As a public health professional, I have spent my career working in the United States and internationally to prevent injuries and deaths. At the NTSB, one of my primary roles is to advocate for the changes needed to prevent transportation accidents.
Significant advancements have been made to improve the safety of occupants in the front seats of passenger vehicles, including the development of advanced restraint and airbag systems, safer seat designs, and structural improvements to minimize injury due to intrusion. Today, 32 states have adopted legislation that requires front-seat passengers to use a seat belt, and we can celebrate that we have achieved a national daytime average seat-belt-use rate of 90 percent for front-seat passengers.
But what about rear seats? We have not seen similar technology advances in rear seats, and research shows that rear seat belt use is considerably lower, at 83 percent. How can research, engineering, and advocacy make an impact in increasing rear seat belt use?
In 2015, after decades of decline, the United States experienced the largest increase in motor vehicle crashes and resulting deaths. Another historic increase is expected for 2016. In examining such a complex issue, we at the NTSB found ourselves asking the following: why aren’t people buckling up when they sit in the rear seat, and how can research, engineering, and advocacy increase rear seat belt use?
To answer these questions, we reached out to occupant protection experts drawn from the auto industry, the research community, safety advocates, and the government to participate in a workshop to help us find ways to strengthen occupant protection in the rear seat of passenger vehicles.
During the workshop, we discussed the current knowledge about rear seat occupants in motor vehicle crashes, and how these occupants utilize existing vehicle safety systems, such as seat belts. We examined how the rear seat environment is different from the front, both in design and user demographics. The workshop also addressed advanced vehicle and emerging seat belt technologies, innovative seat designs, as well as areas of needed research and education.
Our workshop was designed to allow the sharing of experience and knowledge, as well as to encourage participants to collaborate on inventive strategies. As a result, in the detailed summary we are publishing today, participants identified short- and long-term goals that will require a greater amount of collaboration, engineering, design, and advocacy to achieve.
Together with researchers, automobile manufacturers, legislators, regulators, and safety advocates, we are identifying practical, real-world applications and opportunities to make rear seats safer for everyone.
In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year. What changed?
Importantly, seat belts, child safety seats, and air bags came into use. Changes also were made to enable other parts of the vehicle to be more “forgiving” for occupants in a crash thanks to the installation of a wide range of technologies—shatter-resistant windshields, energy absorbent steering wheels, and head restraints—that reduced lacerations and blunt force trauma, especially to the head, neck, and torso areas. Increased roof strength, as well as front and side protection also improved the crashworthiness of a vehicle in different types of scenarios, reducing the severity of injuries to drivers and passengers.
As we entered the 21st Century, in addition to crashworthiness technology, crash avoidance technologies were increasingly introduced. Many crashes occur simply because drivers are not paying attention or are otherwise distracted behind the wheel.
Since the mid-1990s, the NTSB has recognized the significant benefit of technology countermeasures to prevent and mitigate motor vehicle crashes. Last year, the NTSB released a new report focusing on forward collision avoidance systems (CAS), which typically consist of warning to drivers of an impending crash, and autonomous emergency braking that automatically applies brakes.
In 2012 alone, more than 1.7 million rear-end crashes occurred on our nation’s highways, resulting in more than 1,700 fatalities and 500,000 more injuries. As part of the study, the NTSB issued a Safety Alert entitled Addressing Deadly Rear-End Crashes for consumers and commercial fleet owners. Collision avoidance technologies—such as forward CAS, lane departure warning and blind spot detection—could help to mitigate or even prevent many such crashes; they are passive technology “vaccines” against the risk of motor vehicle crashes.
New car assessment programs (NCAPs) around the world, such as the U.S.-based NHTSA NCAP and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, are part of Global NCAP and work to test vehicle crashworthiness in order to determine the safety of cars for the consumer. As technologies are introduced into vehicles, it is important that we do all we can to educate consumers on their life-saving benefits and how to use them. In addition, education campaigns like MyCarDoesWhat.org help to bring awareness to consumers as well.
With the vision of a future with no motor vehicle crashes, deaths, and injuries, it’s important that we continue to improve crash prevention technologies, while also striving for advances in technologies to improve vehicle crashworthiness, especially as it relates to occupant protection.
Inflatable seat belts, smart air bags, and knee bolsters are advances in occupant protection that can reduce injury severity, especially as we age. As vehicle design changes to adapt to these new restraint technologies, we also face the challenge of how these changes affect the rear seat passenger.
Car frames may be made more rigid in order to be crashworthy for front seat passengers with more advanced restraint systems, but is there a trade-off for the rear seat passenger? Are technologies in the rear seat keeping up with overall vehicle changes? These questions and others will be addressed tomorrow, April 26, 2016, at the NTSB’s Rear Seat Safety in Passenger Vehicles Workshop. Tomorrow’s workshop will bring together leading experts to address this component of the NTSB’s Most Wanted List issue Strengthen Occupant Protection.
