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Sleep Apnea in the Aviation Industry

The sleep disorder known as sleep apnea has safety implications in the transportation industry. People who suffer from sleep apnea suffer from interruptions in their breathing during sleep. These interruptions can occur frequently throughout the night, causing a victim to experience significant fatigue even after a normal-length sleep period. In addition to drowsiness, victims may suffer from headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, forgetfulness and other side effects. The impact of sleep apnea on pilots, truck drivers and others in terms of safety is difficult to pinpoint.

The Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to release new medical guidance to Aviation Medical Examiners regarding pilots who may be suffering from sleep apnea. A pilot diagnosed with untreated obstructive sleep apnea, one of two varieties of the condition, has been and will continue to be disqualified from FAA approval. The new guidelines concern what screening approach medical examiners should take in identifying and treating the condition to allow pilots to manage the condition and fly safely. 

Distracted Driving Is About More Than Texting

Distracted driving is a massive problem that has garnered more attention since cell phone use became commonplace. Cell phones are far from the only cause of distracted driving, however. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2012 saw more than 3,300 deaths and 421,000 injuries caused by distracted drivers. According to Forbes, more than 60 percent of distracted driving deaths are caused by drivers who were daydreaming. The NHTSA estimates that the average driver is distracted 30 percent of the time. For whatever reason, many drivers fail to put their full concentration where it belongs - on the task of driving safely.

The proliferation of distracted driving laws has focused on texting. In total, 44 states have some form of ban on texting while driving. Older forms of distracted driving, such as eating, smoking, adjusting the car stereo, talking to passengers and dealing with children while driving have been largely ignored by lawmakers. It may be that such forms of distraction are too difficult to identify by law enforcement and prove in a court of law. If so, it raises the question of how effective other distracted driving laws have been and whether a different approach would be more successful. 

Increased Focus on Trucking Safety Needed for 2015

The National Transportation Safety Board released its priority list of safety initiatives for 2015 this week. Trucking safety appears on the list and was the subject of some pointed remarks directed toward regulators. The NTSB pointed out that it has made more than 100 recommendations of ways to improve truck safety that have not been acted on by highway regulators. While the total number of fatal accidents has trended downward over the past four years, trucking fatalities have risen in each of those years. The NTSB only has the power to make recommendations. It does not have the authority to make or enforce trucking regulations.

The director of highway safety investigations at the NTSB pointed to new technology in suggesting that trucking crashes could be reduced. The NTSB has led the push for safety sensors and electronic control devices to make trucks safer. The technology would warn truck drivers of hazards they may be unable to see during the course of driving. 

Problematic Megabus Taken Out of Commission

December saw two Megabus crashes in Indiana and a third removed from service following an inspection. The company had another vehicle crash last October. The incidents are calling into question the fitness of the carrier and the safety of its fleet of buses.

The most recent incident involved a bus declared out of service for suspension failure last week. The Chicago-bound Megabus was pulled over for speeding when an Indiana State Trooper noticed that it was leaning to one side. The bus was taken to an inspection facility where inspectors from the Indiana State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division found several serious problems. The Megabus suffered from suspension failure, had a defective emergency exit and a leak in the rear brakes. The suspension system involves air bags running along the sides of the two rear axles. All of the bags on one side were deflated, causing the vehicle to lean. 

What Is Working in Reducing U.S. Auto Deaths

According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System census numbers, the United States has seen a 25 percent drop in traffic deaths since 2004. The Secretary of the Department of Transportation has stated that the U.S. fatality rate is "at its lowest point ever." In 2013, the country saw 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says credit for this belongs largely to the work of law enforcement and his agency's work. The DOT credits federal regulations and regulators. It is clear that improvements have been made. To further those improvements, it is important to analyze what is actually working to reduce highway deaths.

Safety programs designed to decrease the incidence of drunk driving and increase the use of seat belts have helped drive the number of traffic deaths down. Seat belt use is a major factor in increasing the survivability of a car accident. Air bag technology, when it works properly, also helps drivers survive when crashes occur. Finally, the combination of anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control devices, which became mandatory on all light vehicles built after September 2011, has helped reduce fatal accidents in cars, light trucks and vans by more than 15 percent. 

