Good morning! Thank you, Commissioner Holcomb, for that
kind introduction, and many thanks to you, Deputy Commissioner Bishop, Mr.
Saunders, Dr. Rice, and everyone at the Virginia Highway Safety Office for
inviting me here today.
I am very honored to be here
with all of you at the Virginia Highway Safety Summit. I also am so glad to see some familiar faces,
as well as meet new colleagues. I know that each of you is dedicated
to saving lives and preventing injuries by making our roads safer, in many
different ways, and I look forward to getting to know you and staying in touch.
I am proud to be here representing
the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which celebrates 50 years of
service this year, and I am joined by my colleagues, Shannon Bennett and John
As we drove into Richmond
yesterday, I thought of the rich history of this city and the rich history of
your great state. At the falls of the James River, Richmond has been a
transportation hub long before motor vehicles were common, and I know that
Richmond continued to be a hub as Virginia has grown (as you can see in this
drawing from the 1900’s). But when I
think of Virginia, I do not only think of the past, I also think of the future.
Over the years, I have had the
pleasure of meeting some impressive youth from your state, such as the members
of YOVASO (Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety) and very recently,
several FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) students from
Virginia high schools visited me in my office.
Talking with these youth always makes me hopeful for highway safety and
for our country.
I am especially honored to be
at this summit this week, which is National Police Week, where more than 25,000
police officers visit the National Law Enforcement Memorial, which is near
where I live. At the NTSB, on our staff,
especially in our Office of Highway Safety, we have quite a few former police
officers from all over the country. We
also have many spouses of police officers on staff. One of our colleagues at the NTSB, a former
highway patrol officer, recently reminded me that his former colleagues, who
have fallen in the line of duty, are listed at the Law Enforcement Memorial, and
that more than a few of these deaths were a result of impaired drivers. But he also reminded me of the quote under
the statue of lions at this Memorial, which is: “It
is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.”
Thank you to all the police officers, who are here today, for all you do to
keep our roads safe.
Today I would first
like to give you a brief overview of the NTSB so that you know us a little
better and know our values. Then I would
like to discuss our Most Wanted List, and some of our recommendations that will
help make our roads safer, one life at a time.
I used to work on road safety internationally and I have watched
the maturing of Sweden’s Vision Zero philosophy for many years. So it seems fitting that I now work for a
federal agency that can perhaps assist you with your Toward Zero Death efforts,
towards making our roads safer one life at a time.
The NTSB is a unique
federal agency in the U.S. because we are independent of all other government
agencies. Essentially, the NTSB has just one simple, but noble, purpose:
to conduct investigations and make recommendations to prevent
transportation-related deaths and injuries. The public often sees us at
the scene of transportation disasters in our dark blue jackets with the large
yellow NTSB emblazoned on the backs.
At the NTSB, we are on
call 24-hours a day, 365 days a year because we investigate accidents, assist
the families of victims, and develop factual records and safety recommendations
to make our transportation system safer. We
fiercely protect our values of independence, credibility, and transparency
because these are the values that define our agency. We are truly
independent because we do not “report to” anyone – not the USDOT (United States
Department of Transportation) or any other federal entity – so we can make
recommendations to anyone. Currently there are 4
Members on the Board (one spot is vacant), so Board Members like myself are “on
call” every 4 weeks, ready to launch as part of a Go Team, in case a major
transportation accident occurs.
Yes, I did use the
word accident. Although the term “accident” is not used much anymore for
motor vehicles, we still use the term “accident” for overall transportation
disasters because, in our federal statute (which is the law that created the
NTSB), we are charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident
– as well as significant accidents in highway, marine, rail, pipeline, and
hazardous materials. It also underscores the fact that we investigate
unintentional accidents. We leave the criminal investigations to the FBI
(Federal Bureau of Investigations). We also have the important, but often
little known, job of assisting the victims and families of victims in the
accidents we investigate – both at the scene and in the following months and
We are an independent
agency, but we also have five independent board members, who are nominated by
the President and confirmed by the Senate, so our board member terms are not
tied to Presidential Administrations or elections.
Our goal at the NTSB
is to help people get around safely, no matter what type of transportation you
use. You will see us at the scene of aviation accidents, maritime casualties, rail
accidents, and pipeline and hazardous materials disasters. But I never forget that every year, year in
and year out, more people die on the roads than in all other modes combined.
