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Distracted Driving Accidents and Cultural Change

Among the ten items listed on the National Transportation Safety Board's Most Wanted List for 2016 is a call to disconnect from deadly distractions. Distracted driving has been identified as a large and growing problem among highway safety experts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 3,179 died in fatal accidents in 2014 due to distracted drivers. State Farm reports that nearly 30 percent of survey respondents acknowledged using the Internet while driving in 2015. That figure is up from 13 percent in 2009.

The NTSB recommendations state that, "It will take a cultural change for drivers to understand that their safety depends on disconnecting from deadly distractions." Surveys conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety demonstrate the problem. According to the AAA, more than two-thirds of drivers have talked on a cell phone while driving in the past month. In another survey by the organization, 85 percent of respondents claimed other drivers talking on cell phones are a threat to safety. Most people engage in distracted driving, while simultaneously considering other distracted drivers to be a danger. 

Decals and Teen Drivers

In Illinois, a person who is under the age of 18 and who violates the nighttime driving restriction may have his or her driving privileges suspended. This is one aspect of the Illinois Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program. GDL programs are in place in a number of states across the country. A common problem in many of these states is enforcement. Adult drivers are allowed to drive at night. They are not restricted in the number of passengers they may carry under a certain age. These restrictions are solely the province of young drivers subject to the GDL guidelines. One way to assist police in enforcing the provisions of a GDL is to also require that applicable drivers display a decal, indicating their status. New Jersey became the first state to require such a decal in 2010. Recent research has indicated that the decal program positively impacts teen driver safety.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2015, crash rates for teen drivers dropped in the two years following passage of the decal provision. For 17-year-old drivers, the rate of car crashes dropped 13.3 percent. For 19-year-olds, the rate of car accidents fell 8.5 percent. The falling crash rates were accompanied by an increase in the number of citations issued by police for violations of the GDL rules. 

NTSB Targets Unfit Drivers in Truck Accidents

Among the ten entries in the 2016 Most Wanted List of safety improvements put forth by the National Transportation Safety Board are four that potentially address the ability of truck drivers to operate their vehicles safely. The following goals are all known issues in the commercial trucking industry:

  • Reduce fatigue-related accidents
  • Disconnect from deadly distractions
  • End substance impairment in transportation
  • Require medical fitness for duty

In each case, the NTSB specifically discusses commercial drivers or lists a trucking accident among the Related Accidents connected to the goal.

Fatigued Truck Drivers

The NTSB has made a number of recommendations over the years regarding fatigued driving. The group has pushed for changes to hours-of-service regulations designed to encourage truck drivers to maintain schedules that allow for sufficient sleep. In addition, the NTSB is calling for all interstate commercial vehicle carriers to put electronic logging devices on their vehicles to better monitor driver compliance with hours-of-service regulations. 

NTSB Releases Safety Advocacy Most Wanted List for 2016

The Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Christopher A. Hart, held a press conference yesterday to announce the organization's Most Wanted List of safety improvements for 2016. The NTSB has compiled yearly lists for more than 25 years. While the Board does not have the authority to compel legislators and transportation industry members to comply with these recommendations, it can draw attention to areas where safety improvements could prevent injuries and save lives. The release of the Most Wanted List provides an excellent opportunity to assess the state of transportation safety and see where we should focus our efforts going forward. 

Regulated Sleep and Truck Driver Fatigue Accidents

Fatigue is a serious issue for many drivers. Lack of sleep can cause a driver to make a number of driving errors, including drifting into the other lane and failing to take evasive action when traffic demands. For truck drivers, economic pressure can push them toward driving in a fatigued state. Hours-of-service regulations exist to encourage drivers to get adequate sleep and avoid truck accidents caused by sleepy drivers. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has been commissioned to conduct a federal study into the impact of regulated sleep schedules.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is working to better understand how sleeping schedules affect driver behavior. The FMCSA contracted the study to monitor long-haul truck drivers who will not be required to adhere to a schedule of consecutive 8-hour blocks of sleep. Video cameras will track the drivers and their progress over the roads while an electronic device will track the drivers' sleep patterns. The study will examine the behavior of 200 truck drivers. 

