NTSB “Most Wanted” List Targets Causes of Deadly Bus and 18-Wheeler Crashes

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements,” an annual rundown of the Board’s top 10 priorities for reducing fatal accidents across all modes of civil transportation, including aviation, highways, railroads, and pipelines.

Highway safety appears to be top priority for the Board, as the majority of this year’s “Most Wanted” improvements address the major causes of deadly crashes involving 18-wheelers, commercial buses, and passenger vehicles.

Reducing Fatigued-Related 18-Wheeler and Bus Crashes

Fatigue degrades a driver’s ability to stay awake, alert, and attentive on the road. Every day, the travelling public is unknowingly placed at risk because a commercial truck or bus driver is too tired to safely perform their job.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has worked to eliminate or weaken many of the regulations intended to prevent fatigue-related crashes involving 18-wheelers, buses, and other commercial vehicles.

To reduce highway crashes caused by fatigued commercial drivers, the NTSB is recommending that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA):

  • Incorporate scientifically based fatigue mitigation strategies into the hours-of-service regulations for commercial drivers operating commercial vehicles between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.
  • Require motor carriers to adopt fatigue management programs based on the North American Fatigue Management Program.
  • Develop and implement a plan to deploy in-vehicle technologies that reduce fatigue-related crashes.

Sleep Apnea Screening for Commercial Drivers

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a treatable, chronic disease that causes patients to experience episodes of airway obstruction while sleeping, resulting in irregular sleep and subsequent daytime  fatigue.

Evidently, commercial drivers suffer from higher rates of sleep apnea compared to the general population.

Because the FMSCA has failed to enact strong regulations to address screening, diagnosing, and adequate treatment, too many bus and 18-wheeler drivers continue to work with undiagnosed or poorly-treated sleep apnea.

For that reason, the Board urged the regulator to:

  • Implement a program to identify commercial drivers at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea and require that those drivers show evidence that they’ve been appropriately evaluated and treated before granting them unrestricted medical certification.
  • Disseminate guidance for commercial drivers, employers, and physicians about identifying and treating obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Provide certified medical examiners easy access to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s 2016 Medical Review Board guidance on OSA.

Finally, the NTSB recommended that commercial carriers develop a formal sleep apnea program that includes screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up for their drivers.

Eliminate Distracted Driving.

According to the NTSB, 3,210  distracted drivers caused or contributed to over 3,100 fatal highway crashes.

Apparently, several of those collisions involved more than one distracted driver.

Cell phones and other personal electronic devices (PED) are a leading cause of distracted driving. As such, the Board recommends that state legislatures:

  • Ban all PED use on all highways and roads in their state. The District of Columbia and 37 states already restrict the use of cell phones by new drivers, while 47 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
  • Strictly enforce laws and consider roadway monitoring to detain violators.

The NTSB is also concerned that vehicle infotainment systems are causing distractions. Consequently, it urged auto manufacturers to restrict access to these systems when a vehicle is in motion.

End Drug and Alcohol Impairment

Drunk driving caused nearly 30% of the 37,000 deaths that occured on U.S. roads in 2017. Drugged driving, which includes the use of illicit drugs, prescription, and over-the-counter medications, is also on the rise.

To end impaired driving, the NTSB is recommending that states:

  • Establish a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit of 0.05% or lower for all drivers.
  • Include provisions for conducting high-visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws using passive alcohol-sensing technology during law enforcement contacts, such as routine traffic stops, saturation patrols, sobriety checkpoints, and accident scene responses in their in impaired-driving prevention plans or highway safety plans.
  • Require the use of alcohol ignition interlock devices for all individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses.

Reduce Speed-Related Crashes

Speeding not only increases the risk of a crash, it also leads to more severe injuries and higher rates of death. Despite these risks, proven countermeasures, including automated enforcement technology, vehicle technology and design, and education campaigns, are underused.

To reduce speed-related crashes, the NTSB is urging regulators to:

  • Develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology, such as variable speed limiters and intelligent speed adaptation devices, for heavy vehicles— including commercial trucks, 18-wheelers, buses, and motorcoaches—and require that all newly manufactured heavy vehicles be equipped with such devices.
  • Encourage vehicle manufacturers to adopt intelligent speed adaptation systems

The NTSB also recommended that states pass laws allowing automated speed enforcement.

Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Systems

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death and injuries in the United States. According to the NTSB, collision avoidance systems could effectively prevent many deadly highway accidents.

The systems, including Collision Warning Systems (CWS) and Automatic Breaking Systems (AEB), are readily available and proven to work. Although they were first introduced in commercial vehicles, the rate of installation is actually much higher in passenger vehicles.

The Board is now calling on federal regulators to:

  • Complete standards for collision warning and AEB systems in commercial vehicles and require this technology in all highway vehicles.
  • Improve consumer awareness about collision avoidance systems available in passenger vehicles by rating them in the New Car Assessment Program’s 5-Star rating system, and include the ratings on vehicle window stickers.

The NTSB is also asking auto manufacturers to make forward collision avoidance systems (that include, at a minimum, a collision warning component) standard on all of their vehicles.

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