Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Closing Statement
December 13, 2011
Highway Accident Report: Multi-Vehicle Collision
Gray Summit, Missouri, August 5, 2010


I want to thank my fellow Board members for their participation today.

In closing, I want to recognize the NTSB staff who completed this accident investigation and developed this comprehensive report - in particular, the staff from the Office of Highway Safety and from the Office of Research and Engineering. Peter Kotowski, Investigator-in-Charge, and his team did an outstanding job.

You heard the recommendations that we are issuing today - all can make valuable contributions to safety.

But the recommendation that can make the most powerful difference in saving lives is the one calling for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers.

It is past time to face the facts that no one can drive safely when driving is not their focus. It's not just about the distracted driver. It's about the safety of everyone else.

It's time to curb the carnage on our roads from distraction-related accidents. The safety recommendation also urges the use of NHTSA's model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and implementation of targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.

Our recommendation recognizes that addressing distraction from portable electronic devices requires a three-pronged approach. That's why today's recommendation does not stop at regulation. It goes on to cover enforcement by calling for use of the NHTSA model of high-visibility enforcement to support the bans. And then it addresses the third critical prong - education - by calling for targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving.

Look at the strides that have been achieved in addressing alcohol-impaired driving. It is still the biggest killer on our roadways, but with regulation, enforcement, and education - which have all produced a change in society's acceptance of this behavior - the percentage of fatalities from alcohol-related crashes has declined.

We need that same intense focus on distraction.

Yet, distraction is not a clear cut issue. As you've heard this morning, there are varying degrees, varying devices, and a host of issues and challenges with changing behavior. We look forward to holding a forum on this subject next year.

This crash in Gray Summit highlighted other important safety issues, including school bus maintenance and driver training, and the importance of technology. And we have issued recommendations addressing these key areas as well.

But the crux of this investigation is the growing problem of distracted driving. As a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers found: a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, e-mailing, or accessing the Internet.

It is time to stop and assess what we are letting happen on our roadways. The needless lives that are lost. And, for what, convenience? For staying connected? A fatal crash severs that connection in the blink of an eye. What call, text, or update will be your last?

We stand adjourned.