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National Transportation Safety Board Releases Annual List of Most Wanted Safety Improvements

By: Allan M. Siegel

In many of our blog posts, we call attention to the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB. Often, this is because the NTSB is the nation’s leading agency responsible for investigating major transportation accidents. It’s also because the NTSB regularly makes recommendations to cities, states, industries, and Congressional lawmakers about the need for certain types of safety improvements.

As an agency that does not have the ability to propose or pass new laws, the NTSB is limited to making safety recommendations. However, those recommendations are created through years of meticulously curated data and statistics, and from the insight and experience of leading scientists and experts. As such, safety recommendations – issued as part of the NTSB’s annual “Most Wanted List” or as stand-alone advisements – are among the most powerful advocacy tools in existence, and act as a critical part of generating awareness and prompting needed changes or updates that ultimately protect the public.

2019 – 2020 NTSB Most Wanted List

The NTSB’s “Most Wanted List” is an annual report that details what the agency views as the most pressing transportation safety risks in the U.S., as well as data-driven and research-supported recommendations for eliminating or reducing those risks. In the past, we’ve discussed some of the issues the NTSB has included in their list, such as eliminating distracted driving. Although the problem is far from solved, the NTSB’s work has been critical to the passage of tougher driver distraction prohibitions in many states.

This year, the NTSB’s Most Wanted List includes some time-honored safety issues that continue to plague the transportation industry, as well as some newer issues that demand immediate and thoughtful responses. The goal, as always, remains the same: reduce risks posed by transportation accidents, and prevent tragedies, injuries, and deaths that are, in many ways, completely preventable.

This years’ Most Wanted List focuses on the need to:

  1. Eliminate Distracted Driving – Ending the scourge of distracted driving has long been on the NTSB’s radar, and has been included in previous editions of its Most Wanted List. This year, the NTSB reiterated the importance of eliminating distractions among motorists, pilots, other transportation operators, and pedestrians through better educational resources, new laws, and targeted enforcement. This includes recommendations to ban all forms of cell phone use behind the wheel of motor vehicles, and stronger recommendations for pilots, rail operators, and boat operators.
  2. End Alcohol / Drug Impairment – Drugged and drunk driving have similarly been long-standing safety issues on American roads, as well as in the skies, on the water, and on rail transit systems. The NTSB makes some aggressive recommendations by encouraging states to reduce BAC limits for .05 or below for all drivers, and increase use of counter-measures such as ignition interlock devices for motorists convicted of DUI.
  3. Hazardous Material Transportation – According to the NTSB, over 2 million miles of pipeline spanning the U.S. deliver a quarter of the country’s natural gas, and over a third of all its consumed natural gas. Unfortunately, only 16 percent of rail-tank train cars in the U.S. meet improved specifications for safely transporting hazardous materials. Given the risks of aging infrastructure and unsafe rail transit systems, the NTSB urges the railroad industry to meet federal deadlines regarding the replacement and retrofitting of rail tank cars, and the pipeline industry to perform proactive safety assessments and repairs that ensure the safety of nearby residents and communities.
  4. Fully Adopt Positive Train Control – PTC, or Positive Train Control, has been on the NTSB’s safety improvements radar for many years. Though Congress had required PTC to be installed on rail lines by the end of 2018, only a quarter of all passenger rail miles and just 60% of all passenger trains have actually met that deadline. The NTSB notes that full implementation of PTC, which is proven to prevent train accidents and reduce the severity of injuries and number of deaths they cause, before the extended deadline is critical to workers and consumers alike.
  5. Reduce Speed-Related Crashes – Speeding increases the risks of car accidents, and the potential for catastrophic injuries and wrongful death. The NTSB notes over 10,000 people die each year as a result of speeding-related collisions, which is why the agency is recommending the adoption of proven countermeasures. These include not only better laws, but also increased use of automated enforcement technology, new vehicle technology, improved infrastructure design, and better educational campaigns.
  6. Improve Flight Safety Management – The NTSB wants to implement the same safety requirements commercial airliners are expected to meet for air tour, air taxi / charger, medical air services, and on-demand flight services, which are currently not subject to the same rules and are therefore more susceptible to devastating accidents. Specifically, they’re calling on the Part 135 operators to mandate training for terrain-avoidance and implement safety management systems which include programs for monitoring flight data.
  7. Implement Crash Avoidance Technology in all New Vehicles – Modern automobiles have come a long way in terms of technology that provides both convenience and safety benefits. The NTSB wants vehicle manufacturers to make collision avoidance technology, in particular, a standard feature of all highway-capable vehicles, and encourages consumers to purchase vehicles with such technology installed.
  8. Reduce Fatigue-Related Crashes – Whether it’s behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, an airplane, or any other transportation vehicle, operator fatigue has major consequences, and has been found to be just as dangerous as drunk driving. The NSTB wants to focus on reducing risks posed by fatigue through improved research, education, and training, as well as tougher laws and enforcement in the commercial trucking industry (i.e. federal trucking regulations such as Hours-of-Service rules).
  9. Make Sleep Apnea Training Mandatory – In 2017, we discussed how the new administration declined to pursue new rules on testing and screening commercial drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that can cause preventable accidents and death when left undiagnosed and untreated. Now, the NTSB is encouraging agencies like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to revisit its stance on sleep apnea, and mandate screening and treatment for drivers / operators.
  10. Improve Occupant Protections – Safety restraints, including seat belt systems and child safety seats, have been proven to reduce injury and death risks in motor vehicles, boats, and airplanes. The NTSB wants states and industry regulators to strengthen protections of occupants, and better enforce new or existing laws.

Moving Forward: What the Future Holds for Safety

The NTSB’s annual Most Wanted list is a report that has major implications for transportation safety, and it has been critical to moving the ball forward in terms of improving safety. However, because the NTSB lacks any regulatory power to propose or pass new laws, the agency depends on various industries, operators, and lawmakers to do the difficult work, as well as advocates and members of the public who so frequently voice their support for needed safety improvements.

While those parties do sometimes help with the implementation of recommended safety improvements, it is often the case that they don’t – at least immediately. What often happens instead is that these industries wait far too long to adopt measures that could have saved lives, and only change their policies or regulations when they have no other choice. For the public, that means these risks will likely remain, at least to some degree and for some uncertain amount of time. For those who’ve been injured due to issues mentioned above, it also means their cases could provide more than just the opportunity to hold at-fault parties accountable for their losses – they may very well fuel the attention, awareness, and efforts for actionable change in the future.

CSCS: Fighting for Injured Victims & Families Across DC, Maryland & Virginia

For the time being and well into whatever the future may hold, our personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. will continue to fight for the victims and families who suffered injuries or the ultimate losses as a result of negligence and wrongful acts. If you have a potential case to discuss – whether it involves a motor vehicle accident, train or bus accident, trucking collision, or any other type of preventable accident – we’re here to help.

Contact us to discuss your case with a lawyer. CSCS serves clients throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.