Posts Tagged ‘NTSB’

Last year, the NTSB studied several safety issues with tractor trailer trucks. The NTSB proposed measures to reduce blind spots, and a requirements for side guards on new vehicles. The good news is that the NTSB has now officially adopted those safety measures.

The need for these safety measures is clear.  Bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to truck accidents. They are not visible to the driver up in the cab, and they have no external protection:

The NTSB analyzed data from vie states (Delaware, Mayland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Utah) that linked hospital records with police reports under the auspices of NHTSA’s Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES). Data from these states showed that death rates of vulnerable road users involved in collisions with tractor-trailers were high: 152.8 per 1,000 involved pedestrians/cyclists and 119.5 per 1,000 motorcyclists. In comparison, death rates were 2.0 per 1,000 involved tractor-trailer occupants and 10.9 per 1,000 involved passenger vehicle occupants.

The NHTSA has 90 days to respond to the NTSB safety recommendation.


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A disproportionate number of fatal bicycle collisions involve large trucks. Blind spots and right-hook accidents at intersections are two main culprits. But another reason is the lack of wheel guards.

Wheel guards (also known as sideguards and underride guards) can protect bicyclists from getting dragged under the large wheels. It is one reason the UK and Europe have required their use by law since the 1980’s. Indeed, the Mayor of London wants to take the regulations further:

Fines of £200 will be imposed on lorry drivers whose vehicles are not fitted with basic safety equipment under measures to cut the number of cyclist deaths. The “safer lorry charge” will initially be levied on tipper trucks, cement mixers and refuse lorries without side guards to prevent cyclists being crushed under the rear wheels. Officials say it is likely to be extended to include additional front- and side-view mirrors and electronic sensors to pick up cyclists in the vehicles’ blind spots. The charge will initially be applied to the London region but will be extended to other cities if it saves lives.

The NHTSA has known about the problem for decades, but has done nothing to address the issue. The last major regulation was issued in 1998, but only applied to rear-guards. Rear-guards protect motorists (when they slam into the back of a truck) but don’t do anything for bike/ped safety. And even for motorists, the rear-guard protection doesn’t always help, because the Federal standard is so weak.

The good news: on June 17, 2013 the NTSB issued a safety recommendation for side underride protection, and other safety measures that would benefit bicyclists/peds:

Develop performance standards for visibility enhancement systems to compensate for blind spots in order to improve the ability of drivers of single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds to detect vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, in their travel paths.

Develop performance standards for side underride protection systems for single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.

To improve highway vehicle crash compatibility, develop performance standards for front underride protection systems for trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.

The NTSB report is open and awaiting formal response from the NHTSA.


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Why Does .05 BAC Make A Difference?

The NTSB is recommending that States lower blood-alcohol-content (BAC) to 0.05. The nationwide standard is currently 0.08. The US is one of the few countries to have 0.08 limit:

The United States, Canada and Iraq are among a small handful of countries that have set the BAC level at .08. Most countries in Europe, including Russia, most of South America and Australia, have set BAC levels at .05 to constitute drunken driving.

When Australia dropped its BAC level from .08 to .05, provinces reported a 5-18 percent drop in traffic fatalities.

Australia enacted the 0.05 law in 1991. The interesting thing is that a lot of the reduction in fatalities was from drivers having BAC in the greater than  .08 range:


A similar reduction was found in roadside random breath tests:


It should be noted that the law did not change at all for drivers with BAC .08 and higher. It was only for .05-.o8 levels that the law changed. The rationale from the NTSB is that there are biological reasons for reducing the BAC level to .05, but it is possible there are other factors that explain the reduction in fatalities.

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Each year there are tens of thousands of fatalities on the nation’s highways. A disproportionate of those are non-motorized users — bicyclists and pedestrians. Given that the NTSB has made over 13,000 safety recommendations, you might think at least some of those would relate to the dismal state of our bicycle infrastructure, right?

A search of the NTSB online database finds hardly any mention of bike safety. I could find just a single report, which simply gives general guidance that the use of bicycles should be encouraged by the DOT and Dept. of Health. It was issued in 1972 — during the Nixon Administration.

I spent over an hour trying different keywords, but could find nothing else on bikes. On the other hand, I had no trouble at all finding reports on airplanes, trains, and automobiles.

It is ironic because the NTSB was specifically created by Congress to give outside, independent advice to highway planners. State and Federal transportation agencies have been so clueless about bike planning, you would think this would have been the one area where the NTSB outside “experts” provided guidance.

So for anyone at the NTSB who might be reading this, here are a few suggestion topics:

  1. Incorporating Dutch cycle guidelines into highway design manuals
  2. Design of car doors to reduce/eliminate bicycle “dooring” (perhaps an interlock system in the door latch that flashes the rear hazard lights for at least 3 seconds before opening the door).
  3. Improve visibility from truck cabs, so as to reduce bikes/ped collisions.
  4. Designing car bonnets to reduce pedestrian injury/fatality in a collision.

I am sure NTSB staff can think of some others — if they aren’t too busy worrying about airline baby seats.

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DOT Appointment

Deborah Hersman, according to some news reports, is the leading candidate to head the Dept. of Transportation. If true, that would come as something of a disappointment. Many advocates were hoping for someone with a technical background to lead the department, especially in the areas of passenger rail or bike/ped planning.

Hersman currently heads the NTSB, an agency well known for its hostility to lightweight trains. And she has been the leading proponent for giving the FTA broad powers to impose safety rules on public transit operators. Whereas the NTSB is only an advisory body, she would have real power as head of DOT to actually impose such changes. That is a worrisome thought.


Hersman giving a road safety presentation to schoolkids. Car seats and bike helmets kiddies!

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NTSB Mindset

An inattentive trucker with a history of speeding violations is operating a rig with 11 of 16 brakes worn out, and the ABS disabled. He crashes into the side of an Amtrak train, killing four passengers and a conductor.

It goes without saying that the NTSB is going to conclude that stricter regulation is needed for the hauling industry, right?

Ha, Ha! Just kidding:

Among other things, the panel also recommended the development of side-impact worthiness standards to minimum encroachment into rail cars and requiring passenger rail car doors to be designed to prevent fire and smoke from moving between cars — although they acknowledged fire doors would not have made a difference in this case.

No matter what the primary cause of a fatal railway accident may be, the NTSB recommendation is always going to be “build the railcars like tanks.” That is their mindset.


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