Prevention is the philosophy of public health and prevention of deaths and injuries is truly an important public health achievement. Our cars represent incredible technologies that have made us more mobile. Our challenge will be to continue to improve vehicle safety features so that we can continue to use this public health tool to prevent deaths and injuries on our roads.
This blog also appears on the MyCarDoesWhat website. MyCarDoesWhat has received permission from the NTSB to reproduce it on the MyCarDoesWhat website. This permission does not constitute an endorsement of MyCarDoesWhat by the NTSB.
I have a great appreciation for the training and skill it takes to fly a helicopter. Rotorcraft are vital to our transportation system; they have remarkable agility and go where no other transport vehicles can go. They often serve the common good and help our economy by providing medical care, fighting fires, assisting law enforcement, serving as “aerial cranes” in construction, transporting workers to inaccessible locations, and generally doing work that no other vehicles can do.
Helicopters have personal significance for me, too. Before I was born, an American-trained Choctaw CH-34 pilot saved my parents and three older brothers by flying them to safety during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. One of those brothers, now a surgeon, has been able to help traffic crash victims, thanks to the emergency medical helicopters that transport him to those who are injured far from his Level 1 trauma center.
So, with that background, I was particularly excited to attend my first HAI Heli-Expo, the world’s largest helicopter conference and exposition. An annual event sponsored by the Helicopter Association International (HAI), this year’s event took place in Louisville, Kentucky, and was attended by nearly 20,000 owner-operators, pilots, mechanics, manufacturers, and helicopter vendors. A key focus of the event, as usual, was safety.
I came to this Heli-Expo to learn. I wanted to know about the safety issues and concerns for the industry. I also came with a message from NTSB to the helicopter community: Thank you for your strong efforts to improve rotorcraft safety, and let’s continue to work together to address important safety issues.
At the Safety Symposium prior to the official start of the conference, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and members of the International Helicopter Safety Team/US Helicopter Safety Team (IHST/USHST) discussed crash rates and how safety affects the bottom line. While helicopter safety is not a standalone issue this year on NTSB’s “Most Wanted List” of transportation safety improvements, I reminded folks that helicopter safety is still a key component of many of our Most Wanted List issues, such as recorders, impairment, fatigue, distraction, and occupant protection.
In 2015, the NTSB investigated 127 U.S.-registered helicopter accidents in the United States, and 18 of them were fatal (resulting in the deaths of 29 people). Nine of those fatalities came from helicopter air ambulance (HAA)/helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS).
As we can all agree, any fatality is one too many.
I am pleased that this “vision zero” is also the driving theme of the IHST/USHST, which announced a goal of working (for as long as it takes) to achieve zero helicopter accidents, with a particular focus on fatal accidents. The HAI is also advancing safety through its new safety accreditation program certifying safety programs from different types of helicopter operations and by working with academia under a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop a flight data monitoring program that assesses data from the industry to identify trends and make safety improvements. With all these efforts underway, the industry will take a giant leap toward improved safety.
I am confident that helicopter safety will continue to get better and better, with the leadership of industry groups like HAI and the voluntary efforts of owner-operators to implement safety improvements, even before federal regulations have passed.
Take, for example, the flight training school owner-operator I met from Colorado. In our Safety Symposium session, he talked about proactively implementing safety management systems and risk assessment programs, investing in high-quality scenario-based simulator training for pilots-in-training, and implementing flight data monitoring systems in all of his helicopters. He also changed the flight pattern to enable safer landings and takeoffs around his school. While this owner-operator focused on safety because it was the right thing to do, and despite expecting to lose money, he saw a financial return in many areas, such as insurance savings, earned media, employee retention, and student simulator rental. Perhaps, most importantly, he lowered the risk of accidents and injuries to his instructors, pilots-in-training, and passengers.
It is inspiring to hear from hardworking business owners that safety improvements can – and should – be made, and that, in the end, such initiatives save both lives and money.
The lifesaving improvements we talked about at Heli-Expo are all recommendations the NTSB has made over the years to the helicopter industry, most recently to public and HAA/HEMS-category helicopters.
During the conference, we discussed the importance of recorder technology in improving safety. Over the last decade, the NTSB has made more than 30 recommendations to the FAA and industry requiring the installation of crash-resistant flight recorder systems on all newly manufactured helicopters not already equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. “Expand Use of Recorders to Enhance Transportation Safety” is on our 2016 Most Wanted List. Had recorders been installed in many of the tragic crashes we have seen in recent years, the industry might have had more information and data about how and why accidents happened.
