Remarks by Jim Hall, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Before the
The 2nd Annual North Texas Transportation Safety Summit
Irving, Texas, August 18, 1999


Good evening, I want to thank Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson for inviting me to address this most important transportation conference. I also would like to thank the City of Irving for sponsoring the summit.

I'm glad to be here in the great state of Texas. It's clear to see why your motto is "Don't Mess with Texas." Texans have a lot to be proud of. You lead in the high tech and oil industries and Texas is the home of two leaders in the aviation industry - American and Southwest airlines. You have a first rate university system and you have the current division leading professional baseball teams in both leagues. However, I feel compelled to point out that while your UT (Texas) has been number 1 in football in years past, my alma mater the University of Tennessee is the current number 1 in college football.

Now, that said, let me say you should also be proud of this summit. This meeting is a model of effective regional communication and cooperation. If we are to make the most of our efforts, we need to do more to promote federal, state, regional, and local partnerships and action. This gathering is a step in that direction. I am pleased to note that this is the second such summit and hope that you will continue your endeavors to improve transportation safety.

As you all know, transportation is becoming an increasingly important element to our nation's economy. The latest U.S. Department of Transportation figures indicate that transportation currently contributes almost $800 billion a year to our gross domestic product. And, demands on the transportation system continue to grow. For example, the number of domestic airline passengers is expected to grow from 561 million last year to over 850 million in 2010. Also by 2010, highway miles traveled by passenger vehicles are projected to increase to over 3 trillion miles annually, heavy truck miles will rise by 27 percent, and truck weight will increase by 32 percent. Between 1997 to 2010, annual train miles will increase by 50 percent, to over 750 million. The other modal industries, marine and pipeline, are also expected to grow at similar rates.

This expansion will, by necessity, bring more congestion and more exposure to accidents, injuries and death. As the population here in North Texas grows -- it's expected to double over the next 25 years -- the transportation infrastructure must continue to grow with it. Therefore, it's essential that we plan for these changes now.

When people, companies or government don't plan well enough - or execute well enough - accidents happen. And that is where we come in. For the past five years, I have had the honor to lead the world's preeminent transportation accident investigative agency, the National Transportation Safety Board. You may have heard of the Safety Board because of our high profile aviation accident investigations such as TWA flight 800 off Long Island and American Airlines flight 1420 in Little Rock, but we investigate accidents in all modes of transportation.

The NTSB was established 32 years ago by Congress because it believed that agencies shouldn't both regulate a transportation industry and investigate accidents involving the system being regulated. The Board was created as an independent agency, serving as the eyes and ears of the American people at accident sites. Our mission is to find the probable cause of transportation accidents and to make recommendations that will prevent similar accidents from happening again. We don't regulate; we investigate. We don't tell anyone what to do; rather, we point out what should to be done - based on our three decades of seeing what works and what doesn't - and then we ask the appropriate entity to take action.

Because we must react quickly to situations as they arise, we have placed regional offices in key cities across the country. If fact, as some of you may know, we have an office near here in Arlington, Texas, staffed with aviation and highway investigators who focus their efforts on accidents in this region. As a result, we've investigated a number of accidents in the North Texas area. And, just recently, we held a public hearing in Dallas on Union Pacific safety issues.

This evening I want to focus on what is by far the leading cause of transportation deaths across the country and especially in Texas. Highway crashes resulted in more than 41,000 deaths last year nationwide. Over 3,500 of those deaths were right here in Texas. Each year, highway deaths account for more than 90 percent of all transportation fatalities and they are the leading cause of death for young Americans ages 6 to 27. We continue to allow these very preventable accidents to destroy lives and steal futures. Everyone in this room should be angry about that - and this summit should have a plan to stop these needless tragedies from continuing.

We, as a nation, are mortgaging our future in terms of needless lives lost, in unfulfilled potential, and in monetary costs. Nationally, motor vehicle crashes cost at least $151 billion dollars every year. That's at least $580 out of the pockets of every person in this room, each member of your family, each of your constituents, and all Americans. We shouldn't be willing to tolerate this waste - as individuals, as parents, as Texans, or as Americans.

Unfortunately, Texas leads the nation in preventable highway deaths. Let me share a few more statistics with you.

Texas is also substantially above the national average in fatalities per vehicle mile traveled, fatalities per population, grade crossing fatalities, alcohol-related fatalities, and speed-related fatalities. As Texas' population increases, and if there are no significant changes in driver behavior, this situation can only get worse - much worse.

But, there is no reason for that to occur. There are some concrete and easily attainable measures that Texas and you can take that will reverse these statistical trends and, more importantly, save lives. Let me enumerate just a few of them.

Finally, I'd like to address a problem that affects drivers all around the country -- large truck safety. During the past 32 years, NTSB has been a major force behind hundreds of truck and bus safety improvements, including a national license for commercial truck drivers, a special license or endorsement for drivers hauling hazardous materials, alcohol/drug testing program for commercial operators, and mandatory requirements for anti-lock braking systems.

This year, the NTSB is pushing for more safety improvements. In April, we held a hearing to look at how well regulators and the industry enforced safety requirements; in May, we held an international symposium to focus attention on the need for recorder devices for trucks and buses. This month, the Board will explore technology applications for heavy vehicle safety. This fall, the Board will convene a hearing on safety issues related to NAFTA; our final hearing will be on the adequacy of the CDL license process and medical issues affecting truck and bus drivers.

In addition to these efforts, we are currently conducting a special investigation of motor coach accidents to examine them more closely. Unlike automobiles, there are no crash protection or body joint strength or bus rollover standards. We also expect to complete a safety study this fall on intrastate trucks that are not subject to federal or state regulations.

It's time to make "Don't Mess with Texas" more than a slogan. Make it your rallying cry to improve highway safety for all Texans. Make Texas number one in lives saved rather than lives lost on your roads. Be proactive and involved. Work with the legislature to enact laws that will protect all of you -- especially our young people.

Texas, like Tennessee, is a great state -- full of caring people. We are both proud of our youths and want to provide them as much safety and security as possible they grow into adulthood and set out on their own lives. But that safety and security doesn't happen automatically -- it takes everyone's concerted effort. We can no longer consider drinking, speeding and driving as acceptable rites of passage for our young people. In far too many cases, those rites of passage have led to the last rites for too many of our citizens.

This summit can take important steps to prevent highway crashes. By putting children first, you can make all Texans safer. Take a moment to reflect on the almost 33,000 lives needlessly lost on Texas highways in the last ten years. As you think about those sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives, I am confident you will find the courage to make the right decisions that will make a difference and save lives.

Thank you for the opportunity to come to back to the great state of Texas and for your time and attention. I will be glad to respond to your questions.

 

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