NTSB Urges Action on Drugged, Drowsy Driving
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart (second from left) discusses the agency's "most wanted" list at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 13.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its annual “most wanted” list for 2016, highlighting such priorities as ending substance impairment, reducing fatigue-related accidents, promoting availability of collision-avoidance technologies, and strengthening occupant protection.
The list also expresses the need for drivers and operators to “disconnect from deadly distractions” posed by the use of electronic devices.
Also making the list: “require medical fitness for duty.” This most-wanted item pertains to NTSB’s recommendation that safety-critical personnel, such as public vehicle operators, become subject to medical certification systems. The goal is to identify any untreated or undiagnosed conditions that might prevent operators from performing their job safely, the agency noted.
NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates the causes of transportation accidents, promotes transportation safety and assists accident victims and their families. The board's “most wanted” list addresses accident causes in highway, rail, aviation, marine and pipeline transportation.
The list focuses on 10 broad safety improvements on which the NTSB has made recommendations that haven’t been implemented yet. NTSB has called the list a “road map from lessons learned to lives saved.”
Three of the highway-related items appeared on the 2015 list as well: ending substance impairment, disconnecting from deadly distractions, and requiring medical fitness for duty.
“How do we decide what goes on the list each year? The extent to which an improvement can help save lives and reduce injuries is a factor, but not the only factor,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. “If it were, all of the items would relate to highway crashes, where the vast majority of transportation deaths and injuries occur. We also look at so-called bang for the buck — how to use our limited resources most effectively to improve safety.”
In addressing the dangers of human fatigue, the list stresses that this problem “affects the safety of the traveling public in all modes of transportation.”
In fact, 20 percent of the 182 major NTSB investigations completed between 2001 and 2012 identified fatigue as a probable cause, contributing factor or a finding. To combat this problem, the board called for “a comprehensive approach focused on research, education and training, technologies, treatment of sleep disorders, hours-of-service regulations, and on- and off-duty scheduling policies and practices.”
In explaining the urgent need to end substance impairment, the NTSB also called for more research on the effects of drug use on driving and potential countermeasures.
“Recently, we are seeing that prescribed, over-the-counter and recreational drugs are exacerbating the problem of impaired driving,” Hart said. “We are also concerned about the emergence of synthetic drugs.”
The National Safety Council praised the newly released list, in particular commending the federal agency for adding collision avoidance technologies. The council, in a released statement, also echoed NTSB’s call for further action to prevent drugged driving.
“While alcohol remains a problem, prescription opioid use is an ever growing threat,” NSC said. “Prescription opioids such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin can alter a person’s judgment, impair coordination and create confusion. People taking the medicines are often too impaired to drive or report to work.”
NSC also underscored a need for further public education about the nature of cognitive distraction.
“Today’s vehicles are equipped with technology that makes it easier to make calls, send texts, email and update social media behind the wheel,” NSC said. “However, recent research shows these systems may also be distracting, increasing the need for consumer education.”