Is the United States Lagging in Auto Safety?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has frequently repeated its goal of eliminating traffic deaths throughout the country. Vision Zero is the term used to describe this admirable goal. Several U.S. cities have adopted traffic safety measures with the stated goal of achieving zero traffic deaths. As a nation, the picture is not so rosy. The numbers for 2013 show just how far away from that goal we are. Nearly 38,000 people died in traffic accidents last year, including more than 4,700 pedestrians.

While achieving zero traffic deaths may seem unrealistic to many, reducing the traffic fatality rate is clearly obtainable. Several countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, have traffic fatality rates far below ours. Even after factoring in the differences in population and miles driven, these countries have substantially fewer deaths. While there are many differences in the laws and culture in these countries, there is no reason to think that traffic deaths cannot also be reduced here. 

Report Calls For Better Pilot Training, Procedures and Management

A study drafted over the course of two years and involving aviation laborers, scholars, industry leaders and the U.S. government has reached a number of conclusions about air safety. The report particularly emphasized the need for better emergency procedures. As the work of flying an airliner has become increasingly automated, pilots and crew need more and better training in how to monitor these systems and react when they fail. The report suggested that major improvements are necessary to ensure the safety of airline personnel and passengers.

The study was released by the Flight Safety Foundation, an independent, international non-profit group whose goal is to provide safety guidance to the aerospace and aviation industries. Among the recommendations in the study were methods to enhance communication and teamwork in the cockpit. The report tied a number of aviation accidents to poor communication and inadequate monitoring of flight control systems. A lapse in monitoring has been blamed for the 2013 crash in San Francisco involving Asiana Airlines. That is one of 84 major aviation accidents in the past 12 years that involved failure to monitor and communicate hazards, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 

Priorities in NTSB Investigations

The National Transportation Safety Board lists general aviation among its top ten advocacy priorities in 2014. According to the NTSB, general aviation accidents make up the vast majority of aviation-related deaths in the U.S. The NTSB has been charged with conducting investigations into aviation accidents for nearly 50 years and has conducted numerous safety studies to improve aviation safety. Not all aviation incidents are treated equally, however. An analysis conducted by USA Today shows that aviation accidents involving prominent, politically-connected people or celebrities receive substantially more attention from NTSB investigators than other crashes.

A spokesperson for the NTSB acknowledged that certain high-profile incidents are assigned a larger initial team. The stated reason is that the increase in public interest necessitates a faster dissemination of information about the crash. One NTSB manual instructs officials to consider the number of people killed or injured as well as their prominence in deciding how many people to send to investigate. Noteworthy crashes that received heightened attention include the aviation accidents that claimed the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., John Denver and Mel Carnahan, the Governor of Missouri who died in a crash during his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2000. 

House Votes to Overturn Governor's Veto of Truck Speed Limit

When the Illinois House and Senate voted to raise the speed limit for semi trucks from 55 mph to 60 mph, Governor Quinn vetoed the measure. The law applied to interstate highways in Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Will counties that were not in urban areas. Governor Quinn claimed the measure would lead to more fatalities in exchange for greater convenience for truck drivers. That veto has now been overturned by both the House and Senate and will be the law in Illinois going forward.

The House override vote was 103-12. The House is also considering another override vote that would change the top speed limit for semi trucks from 65 mph to 70 mph on Illinois tollways. The Senate already voted to override that veto this November in a 44-5-1 vote. 

Thanksgiving Car Accidents

The week of Thanksgiving is known to be one of the deadliest of the year in terms of fatal car crashes. There are several factors that contribute to the increase in severe accidents this time of year. For the victims of Thanksgiving car accidents, the reasons matter less than the outcome. Every year, families are torn apart when negligent drivers cause deadly wrecks.

Among the factors that make Thanksgiving a dangerous time on the roads is poor weather. Snow, wind and rain are a frequent part of Thanksgiving week in many American cities. Drowsy driving is another common factor in holiday accidents, as many drivers take to the roads later at night than they normally would. Alcohol is also a significant problem associated with holiday traffic. Fatalities caused by drunk drivers account for more than 40 percent of Thanksgiving traffic deaths, a near 10 percent increase from the average. Finally, Thanksgiving sees a large increase in the total number of people on the roads, particularly on two-lane roads that may be unfamiliar to the driver. 

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