prevent future tragic crashes, even when a driver simply breaks the rules.

One way to prevent another crash like the one in Chattanooga is to keep such dangerous drivers away from commercial trucking. In the Chattanooga crash, we found that the driver’s employer could have used a pre-employment hair drug test to discover the driver’s history of drug use before he was hired. We also found that the state of Kentucky had a list of citations and previous collisions associated with the driver’s 5-year driving record, but his employer had only consulted the driver’s 3-year driving record in the hiring process.

In this case, we did make recommendations to the regulator, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), not to adopt new rules for truck drivers, but to help keep dangerous drivers that break the rules out of commercial trucking. We asked the FMCSA to disseminate information to carriers about hair drug testing. We also asked the FMCSA to specify that an employer must consider any evidence in a driver’s crash record that the driver had violated laws governing motor vehicle operation. We asked that the FMCSA evaluate motor carrier use of and perspectives on their Pre-employment Screening Program, and to collect and publish best practices for pre-employment investigations and inquiries.

In addition, we recommended that the states of Kentucky and Idaho include driver status, license expiration, driving restrictions, violations, and crashes in their 3-year driver records.

In the case of a tragic crash like the one that happened in Chattanooga, it is for other appropriate authorities to pursue punishment. Our findings and recommendations reflect our mission to improve safety.

NTSB 2016 Most Wanted List issue image for End Substance Impairment in Transportation, image collage of drugs, alcohol, vehicles and dead end signOur Most Wanted List of safety improvements includes ending impairment in transportation and reducing fatigue-related accidents. One way to make progress toward these goals is to ensure that truck drivers with a demonstrable pattern of unsafe behavior are filtered out of the transportation system before their behavior results in tragedy.

Dr. Robert Molloy is the Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Will This Holiday Weekend be the Deadliest Ever?

By Dr. Rob Molloy

NHTSA-buzzed-drivingThe American Automobile Association projects that more than 42 million Americans will travel this Independence Day weekend, five million more than on Memorial Day weekend. More travelers on the road mean an increased risk for a crash. Unfortunately, 25 years of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that impaired driving leads to nearly half of all deadly crashes on July 4th.

Every year, we celebrate Independence Day with family and friends, watching fireworks and eating at barbeques. And, every year during this time of celebration, more than a hundred lives are lost on our roads and highways. Just this week, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analysis of crash data shows that more people die in motor vehicle crashes on Independence Day than any other day of the year.

In all 50 states and D.C., it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher. Yet, over the July 4th period in 2014, 164 people were killed in crashes involving at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a BAC of .08 or higher. And every one of these crashes was preventable.

This year, the July 4th weekend extends from Friday, July 1, through Tuesday, July 5. We all have a responsibility to ensure that this Independence Day weekend isn’t the deadliest on record.

A variety of factors can influence the relationship between the consumption of alcohol and the resulting BAC level, such as a person’s gender and weight, the concentration of alcohol in the drink, and the rate at which one drinks. We know that alcohol slows down the central nervous system and affects a person’s cognitive performance, mood, and behavior. In general, however, alcohol’s effects are dose-dependent, meaning that alcohol’s impact changes or becomes more severe as more alcohol is consumed.

Impairment begins long before a person’s BAC reaches .08. In fact, it begins with the first drink. By the time a person reaches a BAC of .08, their risk of being in a crash is double that of a sober driver’s.

At that BAC level, the drinker is likely drowsy and their vision, perception, and ability to react are all impaired. In the U.S., more than 10,000 people lose their lives every year because a driver experiencing such impairment decided to get behind the wheel.

There is no excuse for making the decision to drive impaired by alcohol. This July 4th weekend, if your celebration includes alcohol, designate an unimpaired driver before you even take the first sip. If no unimpaired drivers are available, call a taxi or another for-hire vehicle. If you see someone about to drive or ride impaired, speak up, step in and take their keys. There are safe alternatives to driving while impaired, and we should all work to prevent impaired drivers from putting their life or the life of someone else at risk.

The NTSB supports the efforts of NHTSA, law enforcement, and community leaders across the country to spread the message that Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving this Independence Day weekend.

Dr. Molloy is Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety.

