Remarks of Mark V. Rosenker
Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
International Conference on Safety and Transportation
March 15, 2004
Thank you, Elia, [Elia Mannetta, Vice-Director, conference organizing committee, ICOSIT], for your kind introduction. Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here today. I was extremely pleased and honored to receive the invitation of Dottore Mimmo Ragazinno, Conference Director and Elia to address this international conference involving so many critical transportation safety issues. I am particularly pleased to share with you how my organization, the NTSB, works and how Italy could benefit by establishing its own version of an effective independent multi-modal investigative organization similar to those of other nations around the world. In addition, I was asked to brief you on the Safety Board's highly successful "Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements" list. This program is an effective communications tool for United States government agencies, state governments and our nation's transportation industry to examine and recognize the priority safety recommendations that the NTSB feels must be immediately implemented in order to make our nation's transportation modes even safer than they are already.
After having an opportunity to look over your program, I am impressed by the broad scope of this undertaking and judge this is going to be a full and rewarding international conference covering timely and important transportation issues. Everyone involved in the planning and conduct of this conference should be proud of this year's program.
My agency, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is an independent Federal agency within the U.S. government. The 5 voting members of the Board are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The NTSB was established in 1967 to bring an independent and unbiased eye to safety in all modes of transportation and present its' findings and recommendations to effected national agencies and entities. We are neither a law enforcement agency nor regulatory agency. The NTSB does not establish legal fault or liability, nor do we levy fines. Our investigation reports are not admissible as evidence in judicial proceedings and we do not get involved in matters of litigation. Simply stated our mission is to investigate accidents and make safety recommendations to improve the five major modes of transportation: aviation, railroads, marine (commercial and recreational boating), pipelines, highways, as well as hazardous materials transportation within the modes.
This morning, I would like to share with you how the Italian transportation community could benefit by establishing an independent multi-modal federal safety agency of its own. Now, there are many benefits that can accrue, particularly to the transportation modes and those millions of people using it, when an agency similar to ours, and the others found around the world, is established. Today I would like to address three of these advantages.
First, federal credibility and oversight:
Nearly four decades ago, the United States Congress established the NTSB to investigate accidents, make recommendations to help prevent similar accidents and incidents from occurring in the future, and provide safety oversight of the transportation industry and the appropriate governmental regulatory agencies.
During the course of an accident investigation, we may have to examine the role regulatory governmental agencies may have played, due to lack of oversight or omission, in the accident. This is why it is imperative to be independent of those agencies. Being independent precludes the accusations that the government is investigating itself. All final NTSB reports and safety recommendations are made during publicly attended meetings known as "Sunshine Meetings."
I am sure in Italy, as in the United States, you have found that criminal and civil law inquiries do little to improve transportation safety. These inquiries focus more on deciding who is to blame but do little to assure the public that safety deficiencies are being identified and corrected. If lessons are to be learned and corrective action taken, it is absolutely essential the entity investigating the accident or incident be independent of assigning blame, liability or closely tied to the major interests of the government agency or industry involved. Also, if the final product of the investigative agency is suspect, its credibility suffers resulting in little or no safety improvement. In addition, the families of victims may be further traumatized and find it much more difficult if not impossible to come to terms with their loss and grief.
Second, transfer of safety lessons:
The findings of accident investigations in one transportation mode may be helpful in offering improvements to other modes by transferring the lessons learned. The Safety Board can cite a host of examples of this transference. Let me share with you just a few of them:
These were just a few of the transferred improvements. Recognize the tremendous benefits of a cohesive independent organization coordinating the lessons learned from various modal accidents, now those lessons are even more useful with safety recommendations flowing to other modes of transportation as well.
Third, economy of operations:
The Safety Board introduced the concept of multi-disciplinary accident investigation teams, known as "go-teams." This approach, as outlined in the ICAO manual of investigations for air accidents, is now used by staff in all of our transportation investigations. NTSB staff, which is extremely small by U.S. Government standards, just 440 strong, lead the specialized technical groups staffed by other government agencies and industry experts thereby maximizing technical manpower and minimizing the personnel needed to control the accident scene and conduct the investigation. This concept works well from the smallest accidents to large disasters which may require 12 technical groups and as many as 70 experts in many areas of unrelated expertise.
Now I would like to take a minute and discuss the NTSB's Most Wanted List. This list is a tool we use to focus our resources and accomplish implementation of the safety recommendations the Board has deemed most critical.
Since 1967 the Board has issued over 12,000 Safety Recommendations. The acceptance rate of the these recommendations has remained consistently high above 80 percent for the last decade. Because we issue many recommendations each year the Board determined it needed a program to select certain issues for intensive follow-up and heightened awareness. We named the program the "Most Wanted List." Now in the U.S. when you say; "the Most Wanted List," people think of the FBI's criminal most wanted. Our Most Wanted List, as I said earlier, prioritizes what we believe to be our most important safety recommendations, dealing with all five modes. For example in the highway area, our list highlights improvements to child occupant protection and promotes teen highway safety. In the aviation area we've suggested the elimination of flammable fuel/air vapors in fuel tanks on transport category aircraft; we've also made recommendations for the elimination of runway incursions/ground collisions of aircraft. For the railroads, we've called for the implementation of positive train control systems. In the marine mode we've suggested requiring voyage data recorders on ocean going vessels as well as enhancing recreational boating safety. And last but not least, in the pipeline mode we've called for the establishment of operator fatigue guidelines. The specifics of these broad recommendations, if implemented, would do much to enhance the safety of the national transportation system and inclusion on our list gives them a higher level of public visibility and places them on the table for public debate.
In the United States, each transportation industry operates in a differing regulatory environment. The aviation industry is heavily regulated at the Federal level by the Federal Aviation Administration. Conversely, primarily the States, similar to Italy's provincial governments, regulate recreational boating and highway safety issues. Because of these differences, the Safety Board sends its regulations to different agencies and levels of government in each mode of transportation.
I can tell you that for the past year I have been honored that President Bush designated me to be the Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB has made and will continue to make a significant impact on the lives of the citizens of the United States and even those of every nation of the globe.
This morning I encourage Italy to begin the process of creating its own inter-modal independent safety board to look at all areas of transportation to identify deficiencies and recommend changes to make your great country and the world a safer place to live and travel.
Next week I will be leading the U.S. delegation to the annual meeting of the International Transportation Safety Association (ITSA). This year it will be held near Amsterdam and it is the major forum and gathering of the world's independent national inter-modal safety agencies. I would be pleased to see and would welcome Italy as an active participating member at next year's conference.
Thank you again for your kind invitation to address this most important forum.