High-tech plays big role in transportation safety wish list

Auto collision avoidance, other safety technology wanted by NTSB


In its annual Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, safety officials said they want to see more high-tech answers to car-crash prevention and operator monitoring capabilities.

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The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) annual wish list looks at what it considers to be the nation’s top transportation safety concerns. It has for years spoken out about distracted driving and the need to remove any and all items from car driver compartments that might cause crashes. And this years list included yet another call for more action.

“A cultural change is needed for drivers and operators to disconnect from deadly distractions. In regulated transportation, the strict rules minimizing the threat of distraction must be embraced by every operator on every trip. Removing unnecessary distractions is the firststep in safely operating any vehicle,”the agency said.

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A hot topic amongst auto-makers has been to add technology that helps drivers avoid crashes and the NTSB added that notion to this year’s list saying: Highway vehicle crashes kill and injure thousands of people each year. But these crashes are largely preventable. Currently available collision avoidance technologies for passenger and commercial vehicles (such as trucks and buses) could prevent crashes or minimize their impact,and should be standard equipment on all new vehicles.

The NTSB said last summer said that only 4 out of 684 passenger vehicle models in 2014 included a complete forward collision avoidance system as a standard feature. When these systems are offered as options, they are often bundled with other non-safety features, making the overall package more expensive.

The NTSB wants to see manufacturers make collision avoidance systems beginning with collision warning systems, and adding autonomous emergency braking once the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration completes standards for such braking systems. The group also recommended that the NHTSA develop tests and standards in order to rate the performance of each vehicle’s collision avoidance systems.

The NTSB’s recommendations came from a 63-page report the agency issued last year that looked at the issue of rear-end collisions that noted rear-end crashes kill about 1,700 people every year and injure half a million more. More than 80% of these deaths and injuries might have been mitigated had the vehicles been equipped with a collision avoidance system, the report states.

The other NTSB wish list items for 2016 included:

Recorders: Transportation operators and investigators must have an accurate picture of an accident to prevent future accidents. No single tool has helped determine what went wrong more than recorders. Yet, certaincategories of aircraft, trains, ferries, and buses are still not equipped with these critical technologies.

Occupant protection: The NTSB has investigated many accidents where strengthened occupant protection systems could have reduced injuries and saved lives. Needed improvements include increased use of existing restraint systems, and better design and implementation of occupant protection systems that preserves  survivable space and ensures easeof evacuation.

Fatigue: Human fatigue affects the safety of the traveling public in all modes of transportation. Twenty percent of the 182 major NTSB investigations completed between 2001 and 2012 identified fatigue as a probable cause, contributing factor, or a finding. Combating fatigue requires a comprehensive approach focused on research, education and training, technologies, treatment of sleep disorders, hours-of-service regulations, and on- and off-duty scheduling policies and practices.

Railroad safety: Rail transit systems must constantly be monitored and improved to maintain and enhance safety, to catch small problems before they become big ones, and to provide extra layers of protection against disasters. Yet oversight of rail transit is sometimes unreliable. Recent investigations have found that oversight authorities of some rail transit systems lacked the ability to oversee safety and take corrective action quickly, despite warnings.

Flight control: While airline accidents have become relatively rare in the United States, pilots and passengers involved in general aviation operations still die at alarming rates. Between 2008 and 2014, about 47 percent of fatal fixed-wing GA accidents in the U.S. involved pilots losing control of their aircraft in flight, resulting in 1,210 fatalities. Pilots can reduce these accidents through education, technologies, flight currency, self-assessment, and vigilant situational awareness in the cockpit.

Rail technology: Laws and regulations require implementation of Positive Train Control—proven to be a life-saving technology that can prevent collisions and derailments—and improved tank car design to prevent ruptures. Yet rail operators continue to be slow to make these required improvements. Further delays must be avoided.

Substance abuse: In the last 15 years, data show that one-third of highway deaths involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Our new reality is this: impaired driving now involves drugs—including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines—that can affect your ability to drive or operate any vehicle. More and better data will help us understand the scope of the problem and the effectiveness of countermeasures.

Medical: When safety-critical personnel, such as public vehicle operators, have untreated or undiagnosed medical conditions preventing them from doing their job safely, people can be seriously injured or die. However, medical certification for safety-critical personnel varies across the modes of transportation. The NTSB has recommended comprehensive medical certification systems for safety-critical transportation personnel to ensure that these professionals are medically fit for duty before operating a vehicle.

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