I was also proud to see the presentations given by our Aviation Safety team regarding another of our very important recommendations: requiring crashworthy fuel tanks in all newly manufactured helicopters – not just those designed before 1994, when the original standard was issued by the FAA. Those who survive accidents should not have to succumb to post-crash fires, a tragedy we have seen in our investigations, such as the HAA/EMS crash in Wichita Falls, Texas, in October 2014, and the July 2015 accident in Frisco, Colorado.
Our NTSB aviation experts reminded the industry not to wait for regulators to issue a mandate but to aggressively work with equipment manufacturers to identify retrofits or improvements that could reduce the possibility of post-crash fires. We know this is not an inexpensive or easy change, but we also know that, in the end, it will save lives and prevent injuries.
Additionally, one of our investigators presented two accident case studies that involved complete loss of engine power, which demonstrated the need for the pilot to enter an autorotation within 2 seconds. The NTSB has issued recommendations on the proper technique for performing autorotations, and we were pleased to hear that the FAA recently announced it has added an addendum to its Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083) that addresses our concerns.
Before leaving Heli-Expo, I had the privilege of addressing the general membership of HAI, alongside the Governor of Kentucky and the Mayor of Louisville. I thanked helicopter operators for their efforts in implementing NTSB’s safety recommendations and I applauded their unique talents and their contribution to our communities, our nation, and our world. I also was honored to take a tour of the expo floor, where I was impressed by the extraordinary display of helicopter ingenuity and the commitment to continual improvement through new technologies and services offered.
Helicopters make a positive difference in our world. I left the conference with even more admiration for the helicopter community’s passion for their work and their dedication to safety.
I look forward to working with them to keep everyone who flies in rotorcraft – whether as a pilot or a passenger – safe and sound.
As the year draws to a close, many of us are traveling to see family and friends – across town, across the country, or perhaps even across the globe. No matter where you are going or how you choose to get there, I urge you to do everything you can – such as buckling up whenever there are seat belts (yes, on airplanes, taxis, and buses, too!) – to make sure you and your loved ones are as safe as possible wherever you are going for the holidays.
Although some people will take planes, trains, ferries and boats, the majority of us will be on the roads for at least part of our trip – whether it’s using a car, motorcycle, bicycle, bus, or even our own two feet. It is clear that road safety affects us all, no matter where we are driving, riding or walking.
I was reminded of that last month when I participated in the Second High Level Meeting on Global Road Safety in Brasilia, Brazil, as a member of the U.S. delegation, which also included my federal colleagues from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office of Global Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This meeting brought together 2,000 key leaders and advocates in public health and transportation safety from around the world to take action in preventing the more than 1.2 million deaths (and tens of millions of injuries) that take place on the world’s roads every year – with more than 30,000 deaths occurring in our own country alone.
The result of the meeting was the Brasilia Declaration, which reaffirmed the goals of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and called on governments to address key risk factors related to road safety – ranging from preventing impaired driving and improving infrastructure to manufacturing safer vehicles and increasing emergency health services.
While the specific topics are many, two themes seem to run through this Declaration: (1) road traffic safety is a public health issue, so the transportation and health sectors can and must work together to reduce deaths and injuries; and (2) it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people – children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists, people with less means – so that everyone can have equal access to safe transportation.
Following this historic meeting, while still in Brasilia, I had the pleasure of meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, the Honorable Liliana Ayalde. I am truly grateful to the ambassador and her staff at the U.S. embassy in Brazil for their work to help us attend this important lifesaving conference and for their service to our country throughout the year.
Ambassador Ayalde and I share a common background in public health, and I know that public health – and the interdisciplinary collaboration among health, transportation, and other sectors – will be vital to setting and achieving our goal to save millions of lives on the roads in the coming years.
As I said in my remarks in Brazil, there is no doubt that our targets for road safety must be feasible, they must be measurable, and they must be based on sound science. But they also can – and should be – ambitious. Targets allow us to imagine what the world would be if our efforts and work were as effective as they could be. Targets allow us to imagine a world where no one dies because they were not properly restrained, where we know our cars and roads will protect us if we make a mistake, where no one thinks about getting behind the wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs, and where we can send our loved ones to school or work and know they will come home safely. Targets allow us to imagine a better, safer, and healthier world for everyone.
No matter where you are traveling as the year draws to a close, even if it is simply across town, I wish you a safe journey and a safe and healthy 2016. And, remember, there are people around the world, including right here at the NTSB, who are working hard every day to make sure we all get home safely.
Today, I stood side-by-side with more than 5,000 students and educators from around the country to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Family, Community and Career Leaders of America (FCCLA). We cheered, chanted, and danced at a rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to show our support for this organization, which has made a difference in our communities by helping to shape future leaders.