Law Enforcement: Partners in Traffic Safety

By Christopher A. Hart

Sobriety Checkpoint signThey are most often the first ones on the scene. They see first-hand the tragic consequences of impaired, distracted, or drowsy driving—and the unfortunate results of crashes to unbelted occupants. And, they often deliver the news to families that their loved one was killed in a crash—all while knowing that the crash was probably preventable!

Last month, NTSB Safety Advocacy Chief Nicholas Worrell had the honor of meeting with some of the outstanding men and women of the Palm Beach (Florida) Police Department. The NTSB and law enforcement share the common goal of preventing fatalities and injuries on our roadways. Law enforcement is on the front lines of America’s traffic safety efforts.

In the US, car crashes take the lives of more than 32,000 people each year. Operating a vehicle requires attention and skill. Without a doubt, bad behaviors—impaired, distracted, and fatigued-driving—should be avoided. If bad behaviors lead to a crash, the appropriate punishments should be levied. But, ideally, we must all work together to prevent this from occurring in the first place. Every day, the law enforcement community does just that.

NTSB Senior Highway Investigator Robert Accetta met recently with law enforcement officers in New Mexico. His discussions centered on impaired driving, including the increasing use of impairing synthetic drugs, and what we have seen from our crash investigations. He advised the group that the NTSB recommended stiffer penalties for those caught driving impaired by alcohol, including mandatory use of interlocks for all convicted offenders, and lowering the legal BAC limit from 0.08 to 0.05. He also added that the NTSB is still learning about the effects of other drugs, particularly over-the-counter and prescription drugs, on the driving task. The increasing use of a variety of potentially impairing drugs makes combatting this problem particularly challenging.

Our common goal to prevent crashes became especially evident when Montgomery County (Maryland) police officer Noah Leotta was killed by a drunk driver while conducting a sobriety checkpoint. The death of Officer Leotta spurred the Maryland legislature to pass Noah’s Law, which requires the installation of ignition interlock devices on cars for drivers convicted of driving under the influence.

Annually, since 1990, the NTSB has issued its Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. Our 2016 Most Wanted List includes issues that are aimed at preventing crashes on our nation’s roadways caused by alcohol and drug impairment, distraction, fatigue, and lack of adequate occupant protection.

Both drivers and passengers play a role in preventing crashes—and both the NTSB and law enforcement will never cease to spread that message. Drivers should practice distraction-free driving and be solely focused on the driving task. And passengers should support safe driving by not distracting drivers from the driving task. Both drivers and passengers should always wear their seat belts—no matter where they are seated. This simple safety measure saves more than 12,000 lives per year. Finally, to repeat an old but important mantra, drivers should not drink and drive, and passengers should not drive with those who have been drinking. In fact, the NTSB recommends penalties for drinking and driving, beginning at a .05 BAC, which we know can result in meaningful reductions in crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

Every day, in communities across the country, law enforcement officers are working to end substance impairment, to make sure that drivers disconnect from deadly distractions, and to ensure that everyone is buckled up. Working together to improve traffic safety, the NTSB and law enforcement will continue to make a difference. But we need your help.

Be aware of your responsibility as a driver and passenger—and stay alive.

Alcohol Awareness Month – It’s Time to Separate Drinking from Driving

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

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and it reminds us that, while we have accomplished a great deal, there is much more to be done to reduce impaired driving in order to save lives and prevent injuries. One seemingly simple concept that is difficult (but not impossible) to implement is: separating drinking from driving. Health problems of all types related to alcohol misuse are a tremendous public health concern, but perhaps one of the most highly visible examples are the crashes that occur when alcohol is paired with driving.

NTSB 2016 Most Wanted List issue image for End Substance Impairment in Transportation, image collage of drugs, alcohol, vehicles and dead end signI have worked for decades (in my home state, nationwide, and internationally) as a public health professional specializing in injury prevention until one day, almost exactly one year ago this week, I was given the honor of serving on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Our mission at the NTSB is to investigate transportation accidents, determine the probable cause, and make recommendations to improve safety. We are independent of all other federal agencies and we greatly value our independence, our credibility, and our transparency. In this unique agency, I have been at the scene of transportation accidents in many modes – aviation, marine, rail – but I know that, day in and day out, it is the deaths on our roads that claim the most lives and cause the most debilitating injuries.

