Remarks of Honorable Mark V. Rosenker, Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Before the 15th World Congress on ITS
New York, New York
November 19, 2008
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to be invited to speak at the 15th World Congress on ITS. It is my privilege to serve as the Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent Federal agency charged by Congress to investigate every civil aviation accident in the United States and to investigate significant accidents in other modes of transportation — railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline. The NTSB does not mandate or regulate — our mission is to determine an accident’s probable cause and make recommendations aimed at improving transportation safety. Our goal is to figure out WHAT happened and then, more importantly, WHY it happened so that we can work to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Many of you are probably familiar with the NTSB’s role in investigating major aviation accidents. These accidents often receive tremendous amounts of press coverage because of the horrendous circumstances of the accident. While any loss of life is a terrible thing, the total number of aviation fatalities, which is about 600 a year, is extremely small compared to the more than 40,000 highway fatalities that occur each year. I have to ask each of you, how many of you would be willing to take the plane home tomorrow if there were 40,000 aviation fatalities each year in the United States? Personally, I’m concerned, baffled, and shocked because there seems to be little outrage about the tens of thousands of people who die in roadway crashes.
Beyond the human costs, there are also very significant economic costs related to traffic accidents. The data indicates that there are about 2 million police-reported crashes, each year. Every day, 19,000 crashes occur on American highways. These crashes incur an enormous cost: $230 billion a year — that’s nearly $800 apiece for each and every one of us. I believe it is time for us as a nation to stop accepting the costs of traffic accidents and instead put that money into making cars that can avoid potential accidents. At the National Transportation Safety Board it is our firm belief that advanced technology is a major ingredient in reducing accidents, saving lives, preventing injuries and lessening the immense emotional and monetary toll of these accidents.
And that is why I am excited about being here to talk to you today; because I believe that the people sitting here in this room have the power to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our nation’s highways.
Many of you may know that the Safety Board has a Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. The current list highlights several of our recommendations that deal with researching, developing, and implementing technology.
One example of a technology that was on our most wanted list is positive train control; which had been on the list since 1990. Just last month the Board was able to remove this from our most wanted list. Unfortunately, it took a tragic accident out in California to truly move forward with this technology that prevents train collisions. Positive train control is a technology that seeks a result akin to highway ITS. Directly related to highway ITS, the Board’s Most Wanted List includes recommendations that urge the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to complete rulemaking on adaptive cruise control and collision warning systems for all new passenger and commercial vehicles.
I believe we need these technologies and other technologies being developed in ITS to prevent the 43,000 fatalities a year that occur on our highways.
These technologies, many of which are being developed under the ITS research umbrella, have shown promising early results. A study of lane departure warning systems has shown a reduction of unintended lane departures by 30%. A study of trucks with adaptive cruise control and collision warning has found a 28% reduction in truck initiated rear end crashes. Still there is more work to be done.
Safety Board History with ITS
The Safety Board’s interest in ITS dates back to its 1990 investigation of the Calhoun, Tennessee, accident which involved a multi-vehicle collision that occurred in fog. Based on the results of this investigation, the Board recommended that the Department of Transportation (DOT) include fog and other limited-visibility countermeasures in demonstration projects of the intelligent vehicle highway system program. This recommendation was followed by another as a result of the Board’s investigation of a multiple-vehicle collision in fog in Menifee, Arkansas, which occurred in 1995. This time the Board recommended to the DOT and to ITS America that they sponsor fleet testing of collision warning systems.
In 2002, the safety Board examined nine separate rear-end multiple-vehicle accidents that occurred between 1999 and 2000. Combined, these accidents resulted in a total of 20 fatalities and 181 injuries. As a result of this special investigation, the Board made several recommendations to government agencies as well trucking and automobile associations regarding adaptive cruise control and collision warning systems on both automobiles and commercial vehicles. These recommendations addressed rulemaking and performance standards, as well as training and education for the public and commercial drivers.
In 2007, safety recommendations from this special investigation report calling for forward collision warning for cars and trucks (H-01-06 and H-01-08) were added to the Safety Board’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Also in 2007, the Safety Board’s Office of Highway Safety added integrated safety systems to its emerging issues list of technologies to track.
