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Expand Use of Recorders to Enhance Transportation Safety
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 Expand Use of Recorders to Enhance Transportation Safety

What is the issue?

Transportation operators and investigators must know what happened in an accident to help prevent such an accident or mitigate the damage done in any future recurrence. No single tool has helped determine what went wrong more than recorders.

Yet, certain categories of aircraft, trains, ferries, and buses are still not equipped with these critical technologies.

For example, the NTSB has seen how an event data recorder in a motorcoach would have provided information after a crash about what may have gone wrong with the vehicle, how occupants were killed or injured, and what safety devices and systems were employed, if any.

In other cases, data and/or voice recorders may have been present, but some questions could only have been answered through the data provided from an image recorder. Image recordings can help to fill in the gaps by providing investigators and operators first-hand knowledge of crew/driver activities, for example in the cab of a train.

The information gleaned from image recordings can help operators improve operational and safety oversight. While some operators have implemented—or are in the process of implementing—image recorder programs and systems, there are no regulatory requirements to do so. So, most operators do not.

What can be done?

Crash-resistant data, audio, and image recorders are readily available and can be easily installed in vehicles, vessels, and aircraft that currently do not require crash-hardened recorders. Regulations should require their use, but until that time, operators should proactively procure this technology to improve the operational and safety oversight of their fleets, trains, aircraft, or vessels. The NTSB urges the following actions:

  • In aviation, the NTSB recommends the use of cockpit image recorders. We also suggest equipping smaller turbine-powered aircraft with image-recording devices and transport-category and Helicopter Emergency Medical Service rotorcraft with flight recorders. The NTSB encourages operators across the industry to routinely review recorded information in structured programs.
  • In rail, the NTSB recommends focusing on equipping locomotive cabs with audio and image recorders, equipping some light rail vehicles with recorders, and railroads use recorded information for operational and safety oversight. 
  • In marine, the NTSB recommends equipping ferry vessels with voyage data recorders so investigators can better determine the cause of accidents.
  • In highway, the NTSB recommends implementing on-board video recording systems (see NTSB/SR-15/01). The NTSB suggests equipping buses and trucks with event data recorders, equipping heavy commercial vehicles with video event recorders, and motor carriers use recorded information for operational and safety oversight.

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