The 2021-2022 Most Wanted List is out.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been issuing their “Most Wanted List (MWL) of Transportation Safety Improvements” in various forms since 1990; they represent over three decades of recommendations regarding what safety technologies, practices, and approaches everyone involved in transportation should consider to help make all modes of transportation a little safer.
The MWL update was once an annual event, but starting in 2017, the agency moved to a two-year (biannual) period between lists to enable additional time for various groups – legislators, regulators, and advocates, primarily – to move forward in some manner to help drive adoption. The last MWL covered 2019-2020. On April 6, 2021, the NTSB voted in a public meeting and adopted the latest list to cover 2021 and 2022. The MWL addresses all forms of transportation, including passenger vehicles (cars, trucks, and SUVs), planes, plus passenger and freight trains, along with commercial trucks, buses, motorcoaches, boats, motorcycles, bicycles, and even pipelines. In a word, the list covers essentially anything that flies, floats, rides, drives, dives, or gushes.
What’s the most common connector between all these and the NTSB? It’s incidents. (For those of us in the trucking industry, “incidents” is more commonly spelled c-r-a-s-h-e-s.) The NTSB investigates and reports on a number of crashes each year that involve commercial vehicles – working to uncover the cause of the crash and how it might be preventable in the future. These analyses then become the foundation for the biannual MWL.
What are the latest recommendations from the 2021 NTSB MWL? As the bullets below show, the agency includes a little something for everyone and every mode:
Require and Verify the Effectiveness of Safety Management Systems in All Revenue Passenger-Carrying Aviation Operations
Install Crash-Resistant Recorders and Establish Flight Data Monitoring Programs
- Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes
- Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach
- Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving
- Require Collision-Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on All Vehicles
- Eliminate Distracted Driving
- Improve Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety
RAIL, PIPELINE, AND HAZMAT
- Improve Pipeline Leak Detection and Mitigation
- Improve Rail Worker Safety
Since highways are our business, let’s take a little deeper look at those recommendations that affect us out on the road. If you want even more, check out www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl – the source for much of the detail below.
Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes:
- According to the NTSB, between 2019 and 2018, nearly 100,000 deaths were attributed to speed. Speed takes two forms – driving faster than the posted speed, and driving too fast for road conditions.
According to their website, among the items the NTSB recommends:
“Regulators should develop performance standards for advanced speed-limiting technology, such as variable speed limiters and intelligent speed adaptation devices for heavy vehicles, including trucks, buses, and motorcoaches.” According to the NTSB, all new heavy vehicles should have them.
Educate by increasing “public awareness of speeding as a national traffic issue.”
“Update speed enforcement guidelines to reflect the latest speed enforcement technologies and operating practices.”
Along with the feds, the NTSB feels that “states should amend current laws to authorize state and local agencies to use automated speed enforcement and amend current laws to remove operational and location restrictions on” its use.
It’s not just about laws and enforcement, however. The NTSB states that we as “drivers should follow the speed limit and slow down during bad weather, in work zones, in poorly lit areas at night or other challenging driving conditions.”
Protect Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs) Through a Safe System Approach
- There are many sizes of vehicles on the road, from the trucks, trailers, and assorted vehicles we use to support our nation’s economy to motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, pedestrians, and everything in between. (Motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians are what the NTSB considers VRUs.) The Safe System approach advocated by the NTSB takes a holistic view of traffic safety – “from users, vehicles, speeds, roads and postcrash care” – to help ensure that VRUs and everyone else stay safe on the roads.
The NTSB’s recommendations range from helping VRUs be safer through helmet use and protective equipment, to advanced vehicle technologies including “collision-avoidance technologies and advanced headlights.”
Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving
I tried to locate the first MWL published back in 1990 because I’ll bet this most wanted improvement has been on every list they’ve published. Impaired driving has been an issue for a long, long time – too long, quite frankly. While it is good to see this focus continue, it’s sad that it has to.
The NTSB isn’t shy in its recommendations to regulators, states, and drivers:
- Among the items for regulators: “developing a standard of practice for drug toxicology testing and improving roadside oral-fluid screening devices for better detection of drug-impaired drivers; and finalize development of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology.”