New Most Wanted List for Safety Improvements

Each year, the National Transportation Safety Board releases a list of the safety improvements it wants to target. The "Most Wanted List" identifies areas that the NTSB believes should be a priority in improving transportation safety. The 2016 list is scheduled to be released on January 13, 2016, at a press conference in Washington D.C.

The Most Wanted List is often home to long-running areas of concern. In 2015, the List included the goal to end substance impairment in transportation. Alcohol and drug impairment has been a known problem in transportation safety for decades. In 2015, the NTSB advocated for a range of countermeasures, including traditional methods such as increased police enforcement and new solutions like Driver Alcohol Detection systems and passive alcohol sensors in vehicles. 

Trailer Guards and Fatal Trucking Accidents

Commercial trucks in the United States come equipped with underride guards. Underride guards are the metal pieces that hang down the back end of a box trailer. The purpose of these guards is to reduce the chances of a fatality if a passenger vehicle strikes the back of the truck. Without the guard, the back of the trailer would strike many vehicles at windshield height.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently requires underride guards to be strong enough to protect passengers in crashes up to 30 miles per hour. The NHTSA is proposing a change in guard standards to protect passengers up to 35 mph. The goal is to reduce traffic fatalities in rear-impact collisions involving semi trucks. 

Aviation Safety and the Laser Problem

The aviation industry faces many hazards that must be overcome to prevent accidents. Most of those hazards can be addressed with proper training and equipment. One hazard has proven more difficult to control, however. The proliferation of cheap, handheld lasers has created a problem that the Federal Aviation Administration and pilot associations have been unable to resolve. When someone points one of these $5 lasers at a flying aircraft, the tiny beam of light can expand into a blinding flash that is multiple feet wide in the cockpit. While the government and safety officials have struggled to find answers, there may now be a technological solution. Airbus has worked with Lamda Guard to create a treatment for cockpit windows intended to protect pilots from laser lights.

The film that is placed on the cockpit windows is designed to block the type of light (532 nanometer) most commonly cited by pilots. Testing is already underway to determine if the film will harm pilots' ability to see or be comfortable during flights. The film is not ready for widespread use yet, but it represents a possible solution more likely to be effective than simply asking offenders to stop. 

Latest Estimates in Traffic Fatalities Released

The traffic fatality numbers from the first half of 2015 represent an estimated increase from the prior year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the final numbers for 2014 traffic deaths, as well as the estimate for 2015, this week. The NHTSA cited the increase in calling for renewed efforts to combat the dangerous behaviors that contribute to so many fatal car and truck accidents. With an estimated increase in both the fatality rate and total fatality numbers, 2015 is on pace to reverse a long-standing general trend of safer motor vehicle travel.

The Secretary of the Department of Transportation referred to the numbers as "a call to action." He promised that the agency would redouble efforts to improve road safety and called for legislators, law enforcement, auto makers, safety groups and motorists to increase their vigilance as well. 

Drowsy Driving Statistics Reveal a Widespread Problem

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is encouraging people to avoid driving when they are fatigued. The NHTSA recently wrapped up National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week and is looking at ways to put a stop to a widespread problem. The head of the NHTSA estimated that somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 deaths per year are caused by drowsy driving. He pointed to statistics gathered by the National Transportation Safety Board showing that fatigue was a contributing factor to nearly 40 percent of major NTSB highway investigations from 2001 to 2012.

The AAA released the results of a survey on tired driving. The group asked drivers if they had ever fallen asleep or nodded off while driving. Among U.S. drivers, 43 percent admitted that they had. The survey results indicate that these are not isolated incidents. Among drivers in the 19-24 age group, nearly 40 percent acknowledged driving while drowsy in the past month. Among all drivers surveyed, the percentage who admitted driving drowsy in the past month was 31.5. 

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