Tag Archives: Thomas Chapman

The Super Bowl—By the Numbers

By Member Tom Chapman

This year, the Super Bowl will be played on Sunday, February 13th. Like many Americans, I circled the date on my calendar months ago. It’s a special day to enjoy with family and friends.  It’s a day to watch the biggest game of the year while indulging in favorite football fare— buffalo wings, salsa and chips, and a cold beer or two.

Fifty-six years of Super Bowls have generated lots of impressive numbers. In 1995, the San Francisco 49ers beat the San Diego Chargers by a score of 49 to 26. That’s a combined score of 75 points, making it the highest-scoring Super Bowl in history. Carolina Panthers Muhsin Muhammad’s 85-yard touchdown reception in Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) still stands as the longest passing play. The Pittsburg Steelers and New England Patriots are tied as the winningest teams, at six Super Bowl wins each. Every team strives for higher scores, longer plays, and more Super Bowl wins.

At the NTSB, like everyone who works in traffic safety, we strive to reach the number ZERO. That’s the number that matters the most—zero traffic deaths.

This year, the Super Bowl will take place at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, only five miles from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where the very first Super Bowl was played in 1967. That year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a staggering 50,724 road users died on our roadways. Since then, some progress has been made toward reducing traffic deaths. But we are nowhere near our vision of zero. And the trend is alarmingly up in the last few years. According to NHTSA’s latest estimate, 38,680 people died in traffic crashes in 2020. That was the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2007. To put this in perspective, SoFi Stadium has a capacity of 70,240. The 38,680 preventable traffic deaths in 2020 would have filled 55% of the seats.

Super Bowl Sundays have regularly seen higher traffic fatalities over the years. A disturbing trend was revealed by a look at the 12-hour period (Sunday 6 pm to Monday 6 am) of five previous Super Bowl Sundays (2015–2019). A total of 244 traffic deaths occurred in those five 12-hour periods (a total of 60 hours) on Super Bowl Sundays. For comparison, the traffic deaths were 202 and 187 for the same 12-hour period one week before and one week after a Super Bowl Sunday, respectively.

It’s hard to say exactly why we often see higher traffic deaths on Super Bowl Sundays. However, alcohol consumption is certainly one factor. According to an analysis of NHTSA data, 46% of the 244 traffic deaths during the 12-hour period on the five Super Bowl Sundays were alcohol-related (that is, the police considered at least one driver involved in the crash to be impaired by alcohol, or the driver tested positive for alcohol in their system). What about the Sundays one week before and one week after the five targeted Super Bowl Sundays? Alcohol-related traffic fatalities were 74% higher on Super Bowl Sunday compared to the week before, and 82% higher than the following week.

Analysis of NHTSA fatality data

There are actions everyone can take to prevent these crashes without dampening the enjoyment of the Super Bowl Sunday experience. Impairment starts with the first drink. The smartest action you can take is to separate drinking from driving. Make a plan before you head to a Super Bowl party, so you have a safe way to get home. If you’re hosting a party, check in with your guests to verify they have a sober ride home before they start drinking. Have the contact for a taxi or rideshare service on hand. Be prepared to offer your guests a place to stay overnight if no sober ride is available.

At the NTSB, we’re doing our part. Our 2021­–2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements includes the safety item, “Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving.” NTSB has issued specific recommendations that, if implemented, would help prevent deaths and injuries that are attributed to alcohol impairment. They include requiring all-offender ignition interlocks and .05 percent or lower blood alcohol content limits (or .05 BAC).

The recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act advances some of the NTSB’s most important safety recommendations to prevent impaired driving. For example, the new law requires the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule within three years requiring all new passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with advanced drunk-driving prevention technology. This is a safety recommendation we made in 2012, and we’re eager to see it move toward acceptable closure .

I look forward to this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, spending time with my family, taking in all the excitement and fun the game (and sometimes the commercials) can offer, and enjoying our favorite game-day food and drinks. My family and friends will do our part to achieve the goal of zero traffic deaths. We will separate drinking from driving. I call on you to do the same.

Drive Sober and Save Lives the Holiday Season

By Member Tom Chapman

Unlike last year when many holiday gatherings were cancelled due to the pandemic, many of us will return to visiting family and attending holiday parties this year. Some may see this as an opportunity for a 2020 do-over and may overindulge on merriment.

The holiday season is a time of increased impaired-driving crashes due to these celebrations and gatherings. The President has designated December as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, and it serves as a reminder that traffic fatalities and injuries attributed to impaired driving are 100 percent preventable.