As in all our investigations,
to maintain our credibility, our highway investigations are very in-depth and careful,
covering everything from human performance to crashworthiness to the weather.
In addition, after we leave
the scene of the crash, our work still continues.
Ultimately, our work results
in products that contain recommendations to advance safety including reports,
safety studies, and special investigative reports. We deliberate, make these
decisions, and by-law vote on all items in public during sunshine meetings. Also, we are so transparent that you will
never see more than 2 Board Members together at a time discussing an
investigation! These recommendations
have helped states & territories in the United States make progress such as
requiring airbags in vehicles, passing impaired driving laws, passing seat belt
laws, improving school bus design, passing motorcycle helmet laws, improving
safety barriers in road design, or setting standards for signage, to name a
Although we have no
regulatory authority, our good reputation has enabled us to successfully set and
track targets for the benefit of safety. We have issued over 14,000 safety
recommendations to over 2,300 recipients over the years – and in all modes of
transportation. In addition, 80% of our
recommendations have been adopted. Although we have a good track record
of having our recommendations adopted, we do not give up on targets that are
not achieved. Some recommendations take years or even decades to become
adopted, especially if they must pass individually in all 50 states. We
are sometimes criticized, even vilified, for our efforts. However, that
does not stop us.
Sometimes I have
interviews with television, radio, or newspapers, from around the U.S. about
our Most Wanted List. What is the NTSB’s Most Wanted List?
Well, every year, we release our “Most Wanted List” of transportation
priorities for the year.
For over 25 years, the
NTSB has chosen ten issues– covering all modes of transportation - that
represent safety challenges; challenges which have a strong chance of being
advanced if given some good hard pushes. This year, 7 of the 10 issue
areas we selected are related to motor vehicle safety. These areas
include: Impaired Driving, Occupant Protection, Data Recorders in
Vehicles, Crash Avoidance Systems, Distracted Driving, Medical Fitness for Duty,
and Fatigue. As independent Board Members, we
each can and do work on any of the 10 issues, but we also have divided them up
so that each of us takes the lead on 2 or 3 issues. My issues are Data
Recorders, Impairment, and Occupant Protection.
time is relatively short today and you have many interesting panels so,
although all of the issues are important and many of you have been working on
some of the issues such as Distraction, I thought I would focus on 2 of my Most
Wanted issues – not only because they are issues that we continue to face,
across our country and in every state, every day, but also because they are two
basic issues with proven, measurable solutions that, if implemented, could
start saving lives today.
We have made many different
recommendations related to alcohol-impaired driving with the aim of separating
drinking from driving. We have recommended
reducing the illegal per se BAC (blood alcohol concentration) limit for all
drivers; conducting high-visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws, and
incorporating passive alcohol-sensing technology into enforcement efforts;
expanding the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by an impaired
driver; and DWI courts and other programs to reduce recidivism by repeat DWI
offenders. Implementing any of these recommendations would reduce
first, I would like to congratulate you and thank you for your commitment and
investment in DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program). By getting vehicles deployed and exposing
more people to this technology, you will help to advance DADSS in a meaningful
way! Thank you, Commissioner
Holcomb, Deputy Commissioner Bishop, Mr. Saunders, Dr. Rice, and everyone at
the Highway Safety Office. Thank you,
Virginia, for your leadership which will truly help save lives in Virginia and
around the nation. I look forward to
hearing more about your plans for DADSS in the later sessions.
I mentioned earlier that we
are sometimes criticized for our safety recommendations. Nowhere has that been more evident that with
our recommendation for states to reduce their illegal per se to .05 BAC.
Over the past year, when
journalists called me, they often wanted to know more about NTSB’s
recommendation to all 50 U.S. States and Territories to change the illegal per
se BAC law from .08 to .05 BAC or lower for driving. We made this
recommendation almost 4 years ago based on sound science as part of our Reaching
Zero study and we know about 100 countries around the world already have a .05 BAC
or lower law. There have been many peer-reviewed studies demonstrating
that such a law would prevent impaired driving crashes. Earlier this
year, against high odds, during a short legislative session of 45 days, Utah
passed the first .05 BAC law in the United States.
