The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sends investigators to the scene of dozens of air, rail, and highway disasters every year to determine what went wrong and to make recommendations for future safety improvements and other measures that could help save lives.
But U.S. regulators and lawmakers don’t always heed the NTSB’s advice, and some recommendations can take years to implement, prompting the agency to compile a wish list of 10 broad safety improvements that it would most like to see become mandatory.
Several of the NTSB’s most-wanted improvements underscore the potential of technology to prevent accidents, save lives, and lessen the number and severity of accidents.
Twenty years ago, the NTSB urged regulators and automakers to make collision-avoidance technology standard equipment in all new highway vehicles, from passenger cars to commercial tractor trailers and buses.
Implementation of collision avoidance technology can significantly reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, which are the leading cause of death and injury in transportation. The NTSB acknowledges that federal regulators have made progress toward including crash-avoidance systems in its five-star rating reviews of new vehicles, but they still do not require the technology the same way they do safety belts and airbags.
The NTSB also called for the implementation of positive train control (PTC) to enhance railroad safety. A 2008 law mandated that all trains be equipped with PTC technology by the end of 2015, but Congress changed the law last year, leaving PTC systems optional for now.
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart criticized the delay, which came amid a spate of deadly passenger rail accidents. “Every PTC-preventable accident, death, and injury on tracks and trains affected by the law will be a direct result of the missed 2015 deadline and the delayed implementation of this life-saving technology,” Mr. Hart said.
The Board also wants to see DOT-111 rail tank cars banned for use in hauling crude oil, ethanol, and other flammable liquids. The deadline for implementing safer rail cars is 2025, but “until these tank cars are removed from service, people, their towns and the environment surrounding the rail system will remain at risk,” the report states.
Reducing distraction in all its forms, especially from cell phones and other portable electronic devices, is also among the NTSB’s most-wanted safety improvements, as is addressing the dangers of driver fatigue. The NTSB said that distracted and fatigued drivers present “serious safety issues” in all modes of transportation.
Undiagnosed and untreated medical conditions continue to cause and contribute to accidents among all forms of transportation, the NTSB said, emphasizing the need for a requirement of medical fitness for certain transportation jobs.
“Impairment is also an issue in all modes of transportation,” the NTSB said in its announcement, calling on regulators to lower the legal limit on blood alcohol content to .05 – a measure the Board says would reduce transportation-related deaths and injuries.
The NTSB addressed the need to prevent accidental spins and stalls within the general aviation community, calling it “the worst safety problem facing general aviation.” The NTSB noted that airlines have become very safe, but that “safety progress has slowed in the less widely understood world of general aviation.”
The NTSB concluded its list by calling for the increased use of data recorders in all modes of transportation, calling these devices their “most powerful tool” to gain insights and understanding of accidents that can lead to safety improvements.