- For states, lowering the BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) limit to .05% or lower (the NTSB feels the current standard of .08% is too high), as well as requiring alcohol ignition-interlocks for convicted under-the-influence drivers.
Require Collision Avoidance and Connected-Vehicle Technologies on all Vehicles
- We’ll get to the NTSB’s distracted driving comments in the next highway recommendation, but in the agency’s specific wording on the topic, they indicate that one of the means of reducing distracted driving they endorse is “requiring forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems.” Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are just two of the features and functionality of the Bendix® Wingman® Fusion™ driver assistance system. If you’re a fleet using the Bendix system, or any other collision mitigation system for that matter, you probably have a good understanding of how these technologies can help your drivers mitigate rear-end collisions, or may lessen the severity of a potential collision. Quoting the NTSB, the agency would like to see regulators “complete standards for collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB – also known as “autonomous” emergency braking) in commercial vehicles and require this technology in all highway vehicles and all new school buses.”
- Also recommended are connected-vehicle standards – driven by the concerns around the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) decision to “shrink the communication spectrum dedicated to connected-vehicle technology” and the potential havoc this decision could deliver. (As an aside, the final FCC decision hasn’t been published yet, so there may still be some hope this doesn’t get implemented. As administrations change, so do their priorities.)
- Education – to build awareness, along with understanding the workings of collision-avoidance systems – is also high on the NTSB list for regulators as well as vehicle manufacturers. As for anyone who’s been to a Bendix demo can attest, education and awareness are high on our list as well!
- In the trucking world, a number of OEMs have already made collision mitigation standard on their highway vehicles. Vocationals … well, that’s another thing. The NTSB, however, wants “all vehicles” – no matter the class, from 1 to 8 – to have collision mitigation, or at least forward collision warning. Whether this is realistic or not, time will tell.
- In the eyes of the NTSB, any driver of any vehicle should keep in mind that when buying vehicles equipped with these systems, understanding what they will do and won’t do is important. (There’s that “education” thing again!) Supporting this point of view is one of my favorite reminders when I’m behind the wheel: “No safety technology replaces a skilled, alert driver exercising safe driving practices. Safety technologies complement safe driving and the driver is in control of their vehicle at all times.” Sound familiar? It should. These systems and features are purposely titled driver assistance because they do just that – they are not driver replacement.
We’ll take a little deeper dive on the potential of this recommendation actually being acted upon in the next blog post.
Eliminate Distracted Driving
- Much like the alcohol- and drug-influenced driving concern, this one has been on the list a few times – especially since we’ve realized that cellphones, while increasing productivity, can be dangerous distractors for drivers. Ever get stuck behind someone when the light turns green and they don’t move because they just have to find the right emoji to finish off the text they’ve been writing? If so, you know what distracted driving is about.
- The numbers the NTSB quotes from the NHTSA are a bit staggering – 400,000 people injured and 3,142 people killed as a result of distracted drivers and driving. There are 294 million smartphone users in the U.S. (With a population of 330 million, that’s almost one smartphone per person!)
- The NTSB is pretty direct on what should be done – from states banning all driver use of personal electronic devices, and strict monitoring and enforcement, to public education about distracted driving and employers banning or locking out cellphone use.
- For OEMs, the NTSB recommends that they “consider the level of distraction they will create for drivers (from the infotainment systems they include) and also restrict access when the vehicle is in motion.”
When it comes to time behind the wheel of any vehicle, per the NTSB, “safe driving requires 100% of a driver’s attention 100% of the time.” Best practice, and the safest practice, says there’s no place for phones or other peripherals when driving – simple enough!
We’ve covered quite a bit regarding the latest NTSB Most Wanted List, and this just included the highway section! Whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the NTSB’s recommendations, they are good food for thought and worthy of consideration. Anything that we can do to better train, better equip, and better educate commercial vehicle drivers – and our nonprofessional road-using friends – with the tools to be smarter and safer behind the wheel benefits all of us. Safer roads mean less traffic, higher productivity, better fuel economy, and strong profitability. Most importantly, it means we, or someone important to us, makes it home for dinner.
The bottom line is safety. How safety impacts your bottom line is up to you.
Technical and industry insight from OUR experts.