The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has plans for a busy 2015. Posting its goals for the New Year comes in the form of a “Most Wanted List.” The NTSB plans to use the list as a road map for navigating its advocacy priorities. While the safety agency’s goals may seem lofty to some, the statistics support the need for objective intervention.
MOST WANTED: Public Helicopter Safety
WHAT: There is an increased frequency of accidents among helicopters used for emergency medical, law enforcement support, and search and rescue missions.
WHY: In the past 10 years, the NTSB has investigated 130 helicopter accidents. Among them were 50 deaths and 40 seriously injured.
HOW: The NTSB is approaching helicopter safety from three perspectives:
- Operational. Begin to develop and implement safety management systems that address flight risk and other risk management practices.
- Pilot. Determine and implement best practices for helicopter pilots. These would be selected through exercises like scenario-based training (e.g. meteorological conditions) and fatigue management.
- Helicopter. Four items sit on the helicopter safety wish list: night vision imaging systems, terrain awareness warning system, crash-resistant flight recorder systems, and radio altimeters.
MOST WANTED: Safety from Deadly Distractions
WHAT: Transportation operators are among the millions of people distracted by their personal electronic devices (PEDs). “Distracted” in this context refers to cell phones, texting, reading texts or emails, hands-free and risk-free.
WHY: The numbers are startling. Engaging in one of these distractions triples an operator’s risk of a crash. In fact, since 2003 there have been 11 NTSB investigations where a PED played a role. In 2008, a Metrolink commuter train hit a Union Pacific freight train head on in Chatsworth, California. After the NTSB’s investigation, texting was found to be the cause of 25 deaths and 100 injuries.
HOW: It’s very simple: Transportation operators need to disconnect from all non-mission-critical information. Even though the risk from PEDs cannot be overstated, the NTSB believes it’s going to require a cultural shift to get drivers’ eyes back on the road.
MOST WANTED: End Substance Impairment
WHAT: Nothing new here: Alcohol consumption poses a risk to transportation operators. Yet, for some reason this message hasn’t hit home.
WHY: It’s inexcusable that the sober population has to drive around knowing that, all told, drinkers make approximately 112 million alcohol-impaired trips annually. Since 2000, 160,000 people have died as a result of alcohol, which screams volumes about the need for reform.
HOW: At this stage, the NTSB needs to gather more data (and better data) to get a clearer understanding of the extent of the problem. In the interim, the agency seeks to reduce the number of cases where required post-accident testing is neglected. Also, the agency is calling for greater emphasis on increasing the collection of driver BAC test results subsequent to crashes. Documentation and reporting of these results must be mandatory.
MOST WANTED: Commercial Trucking Safety
WHAT: Trucks kill almost 4,000 people annually, a statistic that has risen for the past four years.
WHY: Considering the size and weight of a tractor-trailer, accidents involving them carry a disproportionate hazard to passenger vehicle occupants. For example, right now the NTSB is reviewing a crash where a tractor-trailer crossed a median and collided with a motor coach. The accident killed 10 and injured 40.
HOW: Regulators have begun the long journey to safer roads. Part of it includes the mandate of electronic logging devices to oversee adequate rest conditions. Also, screening will be carried out for obstructive sleep apnea. Examples of other potential mandates to look for include collision-warning technology, tire pressure monitoring systems, and lane departure warnings.
MOST WANTED: Rail Tank Car Safety
WHAT: In today’s booming energy environment, DOT-111 tank cars are moving highly flammable liquids (e.g. ethanol, crude oil) on an increasing basis. Concern comes from the belief that these cars aren’t in any condition to transport such dangerous combustibles.
WHY: The sheer volume helps dictate the reasons for reform. In 2013 alone, 290,000+ tank cars transported ethanol. Unfortunately, the decades-old routes were constructed at a time when America’s energy transport needs were barely on the map. Too often we’re hearing about catastrophes like in 2013 when a 4,700-foot-long train (72 DOT-111 rail cars) derailed in Quebec. Approximately 1.6 million gallons of crude oil poured out of most of the cars, resulting in a huge fire that claimed 47 lives.
HOW: Strengthening the rail cars is a good start to improving safety on the railroad. For the NTSB, this means enhancing tank heads and adding top fitting protection and shell-puncture resistance systems. Another type of strengthening must come in the way of regulatory requirements for new rail tank cars. Planning and selecting routes that will minimize the quantity of hazardous materials traveling through highly populated areas would be a good start. Finally, the Board plans to evaluate emergency preparedness systems in an effort to minimize the tragic consequences when an accident does happen.
For more insight about the NTSB’s 2015 Most Wanted List, contact the aviation and trucking accident lawyers of Slack & Davis. For 20 years, Slack & Davis has won complex aviation and trucking accident cases.