Remarks of Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command
Redstone Arsenal, Alabama
July 1, 1999
Thank you. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here in Alabama among a group of professionals who, like the National Transportation Safety Board, have "A Tradition of Excellence." I'm honored to have been invited to join you for your annual Safety Awareness Day. As we all know, safety is our organizations' number one concern every day. But, it seems appropriate to stop periodically to re-emphasize its importance to us both professionally and personally. That's especially true at this time, as we prepare to celebrate our most important holiday as a country - Independence Day - this Sunday.
Sometimes, safety takes a back seat on such occasions. After all, it's our patriotic duty to join in the celebration! And, we do - with great gusto. In fact, the festivities will probably begin in earnest sometime tomorrow afternoon as the roads to all the beaches and parks become jammed with traffic and the lakes and waterways become clogged with boats and personal watercraft - all of them occupied by people in active pursuit of happiness.
We almost had an early 4th of July recently in DC when an 18-wheeler - transporting 34,000 pounds of black powder to a fireworks factory in New England - flipped on its side while speeding around a curve on I-95 near Springfield, Virginia. The accident occurred at the confluence of I-95, I-395, and I-495 - the famed Washington Beltway - an area known as the "mixing bowl."
Fortunately, no one was injured in the accident and none of the black powder ignited. However, you can imagine how disastrous the incident could have been. As a precaution, emergency response crews evacuated homes and schools in the area. I-95, the principal artery along the East Coast, was shut down for about 18 hours as emergency crews - including the ATF - determined the best way to safely clean up the mess. Those of you who have worked inside the Beltway can envision the incredible traffic jam that resulted and the extraordinary number of people who arrived exceptionally late at their destination - even by DC standards. If you who haven't had that experience, all I can say is - count your blessings!
The next morning, that truck accident was the top headline and feature story on the front page of the Washington Post. At the bottom of the page was a smaller article with the headline "Jet Crash in Little Rock Kills 9." I'm sure that everywhere else in the country, the American Airlines crash was the lead headline for several days.
Regardless of their relative importance to the media, the Safety Board is responsible for investigating both accidents. And, they both have equal importance and significance to us. In fact, we are responsible for investigating every civil aviation accident that occurs in the United States and significant accidents in the other modes of transportation - railroad, highway, marine and pipeline - as well as hazardous materials transportation-related accidents.
Since its inception as an independent agency in 1967, the Safety Board has investigated more than 100,000 aviation accidents and thousands of surface transportation accidents. Over time, it has become one of the world's premier accident investigation agencies. In fact, it is only one of seven independent investigative organizations in the world.
Perhaps, more importantly, as part of our investigations, we make safety recommendations that we hope will prevent similar accidents from recurring. In its 32-year history, the Board has issued almost 10,000 recommendations in all transportation modes to more than 1,250 recipients. In 1990, we began compiling a Most Wanted list that highlights some of what we consider to be our most important, not yet implemented, recommendations - and covers concerns such as data recorders in all transport vehicles, aircraft icing, fuel tank flammability, and human fatigue. It's important to note that because the Board does not have regulatory or enforcement powers, we must rely on our reputation for impartiality and thoroughness to get our recommendations implemented. To date, more than 80 percent of them have been adopted.
Many safety features currently incorporated into airplanes, automobiles, trains, pipelines and marine vessels had their genesis in Safety Board recommendations. Just to give you a few examples, over the years, the Board recommendations on ground proximity warning systems, wind shear, crew resource management, railroad passenger safety, drunk driving, seatbelts, child safety seats, graduated licensing, and emergency response to hazardous material accidents have been implemented.
I think you'll agree that at an annual cost of less than 18 cents a citizen - the 400-member Safety Board is one of the best buys in the government. Our budget would fund the Department of Army for seven hours - the DOD for just under two hours! If you want to know more about the Board, you can check our website at www.ntsb.gov.
I want to spend a little time today talking about an issue of great importance to me - and I know to many of you as well - the safety of our children. This year, I have focused the Board's resources on this issue. In fact, I have named 1999 as the Year of Child Transportation Safety and have asked federal and state regulators, manufacturers of safety equipment, and the automotive industry to join us in an effort to improve the safety of our smallest and most vulnerable citizens.