In 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,142 people were killed in traffic crashes in which at least one driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 g/dL or higher. That number comprises 28 percent of the 36,096 traffic fatalities that year.  Also of concern, NHTSA estimated a 9 percent increase in police-reported alcohol involved crashes between 2019 and 2020.  These deaths are not abstract statistics. These were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children, friends, and other loved ones. They are people who will be deeply missed at this year’s holiday gatherings.

In addition to alcohol, there are other impairing substances, such as marijuana, other illegal drugs, and prescribed and over-the-counter medications. These can all be as dangerous as alcohol for a driver. As we continue to understand more about the extent to which drugged driving contributes to fatalities and injuries, we are certain that the prevalence of this, as well as multiple or “poly-drug” use while driving, is on the rise.

In June, NHTSA published an update on research looking at drug and alcohol prevalence in seriously and fatally injured road users before and during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The overall picture is very troubling. In general, drug and alcohol prevalence among drivers seriously injured or killed in crashes increased during the pandemic. Significant increases were reported for drivers testing positive for cannabinoids and multiple substances. These are not the trends that we want to see.

The NTSB has issued specific recommendations that, if implemented, would help prevent these deaths and injuries. They include required all-offender ignition interlocks, .05 (or lower) BAC limits, and a national drug testing standard. Our 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements includes the safety item “Prevent Alcohol- and other Drug-impaired Driving,” with these and several additional safety recommendations remaining open.

Congress recently passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which advances some of NTSB’s most important safety recommendations. For example, the new law requires the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with advanced drunk driving prevention technology within three years. I am encouraged and hopeful we’ll see this technology incorporated soon, as it could be a game-changer for alcohol-impaired driving.

By exercising personal responsibility, you can do your part to prevent impaired driving crashes during the holiday season. It’s simple. Choose drinking or driving, but not both. Have a designated driver. Call a taxi or ride-share service. These basic steps will save lives. Let’s ensure there will be many more enjoyable holiday seasons to come.

Improve Rail Worker Safety

By Member Tom Chapman

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the railroad industry have recently implemented new protections to make rail passenger travel and hazardous materials transportation safer. That’s great news. However, the NTSB anticipates more accidents involving passengers and the public until our safety recommendations regarding rail worker safety are implemented. Members of train crews, maintenance-of-way employees, and mechanical workers continue to be killed or injured in preventable accidents involving train or equipment movement.

Several rail workers have been struck in recent years while conducting routine maintenance, inspection, or switching operations. Other workers are vulnerable because cars carrying hazardous materials are too close to the operating cabs carrying train crew. Although rail worker fatalities have declined overall in recent years, we continue to see some recurring safety issues in our accident investigations, highlighting the need for better worker protections. Below are a few recent examples.

  • On June 10, 2017, Long Island Rail Road train 7623 approached a five-member roadway crew working on another track at the interlocking in Queens Village, New York. The foreman and three workers were inspecting and making minor repairs, and a fifth roadway worker, a lookout, was clear of the tracks, keeping pace. The lookout sounded a handheld horn, yelled at the others, and raised a disc that told the locomotive engineer to sound the train’s horn, which he did. Unfortunately, the foreman still stepped into the path of the train and was killed. The probable cause of the accident was the decision to use a train approach warning (TAW) system to protect the roadway workers on active tracks.
  • On January 17, 2017, a westbound BNSF Railway train, traveling at 35 mph, struck and killed two roadway workers, including the watchman/lookout, in Edgemont, South Dakota. The roadway work group had been cleaning snow and ice from the track switch on the main track to prepare to move a train that was to have its air brake system tested. The crew of the striking train sounded the horn and bell and applied emergency braking; however, there was no response from the roadway work group. The probable cause of this accident was the BNSF Railway roadway work group’s improper use of a TAW to provide on-track safety.
  • In several accidents, separating cars carrying hazardous materials from cars carrying crew members has been an issue, as has been the placement of DOT-111 tank cars in trains with other cars carrying flammable liquids, as I’ll describe in more detail below.

Roadway Workers

To better protect roadway workers (those who maintain the track), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) implemented Roadway Worker Protection Regulations in 1997. However, since then, more than 50 roadway workers have been killed on the job. Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has yet to establish any specific regulations regarding roadway worker protection.

Many of the accidents we’ve investigated have also involved train approach warning systems, which are vulnerable to human errors like miscalculating site distance and generally underestimating the time needed for workers to clear tracks. We have long been concerned with the risks of using this method as the primary form of worker protection, especially because it lacks safety redundancy. Trains travel at deceptively high speeds, and without proper warning, workers may not have enough time to react. Methods of on-track safety that keep trains and other equipment away from workers provide a higher level of protection than TAW systems, which require workers to clear the tracks prior to the arrival of trains and equipment.

