By Ed Burke, Dennis K. Burke, Inc.
In February, the National Transportation Safety Board released its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 2019-2020.
First issued in 1990, the Most Wanted List serves as the agency’s primary advocacy tool to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce damage resulting from transportation accidents.
While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has no regulatory power, its job is to recommend ways to prevent deadly accidents in all modes of transportation. The agency would like to see these recommendations implemented over the next two years.
Six of the top ten topics on the list are trucking-related recommendations.
In 2016, more than 3,100 fatal crashes involving distraction occurred on US roadways, representing 9 percent of all fatal crashes that year. The agency says all drivers need to eliminate distractions and stay focused on safely operating their vehicle.
The NTSB is recommending that states ban non-emergency use of mobile devices for all drivers, except when using navigation software. The agency also recommends that states use high-visibility enforcement to support these bans, as well as campaigns to warn drivers about the use of cell phones and other devices while driving.
The agency would like mobile device manufacturers to develop safeguards that would restrict use or disable phones in moving vehicles.
End Alcohol & Drug Impairment
Alcohol impairment remains a leading cause of highway crashes, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the 37,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2017. Every day, nearly 29 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-impaired crashes.
The NTSB recommends that states follow Utah’s lead and adopt blood alcohol limits of 0.05 percent or below. The agency also recommends stepping up the use of other effective countermeasures, like sobriety checkpoints, high-visibility enforcement, and alcohol ignition interlock devices for all convicted offenders.
Impairment in transportation is not limited to just alcohol, but also includes impairment by other drugs – legal or illicit. The agency wants a national drug-testing standard for drivers of passenger cars, and stronger screening and toxicology testing in commercial transportation.
The NTSB recommends that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) give the agency access to all positive drug and alcohol test results and refusal determinations conducted under U.S. DOT testing requirements. The board also recommends that FMCSA determine the scope of truck driver use of impairing substances, and develop a plan to reduce their use.
Implement Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes
Speeding-related crashes kill more than 10,000 people each year. Proven countermeasures must be used more broadly to reduce speeding-related crashes. That includes automated enforcement technology, vehicle technology, infrastructure design and educational campaigns.
The NTSB recommends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology, such as variable speed limiters for use in heavy commercial vehicles. The agency recommends that all newly manufactured trucks and buses are equipped with speed-limiting technology.
The agency also recommends that states pass laws to address automated speed enforcement technologies that can detect and cite drivers for speeding, such as point-to-point enforcement.
Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance on All Highways
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death and injuries in the U.S., yet many of these crashes might have been prevented with collision avoidance systems. Collision avoidance system components include a collision warning system and automatic emergency braking. They can stop a crash before it happens or lessen its severity. They can also warn drivers of an impending crash so they can take the appropriate action.
The NTSB recommends the NHTSA complete the development and application of performance standards and protocols for forward collision avoidance systems in commercial vehicles.
The agency would like vehicle manufacturers to include forward collision avoidance systems and automated emergency braking systems as standard equipment on their vehicles.
Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
Driving a truck requires a driver’s full attention. All too often, however, drivers are impaired by fatigue stemming from insufficient or poor-quality sleep. Things like medical conditions, tough work schedules, and personal issues can also affect a driver’s ability to obtain quality sleep. Fatigue degrades a person’s ability to stay awake, alert and attentive to the demands of safely controlling a vehicle.
The NTSB recommends that FMCSA establish a program to monitor, evaluate, report on and improve fatigue management programs implemented by fleets.
The agency also wants FMCSA to implement a program to identify commercial drivers at higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea, and require these drivers to provide evidence that they have been properly evaluated and treated before granting unrestricted medical certification.
Require Screening & Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Undiagnosed and untreated obstructed sleep apnea (OSA) continues to be deadly on our roads, causing too many preventable accidents according to the NTSB.
The agency recommends mandatory OSA screening and treatment for highway personnel in safety-sensitive positions. This includes recommending that FMCSA implement a program to identify truckers with OSA and making the “2016 FMCSA Medical Review Board recommendations on screening for OSA” easily accessible to medical examiners, with instructions to use the recommendations as guidance when evaluating for OSA risk.
The NTSB says that if these recommendations are implemented, we will save lives and improve transportation safety.
In principle, the fuel delivery industry supports FMCSA’s goal to effectively address driver fatigue in a way that ensures the safe operation of all commercial vehicles. However, a one-size-fits-all approach to OSA screening and treatment would result in real economic consequences for drivers and their employers.
In the past, NEFI suggested there was insufficient evidence to directly tie OSA to unsafe operation among short-haul drivers. NEFI requested that the FMCSA conduct a formal study on OSA and driver fatigue as it specifically relates to short-haul drivers, who are more rested and experience less fatigue than their long-haul counterparts.
NEFI also suggested that FMCSA should not rely on OSA screening methods such as BMI and neck circumference, as they have proven unreliable tools for diagnosing sleep apnea and associated fatigue. Finally, NEFI said that OSA screening should remain voluntary and be based on clear medical guidelines that are effective at diagnosing and treating sleep apnea proven to cause fatigue in drivers.