NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB CALLS FOR FAST ACTION ON "BLACK BOXES," PILOT SCREENING AND IMPROVED RAIL CAR DESIGN

April 30, 1996

(Washington D.C.) -- Renewing a call for action on better flight data recorders, the National Transportation Safety Board said that its recommendations for required pilot background checks and improved rail car design for passenger protection have been elevated to its "Most Wanted" list of safety improvements.

The Safety Board also added as a third issue to the list better highway vehicle occupant protection through increased enforcement of seat belt laws and the proper use of child seats. The NTSB maintains its list of "Most Wanted" transportation safety recommendations to call attention to the fact that they have not been adopted by various government agencies and others.

NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said that recent accidents and the lack of progress by governmental authorities in accepting Board recommendations resulted in the addition of the three new issues to the "Most Wanted" list. "There just has not been any real results, for instance, in improving rail car passenger safety," said Chairman Hall.

In aviation, the Board issued recommendations more than a year ago for upgrading aircraft flight data recorders as a result of the crash of USAir Flight 427, a Boeing 737, in Pittsburgh in September, 1994, which is still under investigation. "We are at a serious disadvantage without such modernized recorders to measure flight control inputs and control surface movements in an accident, or serious incident, involving the B-737, which is the workhorse of the civilian aviation fleet," declared Chairman Hall.

"What adds to our frustration is that we believe the B-737 retrofit is within the economic grasp and maintenance scheduling capabilities of the aviation industry without serious disruption," Mr. Hall said.

"It's also vital that our recommendations be followed requiring that new transport aircraft coming off the assembly line or yet to be built have expanded flight recorder capabilities, too." he added.

The Safety Board dropped two issues from its priority list because of implemented improvements. These involved commuter aircraft safety and the detection of drugs and alcohol in operators in the transportation system. Currently, the total number of safety areas on the NTSB's priority list is 18, one more than last year.

Six of the 18 items on the "Most Wanted" list were modified to reflect responses. The Safety Board designed its "Most Wanted" program to increase the public's awareness of, and support for, action to adopt safety measures that can help prevent accidents and save lives.

The NTSB issues several hundred safety recommendations each year covering all modes of transportation based on accident investigations and special studies. Since its creation in 1967, the Board has issued more than 10,000 recommendations with an average adoption rate of more than 80 percent.

Following is a summary of each of the new issues added to the "Most Wanted" list:

Pilot Background Checks

The Board has addressed this issue four times in the last eight years. Recommendations to require the Federal Aviation Administration to require background checks for new pilots came out of accidents involving an American Eagle on approach to Raleigh-Durham on December 13, 1994, killing 20 persons. Earlier, there were two mishaps in Hawaii in mountainous terrain, one involving Scenic Air Tours on April 22, 1992 in Maui, with eight fatalities and the other, Aloha Islandair in Molakai on October 28, 1989, killing 20; finally there was the crash of Continental Airlines on takeoff November 15, 1987, resulting in 28 deaths. (The NTSB recommendations involved are A-95-116, -117, -118 & -119).

Safety of Passengers in Railroad Cars

Dating back to a train derailment on June 28, 1969 at Glendale, Maryland that injured 144 persons, the NTSB has been making recommendations to improve the safety of rail passenger cars. Since then, the Board has made passenger rail car safety recommendations in at least 13 accidents, which claimed 27 lives and injured 898 persons. Today, there is only one federal passenger car requirement: four window exits per car with bullet-proof glass. The NTSB has raised safety issues about rail car construction, signs and emergency preparedness more than a dozen times in the past 25 years. The most recent of these was the February 16, 1996 accident near Silver Spring, Maryland involving a Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) and an Amtrak train, resulting in 11 fatalities. The latest NTSB recommendation involved, R-96-7, urges the Federal Railroad Administration to inspect all U.S. commuter lines to ensure rail cars have working escape exits, windows, proper emergency signs and easy-to-use door releases.

Highway Vehicle Occupant Protection

The protection to vehicle occupants through consistent use of restraints has long been advocated by the Safety Board, but it has found that there is a need for stricter and more consistent enforcement of seat belt laws by the states. A separate, but related vehicle occupant safety issue has been the impact of air bag deployment on children in front, rear-facing seats or improperly belted persons in the front passenger seat. Such highway accidents have caused fatalities or serious injury last year, for instance, in Baltimore (Oct. 22); Salt Lake City (Oct. 10); Irvine, California. (Oct. 3); Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania.(July 18) and Houston, Texas. (Mar.3). The Board has recommended measures to protect against the highway vehicle occupant danger, and there is concern about the adequacy and speed of the educational measures being used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry. (The NTSB recommendations involved are H-95-13, -17, -19 -20, -27 & 28).

Media Contact: NTSB Office of Public Affairs

PHONE: (202) 314-6100

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.