NTSB: Distracted driving among Top 10 transportation safety challenges

Rail tank, big-rig trucking safety challenges need to be addressed soon, NTSB says

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Credit: Reuters

There are plenty of transportation safety challenges on the roads and rails regulators need to more quickly address, according to the National Transportation Safety board that today issued its annual “Most Wanted List” which amounts to the agency’s top 10 list of transportation safety concerns.

While 4 new issues made the list for 2015 -- rail tank car safety, strengthening compliance, trucking safety, medical fitness -- at the top of the list remains distracted driving.

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Since 2003, the NTSB said it has found distraction from portable electronic devices (PEDs) as a cause or contributing factor in 11 accident investigations. Those crashes resulted in 259 people injured and 50 people killed. And the NTSB noted it does not investigate the majority of highway crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports hundreds of such deaths on our highways in 2012 alone. According to NHTSA, drivers engaging in visual-manual tasks, such as dialing or texting, triple their risk of a crash.

Distraction can take many forms. In 2013, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that more than two out of three drivers indicated that they talked on a cell phone while driving within the past 30 days. More than one of three drivers admitted to reading a text message or e-mail while driving, and more than one of four drivers admitted to typing or sending a text or e-mail, the NTSB stated.

“The first step toward removing deadly distractions will be to disconnect from non-mission-critical information. For decades, aviation has recognized the need for “sterile cockpit” procedures that restrict activities and conversations to the task at hand. But all modes of transportation need to rise to today’s distraction challenges.  That’s why in December 2012 we called for a ban on all PED use while driving. We have issued similar recommendations for aviation, marine, and rail.”

A June 2014 poll by the National Safety Council showed that 73% of drivers think there should be more enforcement of texting laws, while only 22% said the current level of enforcement is fine. And according to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey the majority of Americans (88.5 percent) feel that a driver talking on a cell phone represents a somewhat or a serious threat to their personal safety. But currently only 14 states and the District of Columbia ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. The District of Columbia and 37 states restrict the use of cell phones by novice drivers, and 44 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging while driving. None ban the use of hands-free devices, “ the NTSB stated.

The rest of the safety challenge list looks like this:

  • Substance abuse: Complex machinery such as cars, planes, trains, ships, and pipelines require operators to be at their best – not impaired by alcohol or drugs. Drivers, transportation operators and enforcement authorities also need good information to make informed decisions about the use of illicit drugs and over-the-counter medications. To prevent accidents, reduce injuries and save lives, we need stronger laws, swifter enforcement, and expanded use of technology to end substance impairment.
  • Helicopter safety: Every day, hundreds of federal, state, and local helicopter pilots fly emergency medical service, law enforcement support, search and rescue, and other missions. The NTSB has investigated more than 130 accidents involving federal, state, and local public helicopter operations. These accidents can be reduced by developing and implementing safety management systems; scenario-based training; fatigue management; helicopter technology; and crash-resistant flight recorder systems for all aircraft.
  • Rail Safety: In 1969 the NTSB first recommended a forerunner to Positive Train Control a technology that can stop rail accidents before they happen. Since then we have seen deaths and injuries in accidents that PTC would have prevented. In 2008, Congress mandated that railroads implement PTC by the end of 2015. After 45 years of recommendations and seven years since the law passed, the time to make railroads safer is now.
  • Rail tanker safety: More crude oil and ethanol than ever is moving across America’s rails. But accidents demonstrate that the tank cars moving these flammable liquids are not up to the task. It’s crucial to strengthen existing rail tank cars and new rail tank car regulatory requirements.
  • Mass Transit: Every day, millions of people take some form of mass transit to or from shopping, work, classes, or other destinations. Mass transit comprises light rail, commuter rail, subways, ferries, streetcars, buses and trolley buses. Although each system has unique equipment, operating environments, and challenges, all can benefit from strengthening their organizational safety cultures. Deploying advanced technologies will also make mass transit safer.
  • General Aviation: While airline accidents have become rare in the U.S., pilots of non-airline flights and their passengers still die by the hundreds in general aviation accidents every year due to pilot loss of control. These accidents can be reduced through ongoing pilot education, flight currency, self-assessment, and vigilant situational awareness in the cockpit.
  • Medical Fitness: The NTSB has investigated numerous accidents in which it found that the medical condition of the vehicle operator contributed to the cause of a crash. Medical conditions and treatments directly affect safety when they impair transportation professionals’ performance. Those suffering from impairing medical disorders should not be at the controls unless they receive medical treatment that mitigates the risk to the public.
  • The Big Rigs: Commercial trucking is integral to our economy, but crashes, injuries and deaths involving commercial trucks have been increasing over the past several years. The NTSB has a long history of calling on the regulators to improve their oversight of operators, drivers, and vehicles. To manage their safety risks, trucking companies must go beyond securing regulatory compliance from all their employees, and proactively identify operational hazards and potential solutions.
  • Procedures/Training: The NTSB has investigated more than a dozen airline or commercial charter accidents involving procedural, training or compliance issues. Pilots are trained in safety procedures. They can prevent such tragedies by complying with procedures every flight, every day. This will take collaborative efforts by crews, operators, and the regulator. Working together, they can develop effective procedures and training, and ensure that crews do what they are trained to do.

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