Another recurrent issue that we see in our investigations involves training and scheduling practices. Industry needs to ensure that job briefings are done correctly and that procedures are in place to audit those briefings. Additionally, watchmen/lookouts should receive proper training and have the required equipment. Railroads and transit agencies must develop work schedules and limitations based on science to prevent fatigued workers from being eligible to work overtime.

Operations and Mechanical Crews

Like roadway workers, operations crews and mechanical workers have also been killed in preventable accidents. One issue requiring attention is spacing between train crews and rail cars carrying hazardous materials. Although the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) requires buffer cars between train crews and hazardous materials, the agency has also issued a regulatory interpretation that provides for a much shorter—and less safe—distance between hazardous materials and train crews. We believe PHMSA needs to withdraw its regulatory interpretation so railroads will be required to implement a minimum of five cars as a buffer between train crews and highly hazardous flammable material, at least until PHMSA determines the appropriate separation distance to keep train crews safe.

The Role of Regulators

Because so much in railroad safety is driven by the regulators—the FRA, the FTA, and PHMSA—they are in the best position to make change. Regulators should act expeditiously on our recommendations to establish adequate roadway worker and operations crew protections. Addressing these issues will help to ensure more preventable worker deaths are avoided.

The Role of Industry

Meanwhile, it isn’t necessary for industry to wait to protect workers. Improving training for watchmen/lookouts, for example, and more comprehensive briefings will help prevent accidents. Individual railroad workers, whether roadway workers, mechanical employees, or train crews, can learn more by reviewing NTSB railroad accident reports.

Learn More

Improve Rail Worker Safety

Long Island Rail Road Roadway Worker Fatality
Queens Village, NY | June 2017

BNSF Railway Roadway Worker Fatalities
Edgemont, SD | January 2017

Using Technology to Protect Maintenance-of-Way Employees, Amtrak/Backhoe Collision
Chester, PA | April 2016

Placement of DOT-111 Tank Cars in High-Hazard Flammable Trains and the Use of Buffer Cars for the Protection of Train Crews | December 2020


By Member Tom Chapman

Each year, Operation Lifesaver, Inc., spearheads Rail Safety Week. For 2021, Rail Safety Week runs from September 20 through 26. Operation Lifesaver and its safety partners across North America, including the NTSB, use this annual event to educate and empower the public to make safe decisions around trains and tracks and to raise awareness of the need for rail safety education.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data show there were 756 total fatalities on US railroads in 2020. Most of these deaths occurred in highway–rail grade crossing and trespassing incidents. Public awareness and outreach efforts are important because, tragically, hundreds of people are fatally struck by trains in preventable collisions.

I have an especially strong interest in rail safety because, in the early 1950s, my grandfather was struck and killed in a highway–rail grade crossing crash. My grandfather was a volunteer firefighter. He and a colleague were on a call when the collision occurred. The tragedy had a devastating impact on my mother and her family. My mother was a high school student at the time, and the loss of her father changed the course of her life.

At a highway–rail grade crossing, it is our responsibility, as road users, to stop for train traffic. Trains have the right of way and will pass through the crossing without stopping for road traffic. There are two types of grade crossings. At passive crossings, signage will warn road users to be vigilant when crossing tracks and to look for oncoming trains. In more populated areas, you may be more likely to encounter active crossings, which are typically equipped with flashing lights, audible alarms, and automatic gates that warn of an approaching train. When warnings are activated at a crossing, the appropriate and safe action is to stop and wait. Trains are faster than they seem, and they don’t stop on a dime. The average freight train traveling at 55 mph can take a mile or more to stop.

So, what should you do if your vehicle becomes stuck on the tracks at a grade crossing? First, get out of your car. Then, call the number on the Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign posted near the crossing. These blue-and-white signs include a number to call and a US Department of Transportation crossing identification number. If you cannot find the sign, simply call 911. Additional information is included in this brief video produced by Operation Lifesaver. Also, the FRA developed its Crossing Locator App to help you find and call the ENS in case of an emergency or if you have a safety concern about a specific highway–rail grade crossing.

Too often, those who are struck and killed by trains near or on the tracks could have avoided putting their lives in such perilous danger. According to the FRA, more than 400 trespass fatalities occur each year, and the vast majority of them are preventable. An especially tragic example is highlighted in our investigation of a 2014 trespassing accident that involved a film crew near Jesup, Georgia, that was filming on a rail bridge without authorization when a freight train passed. One crewmember was killed, and six others were injured as a result of this preventable accident.

Whether you are taking a shortcut by crossing railroad tracks, or jogging, taking pictures (selfies included), fishing, or riding a recreational off-road vehicle, on or around tracks, you put yourself in imminent danger.