How did it happen? In part
because a state requested safety information and the NTSB was able to provide it. When Utah legislators reached out to me, we
were able to give them information to show that in countries with a .05 BAC
law, people consume more alcohol per capita and yet were still less likely to
die from impaired driving. We showed them that there is ample evidence that a
.05 BAC law is a broad deterrent that decreases the number of impaired drivers
on the road at all BAC levels – high and low – so it also prevents high BAC
drivers, who are involved in the most crashes, from getting behind the
wheel. We also told them that a .05 law encourages people to find other
forms of transportation when they have been drinking – especially in these days
of advanced technology and connectivity. We told them that a .05 BAC law
helps people to simply separate drinking from driving.
Utah made the right
decision. They passed the law despite
opponents using scare tactics and spreading misinformation through expensive
full-page ads in Utah newspapers and USA Today, and yes, despite opponents
personally calling everyone (include me) names such as neo-prohibitionist.
We know .05 BAC is not easy and every state is different with
very different political realities, but Utah requesting information from the
NTSB is an example of when our Most Wanted List is most effective, when we are
providing information about a safety recommendation that we have made so that
an entity – in this case a state – can take action to save lives. It demonstrates
the NTSB’s ability to be agile and respond quickly and accurately to these
types of requests for the benefit of safety. I think it also demonstrates
our dedication to a good cause even when opponents launch attacks against
us. We are not here to fight these
misguided people (as much as I love a good fight for a good cause). The NTSB is here to provide solid, accurate,
independent safety information for people to make decisions.
A decade or two ago,
many issues we face today did not exist, or at least were not as widespread –
autonomous vehicles, distracted driving, marijuana legalization and its effect
on driving, the opioid epidemic, the unpredictable effects of synthetic
drugs. Many of these issues are
intuitively risky and dangerous, and many of you come face to face with them
every day in your work, but the difficulty is to objectively identify and
measure these new or emerging issues.
Unlike alcohol, where the measurements are established and the effects
are well known, distraction and drugs – while very important concerns – are
still being studied. This will be a
challenge that all of us will face – and the NTSB is keeping a sharp eye on all
of these emerging issues. Nevertheless, to
go back to basics, no matter what the risky behavior, the one thing we can all
do for continued improvement is occupant protection. Wearing a seat belt is the one action that will
likely protect no matter what caused the crash.
NTSB has made
recommendations on vehicle improvements and other aspects of occupant
protection, but I know there has been much discussion about primary seat belt
laws here in Virginia. But I am not
going to nag you about primary laws…well, not too much…because I know you know. I WILL say that Virginia deserve kudos for
your very strong primary laws that protect children and anyone under the age of
18. I know that all of you, as highway
safety experts, support primary seat
belt laws (which is our recommendation, of course) and have been working on
that effort for many years in Virginia.
No one can predict political changes but perhaps something can be done
until the time comes for Virginia to pass a primary law.
The NTSB cannot
comment on implementation or enforcement of laws. We only
can make recommendations about effective laws – and that is why we
recommend that every state pass a primary seat belt law for every seating
position. But I should say that you DO
have a seat belt law in Virginia – a secondary law is still a law
nonetheless. In addition, you have a
strong and rich history of innovation and accomplishment in Virginia. You have an amazing state known for its
excellent universities and colleges, for its inventors and innovators, for
being the home of Presidents, even a large part of the internet depends on
Virginia for its data flow.
With all of these
assets, I am confident that you will come up with an effective answer to the
question: What are innovative ways to
increase seat belt use in every seating position until (yes, I did say UNTIL) a
primary seat belt law is passed in Virginia?
I have great confidence that you will do it.
In addition, rest assured that
when you call upon the NTSB to provide information to advance transportation
safety, we will be here.
At the NTSB, we make safety recommendations that are feasible
and practical, and doable. Yet that does not mean they cannot ALSO be
inspiring and ambitious. Taken as a whole, our safety recommendations
allow us to imagine what the world would be like if our work is as effective as
it can be. They allow us to imagine a world where no one dies because
they were not properly restrained, a world where we know that our cars and our
roads will protect us if we make a mistake, a world where no one gets behind
the wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs.
They allow us to imagine a world with zero deaths on our streets and
highways, a world where we can send our loved ones to school or work and know
that they will come home safely.
Because of NTSB’s
detailed investigations, it may seem that our work is largely technical and
mechanical, but like you, my 400 colleagues at the NTSB and I never forget that
the true purpose of our work is to serve people. That awareness echoes the thought of a famous
Virginian, Thomas Jefferson: "The care of human life and happiness…is the
first and only legitimate object of good government." For 50 years, we have taken that mission to
heart at the NTSB and we stand ready now to assist. Thank you for all you do to make Virginia
roads safe and thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.