FCCLA is a nonprofit national career and technical student organization for young men and women in Family and Consumer Sciences education through grade 12. I was delighted to join them today to inspire and be inspired by some of our nation’s youngest leaders—who will ultimately help change the culture of public health and highway safety.
As the first public health scientist appointed to the NTSB, it was especially exciting to speak on behalf of the NTSB about prevention—using the knowledge we learn from tragedies to prevent future crashes.
Youth highway safety has long been a concern for the NTSB and for me personally. The concerns we face in preventing injuries and fatalities on our roads are becoming a public health issue, “an epidemic on wheels,” and I wanted to share that message with the FCCLA youth.
More young people die in crashes every year than from any other cause. In fact, more than 50,000 young people have died on our roads in the last decade.
Transportation safety should be important in everyone’s life. I walk or bike and use the metro each day as I travel to and from work. Maybe, like me, you took public transportation to work this morning. Or maybe you drove your children to camp, you went boating for the holiday weekend, or you plan to fly for your annual family vacation. Whatever the case, our health depends on safe transportation.
And safe transportation depends on us.
When I was a junior in high school, about the same age as some of the FCCLA youth I met today, I decided to spend a summer volunteering to build latrines in Paraguay. While I was walking along a dirt road with some of the elementary school kids from our village, we had to jump aside as large vehicles roared past. That is when I began to realize the importance of safe transportation.
Today’s youth have an important role in changing our driving habits and how we see our health. Leaders like those at the rally have a huge voice and one that they should continue to use to speak up for safety. They’re the most connected generation ever. They are connected to the whole world and can spread the message about road safety like no other generation has. We all must do our part— hold each other accountable, set good examples, and speak out to policymakers about the importance of safe roads for everyone.
FCCLA’s theme speaks to a well-established truth: Together We Are Healthy. Together, we can encourage each other to make healthy choices as individuals, and together, we also can advocate for healthy policies. Together, we must bring awareness to the public health issue of transportation safety by changing our safety culture.
There is an African proverb that I think is especially fitting on the 70th anniversary of the FCCLA:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.”
I am confident that these young people will go far and make our communities, our nation, and our world a safer, healthier, and better place. Happy 70th Anniversary, FCCLA!
By Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH, Vice Chairman of NTSB
Last week is one I won’t forget: it marked the 40th anniversary of the day my family—and many other Vietnamese American families—first set foot on American soil.
My parents, my three older brothers, and I were on an American airplane out of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport in late April 1975, thanks to the help of my dad’s American friends and fellow physicians. We landed safely first in Guam, then Camp Pendleton, and finally in Texas, to begin our life in the United States. We didn’t bring much in the way of luggage, but we did bring a great deal of commitment to public service and gratitude for our new home.
My father, a physician, and my mother, a nurse, instilled in their four kids a deep gratitude for the opportunities we were given in the United States. My three brothers chose to serve others as surgeons, saving lives. My path to public service has been slightly different. I am honored to have been appointed as Member and Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). I am proud to be the first Asian American to serve as a Board Member, but I am even prouder of the fact that there are other Asian Americans at the NTSB making valuable contributions to our country. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this week, coincidentally, is Public Service Recognition Week, and May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.)
With so many milestones, perhaps it is fitting that last week also marked both my first Board Meeting at the NTSB and my first “launch” to an accident investigation. First, with Chairman Christopher Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, and Member Earl Weener, I was pleased to discuss the final report of the March 2014 accident involving a Chicago Transit Authority passenger train. The recommendations resulting from that meeting will, if acted upon, improve safety by reducing the chance that mass transit train systems will have fatigued operators and design flaws.
Then, at the conclusion of the Board Meeting, I quickly gathered my “go bag” (containing safety vest, hard hat, boots, and other safety gear) to accompany Member Weener on my first launch to a site near Roswell, New Mexico, where two freight trains had collided head on. Sadly, one person died at the scene and another person was seriously injured. I was struck by the powerful forces of two trains colliding, the sheer dedication and technical expertise of investigators and staff, and the productive collaboration of local and state authorities for the benefit of safety. To see the destruction at the crash site reinforced even further the need to do everything in our power to prevent these accidents from happening in the first place. As Member Weener, a long-time Board Member and the principal spokesperson at the scene, said, “Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened, and to recommend changes to prevent it from happening again.”
This noble mission of the NTSB is one I plan to keep in the forefront of my mind as I serve my term. I look forward to using what I have learned this past week, and in the weeks to come, to do everything I can to advance transportation safety and prevent deaths and injuries. Forty years after setting foot on American soil, it is the least I can do for the country that has given me—and my fellow Vietnamese Americans—so much.