Statistics tell us that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for children over the age of five. In the 1990s alone, more than 60,000 children, infants to teenagers, have died in traffic crashes. That's more than all of the Americans killed during our 10-year involvement in Vietnam. Of those 60,000 children, nearly 9,000 of them were under the age of 10. Than means, on average, 24 children under the age of 10 die every week in motor vehicle crashes.
This senseless tragedy has to stop and all of us - the government, industry, and parents - must do more to protect the well-being and safety of our nation's youth.
By now, we're all aware that properly used child safety seats and seatbelts are among the most effective safety equipment in a vehicle and they can cut the number of deaths and injuries in half. But, to save lives, they have to be used and they have to be used properly. That's not always easy as it sounds.
Child seat checkups and safety clinics have consistently shown that child safety restraints are misused more than 80 percent of the time. That shouldn't be surprising, considering that in 1999 alone, there are more than 200 car and truck models and 68 different child car seats on the market - some 14,000 potential combinations of vehicles and seats. That doesn't even begin to account for all of the older vehicles still on the road and all of the old car seats being passed around among and between families.
In 1996, the Safety Board conducted a comprehensive study on child restraint use. We found that child restraints were not always tightly secured in vehicles and that the children were not always properly secured in the restraints. Some of the more common mistakes found were loose harness straps, non-use of the harness clip, improperly threaded harness straps, or using the wrong harness straps altogether. We also found that even when parents said that they read the owner's manual on how to use the child restraint, they still made mistakes. Unfortunately, many parents don't find out that the seat is improperly installed until after a crash in which their child is killed or injured.
As a result of this study, we issued an urgent recommendation to the child restraint manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work together to evaluate the design of child restraints with the goal of simplifying placing a child in a restraint system. We also included this recommendation on our Most Wanted list. Recently, NHTSA announced a new rule, as a result of our recommendation, that established a more uniform way of securing restraints in vehicles - and several auto manufacturers are installing the new mechanism in their model year 2000 vehicles.
Obviously, this isn't going to be a short-term fix for the problem. Therefore, we also need to help all the families out there who don't plan to buy a new car for awhile. Last January, we asked the States, the federal government, automobile manufacturers, and child restraint manufacturers to establish multiple permanent locations or "fitting stations" where parents can go to have their child safety seat checked.
Several states - Indiana, Hawaii, and Idaho - already have several such stations and have plans for more. And, just last month, DaimlerChrysler announced its "Fit for a Kid" program. By November 2000, DaimlerChrysler, together with Fisher-Price and the National Safety Council, will have 1,000 dealerships across the country that will offer free child restraint inspections for their customers. Hopefully, other automobile manufacturers will soon follow suit.
For too long, our children have been the last consideration in the design of vehicles in all transportation modes. I think it's time that our society makes them first. As a result, I've also asked auto manufacturers to put children first in the engineering and design of their vehicles. Although we've improved the safety of vehicles over the years, little has been done to design vehicles in a way that will protect children. In particular, I've asked them to look at the design of the back seat - where we've recommended that young children be placed when they're riding in a vehicle.
In all, the Safety Board has made more than 60 recommendations to improve child passenger safety. We're making progress, but as I said earlier, it's going to take everyone's involvement to ensure that our children are as safe as they should - and can - be.
Since I have a captive audience, I want to talk about one other subject of importance to me this morning. As I mentioned earlier, we're going to be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend. This holiday weekend, in fact all summer weekends, seem to demand that we spend some time on or near the water. Certainly, water sports can be enormous fun, if they're done safely. Unfortunately, more than 800 boaters die annually in recreational boating accidents. Even more unfortunate, many, if not all, of those accidents could have been avoided.
