National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board today called on State governments to do more to ensure the safety of travelers on their highways and waterways by enacting and enforcing laws to cut down on the thousands of people who are killed and injured every year.
In a public meeting today, the Safety 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. The list urges States to take dozens of actions to reduce the tragedies on the roads by requiring booster seats for young children; getting habitually drunk drivers off the road; and requiring graduated driver licensing, which includes teen passenger restrictions and wireless communications prohibitions for new drivers. The list also urges States to adopt laws that require young children to wear life jackets and boaters and renters of jet skis to get safety instruction.
NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said of today's Board action, "These recommendations on our Most Wanted list have the potential to improve safety, save lives, and reduce the types of accidents that result in over 90 percent of all transportation fatalities in the United States."
The recommendations on the Most Wanted List asked for about 400 safety improvements in the States and Territories. Today the board reviewed the status of the 232 actions by the States. Sufficient progress was made to close recommendations for seven States, and positive action was identified in 24 additional cases. Issues highlighted on the "Most Wanted" list are:
Improve Child Occupant Protection
From 1996 through 2005, more than 3,800 child occupants between the ages of 4 and 8 died in traffic crashes. More than 85 percent of those 3,800 children were unrestrained or improperly restrained in an adult seat belt. Children restrained only by seat belts are 3.5 times more likely to suffer abdominal injuries and 4 times more likely to suffer head injuries than those properly restrained in a booster seat.
In 1996, the Board asked States, the District of Columbia and the Territories (Safety Recommendation H-96-14) to require children up to 8 years old to use child restraint systems and booster seats. Currently, there are 33 States that lack laws requiring that children between the ages of 4 and 8 use booster seats. However, 21 States have laws covering children under age 7.
Primary Seat Belt Enforcement
Primary enforcement of seat belt laws is the single most important measure that States can take to reduce the death toll from highway crashes. Almost 31,400 passenger vehicle occupants died in automobile crashes in 2005; 55 percent of them were unrestrained. Lap/shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers in cars by 45 percent.
In 2006, when adults buckled up, 87 percent of children buckled up also but when adults were not buckled up, the percentage of restrained children dropped to about 58.
The Board's recommendation (H-97-2) asks States to enact legislation allowing law enforcement to cite people for not wearing seat belts when no other traffic violation is evident. The recommendation also calls for seat belt violations to include driver's license penalty points and appropriate fines. Twenty-four States have not enacted primary enforcement laws. Only the District of Columbia, New York, New Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands assess driver license penalty points for seat belt violations.
Promote Youth Highway Safety
From 1996 through 2005, nearly 64,000 young people aged 15 through 20 died in traffic crashes, more than 122 each week. In 2005, 7,460 young drivers 15 through 20 years old were involved in fatal crashes, resulting in 8,609 total fatalities.
The Board's recommendations in this area have focused on improving the factors noted repeatedly in crashes involving young drivers including inexperience, risk taking and teen driver distraction by other teen passengers and by using wireless devices while driving. For example, the risk of a crash involving a young driver increases with each additional teen passenger in the vehicle. Accordingly, the Board asked States (Safety Recommendation H 02-30) to restrict the number of passengers under age 20 in vehicles driven by young drivers with provisional licenses for at least six months. Twenty-seven States lack a passenger restriction that meets the Board's criteria. The Board also called for adoption of (Safety Recommendation H-02-32) a three-stage graduated licensing system for young drivers. Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota and Minnesota are the only States that do not have a 3-stage graduated licensing system for young drivers.
The Board also asked States (Safety Recommendation H-03-08) to prohibit holders of learner's permits and intermediate licenses from using interactive wireless communication devices while driving.
According to a 2006 study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researchers have determined that nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involved some form of driver inattention within 3 seconds before the event; the most common distraction was the use of cell phones. Thirty-seven States lack an interactive wireless communication prohibition that applies to both holders of learner's permits and intermediate licenses.
Eliminate Hard Core Drinking Driving
In 2005, there were 16,885 alcohol-related traffic crash fatalities. Almost fifty-five percent of those fatalities involved hard core drinking drivers. "This is totally unacceptable," Rosenker said. A hard core drinking driver is a repeat offender with a prior driving-while- intoxicated arrest within the past 10 years, or an offender with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent or greater. In 2005, the median blood alcohol concentration for alcohol- involved drivers involved in fatal crashes was 0.16%.
The Board's recommendation (H-00-26) encourages States to establish a comprehensive program, containing 11 elements, designed to prevent hard core drinkers from driving. Since the Board issued the recommendation in 2000, at least 28 States and the District of Columbia have adopted one or more elements of the model program but only 5 States have developed programs sufficient for the Board to close the recommendation for the State.
There are many States that still do not meet the Board's recommended criteria such as: no authorized sobriety checkpoints, no established special programs to identify drivers operating on a suspended or revoked license; no adopted "aggravated" blood alcohol count BAC, and no eliminated diversion as an option for DWI offenders, allowing the records of offenders to be erased.
School Bus/Grade Crossing Safety
Although school bus grade crossing accidents are infrequent, the results are disastrous when they do occur. Passive grade crossings are especially dangerous because there are no lights or audible warning systems to indicate when a train is approaching. Requiring bus drivers to "look, listen, and live" before entering a grade crossing helps ensure the safety of all children on a school bus.
In 2006, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there were about 142,000 public grade crossings (as opposed to those on private property); 54 percent were passive crossings. About 45 percent of the fatalities from public grade crossing accidents in 2006 occurred at passive crossings.
The Board asked States (Safety Recommendation H-01-38) to implement a comprehensive program to increase school bus safety at grade crossings, including installing stop signs, enhancing bus driver training, and requiring noise-reducing switches. Six States have installed stop signs at crossings. Thirty three States have enhanced driver training, and 16 States now require noise reducing switches (to mute the radio, heater and air conditioner) on newly purchased school buses. Twenty-one States have taken actions that satisfy the Board's recommendations. The Board removed this issue area from the Most Wanted List saying that it would continue to work with the remaining States to implement the recommendation.
Enhance Recreational Boating Safety
In 2006, the Coast Guard reports that of the 710 recreational boating fatalities, 473 were the result of drowning and 89 percent were not wearing personal floatation devices. In 1993 the Board asked the States (Safety Recommendation M-93-1) to consider establishing minimum safety standards, such as mandatory use of PFDs by children, demonstration of operator knowledge of safe boating rules and skills, and operator licensing as methods to reduce the annual number of recreational boating deaths. Only Iowa, Virginia, and Wisconsin still do not require PFDs for children. Fourteen States have yet to require either mandatory education or an operator's license for recreational boat operators.
The Board also asked States (Safety Recommendation M-98-101) to require rental businesses to provide safety instruction and training to all persons who operate rented personal watercraft. Thirteen States have yet to require safety instruction at PWC rental operations.
"The Board's advocacy efforts have been extremely successful. There have been many safety improvements in the States since these recommendations were issued. But as we've seen today, more still needs to be accomplished to make transportation safety a priority for all our citizens. The elected leaders in the States need to make transportation safety a political priority," Rosenker said.
NTSB Press Contacts: (202) 314-6100
Primary Seat Belt Laws - Terry Williams
Youth Highway Safety - Keith Holloway
Improved Child Occupant Protection - Bridget Serchak
Hard Core Drinking Driving - Peter Knudson
School Buses at Grade Crossings - Peter Knudson
Recreational Boating Safety - Keith Hollowa
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.