Remember, trains are faster and quieter than you think. They can’t stop quickly. They can’t swerve. They are enormously powerful machines and taking a chance on a collision with a train is risky business.

During this year’s Rail Safety Week, all of us at the NTSB join our friends at Operation Lifesaver in their mission to save lives around railroad tracks and trains. Here’s how you can do your part.

  • Know the signs.
  • Make good decisions.
  • Talk to your loved ones about rail safety.

Together, we can STOP track tragedies. See tracks? Think train.

Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving

By Member Thomas Chapman

Impaired driving, in some form or another, has been on every NTSB Most Wanted List since its inception in 1990. And with more than 10,000 impaired-driving deaths each year, it’s hard to imagine ever removing it. We have made safety recommendations about impaired driving prevention since 1968.Yet the problem persists.

Part of the challenge we face at the NTSB is that we generally issue safety recommendations to entities, not individuals. If we issued safety recommendations to every individual ever arrested for impaired driving—even excluding those actually involved in impaired-driving crashes—we would be issuing impaired-driving recommendations to one million individuals per year.

Instead, we hope individuals will understand their personal responsibility as drivers and make smart and safe choices when they get in their vehicles. Impaired driving is 100 percent preventable. We have investigated many impaired-driving crashes, and for individual drivers, the lessons we have learned always boil down to a single word:


Don’t drive drunk, don’t drive after “a drink or two,” don’t drive after using even one dose of any impairing drug. But experience tells us that some drivers will ignore this message. They will get behind the wheel when they have no business being there, start the engine, and take their chances—with their own lives, their passengers’ lives, and the lives of other road users. Just counting arrests, drivers take that chance and lose a million times a year. About 10,000 times a year, impaired drivers take a chance, and someone loses their life.

While alcohol impairment continues to cause nearly three out of every ten traffic deaths in the United States, other impairing drugs pose a different, but overlapping, challenge. The 2013–2014 Texas Roadside Survey found that one in five drivers surveyed were using one or more impairing drug—licit or illicit, prescribed or over the counter.

Drinking and Driving: a Stubborn Problem

In our 2013 report, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving, we recommended that states do the following:

  • Reduce the per-se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for all drivers to .05 g/dL or lower
  • Conduct high-visibility enforcement of impaired-driving laws and incorporate passive alcohol-sensing technology into enforcement efforts
  • Expand the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by impaired drivers
  • Use driving while intoxicated (DWI) courts and other programs to reduce recidivism by repeat DWI offenders
  • Establish measurable goals to reduce impaired driving and track progress toward those goals

.05 percent BAC

We recommended that states lower the legal per-se BAC limit from .08 percent to .05 percent or lower. We know a BAC of .08 g/dl is simply too high. In 2018, Utah became the first state to lower its legal BAC limit to .05 percent, and other states are considering following suit. This change isn’t only about preventing crashes involving drivers with BACs between .05 percent and .08 percent, though. Research shows that reducing the legal BAC limit from .08 percent to .05 percent serves as a broad deterrent, lowering alcohol-involved crashes and crash deaths across the board.

Interlocks for all Offenders

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, one-third of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are caused by repeat offenders. States need to require drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving to use an interlock device. These devices keep a car from starting until a breath sample has been provided, analyzed for ethanol content, and determined to be lower than prescribed limits.

Impairing Drugs Other than Alcohol

Other impairing drugs present a different problem. Although we have investigated many crashes involving drivers under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, we don’t really know the extent the problem. Many of our recommendations surrounding impairment focus on finding the best ways to spot the problem. However, unlike for alcohol, no standardized drug-testing protocols exist for other impairing drugs, and there is no established limit or threshold to determine impairment by other drugs. Additionally, evaluating the impact of impairing drugs on drivers is challenging because many drugs impair individuals differently.

The Bottom Line

States, regulators, and industry can take action to reduce deaths and injuries from drunk driving. In terms of alcohol, we know that states and individuals can change the all-too-often grim outcomes. The question is whether they choose to. For drugs other than alcohol, it’s time we improve testing, especially as attitudes and laws change toward these drugs and they become more widely used.

We at NTSB will continue to advocate for our safety recommendations for education, legislation, and technology to end this deadly problem. But ultimately the problem comes down to individual choice. Choose to drive sober or designate a sober driver.  You can drink responsibly, you can drive responsibly, but you cannot drink and drive responsibly.

Learn More

NTSB Most Wanted List: Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving

Pickup Truck Centerline Crossover Collision with Medium-Size Bus, Concan, TX, March 2017

Multivehicle Work Zone Crash on Interstate 75. Chattanooga, TN, June 2015

Safety Study: Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving. May 2013