NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB CALLS ON STATES TO ACT ON HIGHWAY, BOATING ISSUES; ADDS SCHOOL BUS GRADE CROSSING SAFETY TO MOST WANTED LIST

September 14, 2004

Washington, D. C. - The National Transportation Safety Board said today that State governments can do more to ensure the safety of travelers on their highways and waterways. The Board updated its list of Most Wanted Safety Improvements by the States, noting those instances where States have so far failed to implement the suggested safety enhancements.

At the same time, the Board added a new issue area, Improving School Bus/Grade Crossing Safety, to its list.

Established in 1990, the Board's Most Wanted list is a way for the Safety Board to focus attention on needed safety improvements in all modes of transportation. The list highlights recommendations that, if implemented, the Safety Board believes will have a significant impact on reducing deaths and injuries.

NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners said of today's Board action, "Implementation of these recommendations by the States would reduce the types of accidents that result in over 90 percent of all transportation fatalities in the United States. Every year we lose thousands of our citizens who could otherwise be saved by some basic safety measures."

There are 10 recommendations to State governments that comprise the six issue areas on the Board's list, summarized below.

Improve Child Occupant Protection

In the 10 years through 2003, more than 3,900 children between the ages of 4 and 8 who were motor vehicle passengers were killed in traffic crashes. About 87 percent of them were unrestrained or improperly strapped into adult- sized seat belts.

Safety Recommendation H-96-14 calls for States to require children up through the age of 7 to be restrained in booster seats. Twenty four States have no booster seat requirement, while 18 States have laws that partially address the Board's concerns.

Enact Primary Seat Belt Enforcement Laws

Of the 32,000 automobile occupants who died in highway crashes last year, 56 percent were unrestrained. Lap/shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to a front seat occupant by 45 percent. Also, adult belt use translates into more children being restrained; when adults buckle up, 87 percent of children are restrained, and when adults don't buckle up, only 24 percent of children are restrained.

Safety Recommendation H-97-2 calls on States to upgrade their seat belt use laws to permit law enforcement officers to cite drivers for unbelted occupants in their car even if no other violation is noted. Twenty nine States do not have a primary enforcement law, including New Hampshire, which has no seat belt use law for adults.

Promote Youth Highway Safety

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-to- 20-year-olds, with 122 teens dying each week. This issue area has four recommendations.

Safety Recommendation H-93-1 asks the States to review their age-21 drinking laws to make sure they prevent the sale of alcohol to and purchase by underage persons. While all States have age-21 drinking laws, 27 States have not adopted what the Board considers comprehensive underage drinking laws.

Safety Recommendation H-93-9 asks States to impose nighttime driving restrictions on young, novice drivers. Young drivers do only 20 percent of their driving at night but that is when 50 percent of fatalities occur. Twelve States do not have nighttime driving restrictions.

Safety Recommendation H-02-30 asks States to impose restrictions on young drivers with provisional licenses limiting the number of teenagers they can have with them in the car to no more than one. The risk of crashes increases with each teenaged passenger; with three teenaged passengers, the risk of a fatal crash is three times what it would be for a 16-year-old driving alone, and five times more than an adult driver. Twenty five States have no passenger restrictions, while four States have limits of two or three teen passengers.

Safety Recommendation H-02-32 calls for a three-stage graduated drivers license (GDL) program. Two States - Montana and Wyoming - do not have GDL and 11 have only partial systems.

Eliminate Hard Core Drinking Driving

Hard core drinking drivers are defined as those having two DUI arrests in a 10-year period or any arrest with a BAC of 0.15 percent. With 17,000 persons dying in alcohol- related highway crashes last year, eliminating these drivers from the road could save thousands of lives a year. While hard core drinking drivers constitute less than 1 percent of licensed drivers, they constitute 27 percent of drivers in fatal crashes.

Safety Recommendation H-00-26 asks States to establish a comprehensive program aimed at these drivers (the Board suggested 11 possible elements to such a system). Only three States - New Hampshire, Ohio and Utah - have programs sufficiently comprehensive to satisfy the recommendation (8 of 11 elements). Three States - Alaska, Louisiana and Virginia - need only one more element to satisfy the Board's recommendation. Other States need anywhere from two to seven elements before achieving a system that would comply with the Board's recommendation.

Enhance Recreational Boating Safety

About 700 people die every year in recreational boating accidents, most of them due to drowning. Of those, 86 percent were not wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs). There are two recommendations in this area.

Safety Recommendation M-93-1 asks for mandatory use of PFDs for children (through the age of 12) and demonstration of operator knowledge of safe boating rules. Six States - Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming - have no PFD-use laws while 22 States have laws that cover children younger than 12. Indiana has a law that covers only federal waters.

Eighteen States have no laws dealing with boaters' knowledge. All others require some sort of boater education, with Alabama being the only State that requires licensing for recreational boat operators.

Safety Recommendation M-98-101 calls on States to require rental businesses to provide safety instruction to customers renting personal watercraft. Eighteen States have no laws in this area.

School Bus/Grade Crossing Safety

Although accidents involving school buses at grade crossings are rare, they have the potential to be catastrophic. There are more than 100,000 passive grade crossings in this country; that is, they are not protected by either automatic gates or lights that warn the motorist when a train is coming.

Safety Recommendation H-01-38 proposes a five-element program for the States that includes, among its five suggested program elements, installation of stop signs at those crossings used by school buses and enhanced school bus driver training. Sixteen States have at least three program elements and are considered to have satisfied the Board's recommendation.

Maps and tables providing details on a State-by-State basis on each of these recommendations may be found on the home page of the Board's website at www.ntsb.gov.

NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (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.