November 16, 2010
The National Transportation Safety Board today updated its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements directed at state governments by adding a new issue area - motorcycle safety - and dropping another - recreational boating - where substantial progress has been made. The changes were announced today at a press conference in Washington, D.C.
"State governments are in a unique position to effect the most significant improvement in certain areas of transportation safety," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. "Our Most Wanted List spotlights those states that have made noteworthy progress in better protecting the traveling public - and those that have not."
Improve Motorcycle Safety
The NTSB added this new issue area to the list. From 1997 through 2008, the number of motorcycle fatalities more than doubled during a period when overall highway fatalities declined. Although the number of motorcycle fatalities fell in 2009, the 4,400 deaths still outnumber those in aviation, rail, marine and pipeline combined.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.
The NTSB therefore recommends that everyone aboard a motorcycle be required to wear a helmet that complies with DOT's Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. Currently, 20 states, the District of Columbia and 4 territories have universal helmet laws that apply to all riders. Twenty- seven states and one territory have partial laws the require minors and/or passengers to wear helmets. Three states - Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire - have no helmet laws.
Eliminate Distractions for Young Drivers
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people aged 15-20. Teen drivers represent on average less than 7 percent of the driving population but account for more than 13 percent of drivers involved in deadly crashes. To improve the environment and decrease the crash risk for teenagers, NTSB recommends that states implement a comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) system.
GDL systems consist of three stages - a learner's permit, an intermediate or provisional license, and a full license - and places restrictions on these young, novice drivers to limit their distractions. Such distractions include restricting the number of passengers that teen drives can carry and restricting their use of interactive wireless communication devices. Although 49 states and the District of Columbia have strengthened their driver licensing systems in the past decade, only 15 states have included all the elements that the NTSB recommends. Thirty-four states lack some elements, and North Dakota does not have a 3-stage GDL system.
The risk of a crash involving a teenage driver increases with each additional teen passenger in the vehicle. In addition, conducting a conversation on a wireless telephone or texting can decrease situational awareness, especially for someone who is still learning to deal with a myriad of traffic conditions and situations. NTSB recommendations are aimed at eliminating these distractions for young, novice drivers.
Twenty-two states lack passenger restrictions for novice drivers that would satisfy NTSB recommendations, and 24 states have no ban on interactive wireless communication by drivers with learner's permits or intermediate licenses.
Improve Child Occupant Protection
About 45 percent of the 3,000 children between the ages of 4 and 8 who died in motor vehicle accidents (2000-2009) were unrestrained. The NTSB recommends that states require that children younger than 8 but too large for child safety seats be restrained in booster seats. Twenty one states and two territories need to enact or amend laws to satisfy this recommendation.
Enact Primary Seat Belt Enforcement Laws
In 2009, 55 percent of the 23,000 people who died as occupants in auto crashes were not wearing seat belts. Using lap/shoulder belts reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. The NTSB recommends that all states enact primary seat belt enforcement laws. Nineteen states still lack such laws, and 14 states and 2 territories that have primary enforcement laws need to expand them to all seating positions.
Eliminate Hard Core Drinking Driving
The nation's deadliest drunk driving accident occurred 22 years ago, when a drunk driver hit an activity bus head-on in Kentucky, killing 27 people. The driver had a history of impaired driving convictions, and had a blood alcohol level of 0.26 percent that night. Since 2001, more than 81,000 persons have been killed by hard core drinking drivers. The NTSB recommends an 11-step model program to combat this deadly epidemic. Six states (California, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah and Virginia) have a sufficiently rigorous program that the NTSB considers acceptable action. However, 23 states have achieved insufficient progress on the issue. The remaining states and territories have partially complied with the recommendation.
Enhance Recreational Boating Safety
Almost 700 people die every year in recreational boating accidents in the United States. In 1994, the NTSB added this issue area to the Most Wanted List, asking the states to require personal flotation devices for children and implement training and licensing requirements for their recreational boaters. Since that time, 70 percent of the states have responded favorably to those recommendations. The NTSB has removed this issue from the Most Wanted List, but will continue to push for action in the remaining states.
Chairman Hersman closed today's press conference by noting that someone dies in a traffic crash in this country every 13 minutes. "The number of people who die every week on our roadways (650) is equivalent to five 737 passenger jets crashing every seven days. If that many people were killed in airplane crashes, the American people would be up in arms," Chairman Hersman said. "Although highway fatalities declined last year, we still need a call to arms to reduce the number of these daily, needless tragedies on our highways."