On November 14, 2016, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its 2017-2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Although transportation safety has improved substantially since the NTSB was formed almost 50 years ago, as the NTSB Most Wanted List shows, there are still many transportation areas that need safety improvement. Among items included on the NTSB Most Wanted List are eliminating road distractions, preventing loss of control in flight, and improving rail transit safety oversight, all of which contribute to increased transportation fatalities.
NTSB Most Wanted List Highlights Fatigue, Distractions While Driving
In August 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that from 2014 to 2015, the number of traffic-related fatalities increased 7.2 percent to more than 35,000. It was the largest increase in traffic fatalities year-to-year since 1966, and it ended five decades of declining traffic-related fatalities.
"The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled," said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. "While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities."
Fatigue-Related Driving Accidents
"According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2009 to 2013, more than 72,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers, and resulted in more than 41,000 injuries and more than 800 deaths," the NTSB states in its Most Wanted List. "Another study conducted in 2014 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that as many as one in five fatal crashes involve drowsy driving."
The NTSB recommends that companies establish fatigue risk management programs to reduce the risk of fatigue-related accidents. Also included in the more than 200 safety recommendations to address fatigue, are research into training on and treatment of sleep disorders. Implementation of technology in vehicles to reduce fatigue-related accidents is also recommended. This includes electronic logging devices designed to ensure compliance with regulations involving hours of service for commercial truck drivers.
In addition to traffic accidents, fatigue can play a role or be a contributing factor in aviation and rail accidents. NTSB reports that around 20 percent of the 182 major NTSB investigations undertaking from 2001 to 2012 cited fatigue as being related to the accident, in some cases as the probable cause.
Operating vehicles, aircraft or other modes of transportation requires the person in control to be completely focused on the task at hand. Unfortunately, many people believe they can multitask while they drive. This includes use of portable electronic devices while driving, and undertaking any tasks that pull the focus off of operating the vehicle. According to the NTSB, 10 percent of all traffic-related deaths were linked to distracted driving.
Public education, strict laws and tough enforcement are all recommended by the NTSB to curb distractions.
Aviation Safety Improvements
The NTSB Most Wanted List also addresses general aviation loss of control as an area that requires fixing. According to the NTSB, roughly 50 percent of all general aviation (GA) fatalities from 2008 to 2015 were linked to loss of control. Although the aviation fatality rate in 2015 was the lowest it had been in years, NTSB notes that there is still room for improvement, especially as it relates to loss of control.
General aviation loss of control accidents—in which a domestic civilian aircraft, not counting a commercial airline, experiences an "unintended departure from controlled flight"—were the cause of 1,194 fatalities from 2008 to 2014. Among the reasons for a loss of control are pilot distractions, weather issues or loss of situational awareness.
"GA pilot proficiency requirements are much less rigorous than those of airline pilots," the NTSB Most Wanted List notes. "GA pilots are more likely to have longer intervals between training sessions and between flights. They typically only need to complete a flight review consisting of, at a minimum, 1 hour of ground training and 1 hour of flight training every 24 months."
The NTSB Most Wanted List recommends increased training for GA pilots, including ensuring GA pilots understand stall characteristics and warning signs, learn emergency response skills and install new technology to assist during critical phases of flight.
Improving Rail Oversight
According to the NTSB, safety oversight of rail transit is "unreliable and inconsistent," which increases the risk of a rail transit accident. With millions of people relying on rail transit to commute from home to work daily, it is critical that rail transit safety be closely monitored and enhanced. NTSB recommends that safety standards be created and enforced to ensure transit agencies continually maintain their infrastructure and address issues with safety.
"Rail transit must be subject to competent oversight bodies that have standards and rules (and the power to enforce those rules)," NTSB writes. "Although each rail transit system has unique equipment, operating environments, and challenges, all need strong safety oversight."
Improvements on NTSB Safety List
Other transportation improvements included on the NTSB Most Wanted List included eliminating drug and alcohol impairment in transportation, expanding the use of recorders to improve safety, strengthening occupant protection, and ensuring the safe shipment of hazardous materials.
Improvement List Moves to Two-Year Cycle
The NTSB Most Wanted List has been issued since 1990 to highlight the most important changes that are needed to improve safety in the transportation industry. When it released the 2017-2018 list, the NTSB noted that it will shift to a two-year cycle of releasing the list, rather than releasing it every year. Switching to a two-year cycle allows members in the industry to implement the changes recommended before receiving a new list of priority improvements.