No. 1 on NTSB's 'Top 10' wish list: Reduce tired trucker crashes

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Monday, January 18, 2016

Reducing the number of fatigue-related crashes is the No.1 item on a wish list of changes one federal committee would like to see in the American transportation industry.

The National Transportation Safety Board published its annual “Most Wanted List” on Wednesday, Jan. 13. NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said the list serves as a road map to the board’s recommendations that they believe will improve safety.

While the recommendation to reduce fatigue-related crashes applies to all transportation modes, Hart made specific mention of the 2014 crash between a Wal-Mart truck driver and a limousine van carrying Tracy Morgan and others that resulted in one fatality. The driver, Kevin Roper, who was within compliance on his hours of service, was found to have been awake for more than 28 hours after driving a non-commercial vehicle from his home in Georgia to the company’s distribution center in Delaware then going directly to work.

The agency is also once again recommending new requirements for medical fitness for duty standards for public vehicle operators.

“Fatigue and medical fitness for duty are also multimodal concerns that take their toll, not only on highways but throughout transportation. The basic problem here is that most commercial transportation is 24/7, but humans are not,” Hart said in a statement.

The NTSB’s complete list can be found here. It includes calls to strengthen occupant protections for passenger vehicles and buses; improving rail transit safety oversight and promoting collision-avoidance technologies in highway vehicles.

But OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says the NTSB’s proposal lacks a recommendation for arguably the most basic safety provision not currently in effect – an entry-level driver training standard.

“Clearly, I’m struck by the fact that entry-level driver training isn’t listed there,” he said. “It’s not listed for commercial drivers or kid drivers either. Ironically, so many of the issues that the safety board points to are issues that certainly should be covered in a comprehensive training program.”

Several of the NTSB’s recommendations from last year remain on this year’s list, including the following: Require medical fitness for duty; end substance impairment in transportation; disconnect from deadly distractions; and prevent loss of control in flight in general aviation.

On the issue of distracted driving, the NTSB recommends prohibiting all cellphone use, including hands-free, “because a driver’s mind must be on driving, just as their hands must be on the wheel,” Hart said.

“It’s scandalous – shocking that we don’t place better emphasis on training kids to drive when car crashes are the number-one cause of death among young people,” Spencer said. “If NTSB is going to hold itself out as the pre-eminent safety body, with that comes the responsibility of actually looking at the bigger picture.”

While the NTSB is charged by Congress with investigating significant crashes in the transportation industry and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future crashes, the board actually has no rulemaking authority. It passes its recommendations on to Congress and other federal agencies that can make rules.

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