Motor vehicle crashes account for more than 30,000 deaths every year and alcohol-impaired driving is related to about 10,000 of those deaths. In fact, every year, since 1995, 10,000 Americans have lost their lives because of drinking and driving. And another 100,000 Americans have suffered injuries each year. Without exaggeration, this should be considered a terrible public health crisis, as evidenced by the United Nations and World Health Organization calling for a Decade of Action to reduce road deaths. The good news is that we can all take action and, by working together, we can implement and support evidence-based, data-driven interventions to prevent impaired driving.

Reaching ZeroIn 2013, the NTSB published a report focused on substance-impaired driving. The Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving report included safety recommendations in areas such as conducting high-visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws and incorporating passive alcohol sensing technology into enforcement efforts; expanding the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by an impaired driver; using driving while intoxicated (DWI) courts and other programs to reduce recidivism by repeat DWI offenders; reducing the per se blood alcohol concentration limit for all drivers; and establishing measurable goals for reducing impaired driving and tracking progress toward those goals. We also have focused on interventions to prevent impaired driving (and indeed, impairment in all modes) as one of this year’s “2016 Most Wanted List” of Transportation Improvements. These interventions can be grouped into two general types – (1) targeted interventions that will address high-BAC and problem drinkers and (2) broad-based interventions that help prevent people at all BAC levels from drinking and driving. Both approaches represent important tools to prevent deaths and injuries due to impaired driving. Both approaches are built on the concept of separating drinking from driving – whether it is stopping someone who has already been driving while impaired (such as with enhanced enforcement or mandatory interlocks), or prompting people to make alternative plans for transportation in advance so that they do not drive when they have been drinking (such as the .05 BAC law). While the concept of separating drinking from driving is easy to understand, the challenge is to consistently put into practice these tools in a practical and usable way. But it can be done.

It can be done if the public and private sectors work together towards the common goal of preventing impaired driving before it happens. We are all in this together – from government agencies such as the NTSB to judges, prosecutors, attorneys, law enforcement, medical and public health professionals, researchers, companies, and businesses including the hospitality industry. Perhaps I am an optimist, but I think that we all want the same thing – to get people home safely. There should only be one enemy – and that enemy is an impaired driving crash.

We may disagree on the most effective ways to achieve our safety goals, but rather than competing to implement our respective solutions, let’s communicate with each other so we can take coordinated steps where possible – and perhaps, just maybe, one day we may even convince each other of some our positions, if it is backed by scientific evidence and public support.

For example, we can all agree that countermeasures to address high-BAC and repeat offenders are a priority. We also probably can agree that enhanced enforcement (whether through sobriety checkpoints or saturation patrols, as allowable by law) and in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by an impaired driver or using DWI courts and other programs to reduce recidivism have potential. But did you know that .05 laws with administrative (not criminal) penalties have been shown to reduce the number of impaired drivers at all BAC levels, even high BAC drivers? And that peer-reviewed studies in some of the 100 countries (such as Australia and Canada) that have passed .05 or lower BAC laws have shown a significant decrease in impaired driving deaths even while the amount of alcohol consumed per capita remained higher (even double) the consumption in the U.S.? Recently, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s nationwide survey reported that 63% of Americans are in favor of a .05 BAC law, so there also appears to be understanding and support among the public that this is a law to prevent impaired driving and will advance safety.

But this is not just about .05. It is about working together to come up with practical and efficient ways to implement effective solutions to our impaired driving epidemic. It is about separating drinking from driving.   It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Taking a look back at history, we have made incredible advances in occupant protection but we should remember that not so long ago, states had no seat belt laws and cars had no seat belts.

I don’t expect to convince you today to accept all of our safety recommendations (although I hope you will take a look at our Reaching Zero report to learn more about them). But I do hope that I have convinced you of our willingness and dedication to working with you to prevent the terrible deaths and injuries associated with impaired driving. We can’t do it without you. Let’s separate drinking from driving. Let’s work together.

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