Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the collision of a truck-tractor semitrailer with a medium-size bus in Davis, Oklahoma, on September 26, 2014.
The truck-tractor crossed over a median and struck the midsection of the bus, which was carrying 15 members of the North Central Texas College softball team. Tragically, four members of the team died. The remaining occupants of the bus were injured, as were the drivers of both the bus and the truck.
On behalf of my fellow Board Members and the entire NTSB staff, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the four passengers who died. Nothing can replace your loved ones, but we hope that this investigation helps us discover new ways of preventing such crashes, and reinforces previously identified opportunities to improve safety. I would also like to extend our wishes for a full recovery to those who were injured.
In a moment, staff will describe the details of the crash sequence and other facts learned during our thorough investigation. We will examine issues as diverse as guidelines for the placement of median barriers, the insufficient occupant protection provided by the medium-size bus, and the need for vehicle data recorders that can aid investigators immensely in determining what causes crashes and how to prevent them.
We will also discuss a time-proven safety technology that could have reduced the terrible toll of the Davis crash: the seat belt.
For decades we have understood that the single most important step that we can take to reduce deaths and mitigate injuries in highway crashes is to use available seat belts – whether in a family car, a bus, or any other vehicle.
Yet for a third time this year, we will be hearing about a major highway crash we investigated in which passengers did not use the available restraints. Today we will also hear that this pattern was compounded by the inaccessibility and poor condition of some of the seat belts on the bus.
And we will turn to another issue, the full extent of which we are only beginning to understand: drug use in transportation. The truck-driver’s possession and use of synthetic cannabinoids is a grim example of this burgeoning and complex problem.
Because of this evolving safety issue, the NTSB’s most wanted list of safety improvements no longer includes only drinking and driving. We now advocate for ending any impairment in transportation.
To date, many efforts to protect the driving public from drivers who are under the influence of drugs have been modeled on the decades-long fight against alcohol-impaired driving. But alcohol is only one impairing substance. By contrast, there are thousands of potentially impairing drugs. They might be recreational drugs, prescription drugs, or even over-the-counter drugs.
In commercial transportation, regulations still focus on testing operators for a few specific substances. Drivers may be tested when they are hired, at various intervals thereafter, randomly, or after a crash. But this testing is helpful only if the driver is being tested for an impairing substance that he used.
The truck driver in this crash was not tested for the drug that he had used until four young people lost their lives and several others were injured. And even if this drug were added to the list of substances for which drivers are tested, a slight change in its formula would yield yet another substance that a driver could use without detection.
Today, we will examine whether traditional testing provides adequate protection against impairment in transportation, given the complexity of the issue of drugged driving.
These factors and others converged to create the tragic outcomes that we will hear about this morning. If one or more of the factors had been different on the night of the crash, four young people might be alive today.
Accordingly, we will discuss ways to prevent such crashes in the future, and to strengthen the protection of passengers in those crashes that still do occur.
Now, Deputy Managing Director Steve Klejst will introduce the staff.