National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said Friday that the top three transportation safety challenges of the future were distracted driving, the nation's aging infrastructure and the increasing role of technology in our lives.
Hersman was the featured speaker at The City Club of Cleveland's Friday Forum, the longest uninterrupted independent forum series in the country.
In her speech, Hersman cited the success of the NTSB during its 45 years of investigating accidents and advocating for safety improvements.
"I've talked about the challenges we faced over the past 45 years and how resistance was overcome and safety prevailed,'' Hersman said. "What lies ahead? What are the challenges for the next 45 years? I see three big challenges: distraction, aging infrastructure and technology."
The NTSB has called for a nationwide ban on portable electronic devices by all drivers to reduce distraction.
"That recommendation struck a chord. As it should," Hersman said. "As before, we identified a key safety issue — taking attention away from the driving task. And we're seeing the resistance. But we've also had a lot of support from highway safety advocates, government, the telecommunications industry, and from a number of states who, like Ohio, have enacted legislation that begins to address this growing problem. For safety to prevail, societal norms must change."
Hersman said technology can present problems as well as solutions.
"Technology provides us with great vehicle safety benefits, such as anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags and electronic stability control. And on the way are lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems," Hersman said. "But what about technology that distracts vehicle operators — like in those investigations involving cell phones and laptops. We know distractions are only going to grow as drivers check Facebook, book a dinner reservation and buy movie tickets, all while behind the wheel."
Hersman also said the nation must invest in our crumbling infrastructure such as aging bridges and pipelines.
"We've heard the call for investment from commuters tired of congestion, from regions wanting growth opportunities, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more," Hersman said. " President Obama often cites a 'report card' from the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave our nation's bridges a 'C' and our roads a 'D.' Would you be satisfied if your child brought home a report card like that? As a parent, you'd be convinced that your child could do better, and so can we.
"The condition of our infrastructure drains tens of billions of dollars from the economy, costs motorists billions in vehicle maintenance costs and time, and contributes to traffic accidents and fatalities." Hersman said. "And it can be deadly, as we've seen in our pipeline investigations. In San Bruno, Ca., a half-century-old pipe ruptured, killed eight people, and wiped out an entire neighborhood. There must be a commitment to investment in our infrastructure before it fails, rather than after, for safety to prevail."
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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.