The Safety Board is pleased, that this summer, NHTSA has announced that it will add both collision warning systems and lane departure systems to their NCAP rating.
In addition to the recommendations regarding collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control, the Safety Board had also made a number of recommendations regarding stability control on automobiles and light trucks. These recommendations were made as the result of the Largo, Maryland accident that occurred in 2002. In this accident a driver who had just purchased an SUV, lost control and crashed on the Washington DC beltway. As a result of the recommendations made in this accident, NHTSA will require stability control systems on all automobiles beginning in the 2012 model year (This would mean that the systems would actually be required in 2011 since model year 2012 vehicles will come out in 2011).
I would like to note that stability controls systems are already available on wide a variety of automobiles and trucks manufactured today, even though, they are not required. This is a clear indication that Safety does sell, and the power of the market to move these technologies.
Wireless Communications Technologies
The ITS technologies that are available today are impressive. However, I believe that vehicle safety systems that rely on communications have an even greater potential to save lives and reduce injury. Information can be exchanged over a wireless network that is difficult, if not impossible, to measure with sensors such as radars, LIDAR, or video cameras, that are used with present day (vehicle based) ITS systems. For instance, information passed using wireless communications systems could be used to warn a driver not to enter an intersection, or not to pass another vehicle because there is a vehicle in the oncoming lane. It could also warn the driver that a vehicle several vehicles ahead is braking, or that the driver of another vehicle has lost control. In addition, there is evidence that the cost of a vehicle communications (transceiver and GPS receiver) system could be significantly less than for similar systems that do not rely on wireless communications. There are also indications that certain technologies such as forward collision warning systems could be improved using wireless communications. Improvements in this type of technology could better enable automatic braking that could prevent accidents from occurring by braking before the driver is able.
Safety Board staff had the opportunity to observe several demonstrations of these types of technologies this summer and came away impressed with the technology. It is my understanding that several of these wireless communications technologies are being demonstrated at this meeting today and if you haven’t seen them I would strongly encourage you to check them out.
Challenges in Bringing the ITS Technology to the Public
While there is great potential for ITS safety systems there are also several areas where we must work together to speed the development of ITS.
The first is that, although many of these technologies may still need maturing, they are available near term. Cars are available today with lane departure systems, collision warning systems, blind spot detection as well as numerous other technologies. As more and more systems become available to drivers, we risk overloading the drivers with too much information. That is why I support the research the DOT is funding to ensure these technologies are integrated to support the driver and not overwhelm the driver.
Second, to speed the development of wireless communications systems, innovative ways to develop low cost ITS solutions, such as using existing technologies that are already deployed, should be explored so that the safety benefits afforded by ITS is not a luxury few can purchase. We must also work to lower the costs of existing vehicle based technologies that do not rely on communications to make them more accessible to the general public.
Third, I fully support a greater emphasis on safety in ITS research. The AAA foundation has shown us in a recent report that the cost of accidents is greater than the costs of congestion. That being the case, shouldn’t the work on ITS reflect that fact? In the past ITS has achieved a number of improvements to reduce congestion such as automated toll collections, improving traffic advisories, entrance ramp metering. I believe the ITS research needs to show the same level of success on the safety side. So I was heartened when I heard that safety will now be more emphasized in the Federal ITS research program.
Fourth, I support the establishment of near term and long term solutions to problems to better track ITS progress. These steps will help bring ITS to every driver much sooner by focusing on those technologies which show the greatest potential.
Fifth, once these technologies are in place, the number of accidents will be reduced but the crashes that do occur will become much more complex to investigate. Therefore, I believe organizations developing these technologies should work to implement procedures that will ensure that data needed for accident investigation can be stored and assessed by investigators in the accidents that do occur, allowing us to understand and possibly prevent these crashes in the future.
In Summary, I am encouraged by the rapid proliferation of new safety technologies over recent years and I would like to encourage both government and industry to work together to find innovative ways to get new technologies into the public faster and at lower costs.