What many people don't realize that many of today's watercraft, including jet skis, can be operated at speeds in excess of 60 miles an hour. And, with increases in speed come decreases in the availability to react. For example, operators of two jet skis 50 yards apart, traveling at 40 miles an hour on a head-on course, would only have about 1.3 seconds to see the other vessel and react. That's not much time to see the other vessel, realize what's about to happen, and then take the appropriate corrective action. Add to that scenario the fact that the individuals operating the jet skis have probably rented them and they're first-time operators. A certain recipe for disaster.
The Safety Board's 1993 study on recreational boating safety and our 1998 study on personal watercraft examined a number of safety issues, including the need for better boater education and operator training, mandatory use of personal flotation devices, and limiting alcohol use. As a result of those studies, we've issued recommendations to the States and the Coast Guard to address those issues. We've also asked the manufacturers to look for ways to make their crafts safer and more user friendly.
If you enjoy boating or jet skiing, as I do, I recommend that you take the time to complete a boating safety course, if you haven't already, before operating any vessel on the water; make sure that all occupants, but especially children, wear a personal flotation device; and that no one on board your vessel drinks alcoholic beverages. These simple suggestions will make your time on the water - and everyone else's - much more enjoyable.
Finally, let me close where I began by noting that AMCOM has "A Tradition of Excellence." You have that tradition because your leaders here at Redstone and throughout the Army have created an environment or "corporate culture" in which safety is not only everyone's responsibility, but it is also an integral part of your day-to-day operation. That's a concept that the Board is trying to inculcate throughout the transportation community.
I should tell you that I'm not at all surprised that you and your sister services are at the forefront of this issue - as you are with so many issues. In fact, there have been a number of occasions in which the Board has uncovered a safety problem during an investigation, only to find that the military had previously discovered the same problem and had either fixed it or were working on a solution.
Let me give you just one example. You've undoubtedly noticed the increasing heavy truck traffic on our roads today. Between 1980 and 1997, the number of registered large trucks increased by 22.3 percent, while the number of passenger vehicles only increased by 19 percent. And, although large trucks account for only 3 percent of all registered vehicles, in 1997, 1 of every 11 traffic fatalities resulted from a collision involving a large truck.
The Board has had a long-standing interest in technology to mitigate collisions in all modes of transportation. In recent years, we have investigated several highway accidents in which collision warning technology would have avoided the accident and, in 1995, we have made a recommendation to the Department of Transportation to begin testing a warning system. To date, the DOT has initiated any testing.
In contrast, the Army has already developed a collision warning system and has installed it as standard equipment on all of its newly purchased medium and heavy trucks. At least 2,300 systems are currently on Army trucks and the Army has bought 2,000 retrofit kits.
I hope that by holding up the Army as a role model, as I have on numerous occasions in Congressional testimony, I can prod the commercial industry and the federal regulators to take action that is long overdue.
Technology isn't the only area where you're way ahead of everyone else. As you've also discovered, and what we're trying to get the transportation community to understand, is that human error doesn't occur in a vacuum. It takes place within a cultural, social, and organizational context. Each driver, engineer, pilot, mechanic, inspector, pipeline operator, or ship's officer performs their job in an environment of rules, policies, procedures, operating limitations, and operating latitudes. The Board has been concerned for some time about the values and cultural practices within organizations that may not always encourage employees to err on the side of safety or provide them the resources needed to ensure safe operations.
You won't always find corporate culture specifically referred to in Safety Board reports. However, you will find a description of the culture created by an organization, through its management practices and policies and the attitudes of the company's leadership, that may have set the stage for an accident to occur. You'll also find that our examination goes well beyond the company's top management. As you know, it takes everyone's cooperation and dedication to foster an environment in which safety is foremost in an organization's strategic planning and daily operations.
And, that brings me back to all of you. If you take anything away from my presentation, I hope you will remember that for AMCOM to continue to have "A Tradition of Excellence" it needs all of you to play an active role - not only in your jobs but in your personal lives as well. You are an integral part of your organization's safety program and everything you do - no matter how routine it may seem - has far-reaching safety ramifications.
Thank you again for inviting me to be with you today and to talk to you about our mutual interest in safety. Thank you, too, for all you do for the American people. I wish you and your families a safe and happy 4th of July.