Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page


Opening Remarks at the Truck and Bus Safety Forum, National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, Washington, DC
Robert L. Sumwalt
Truck and Bus Safety Forum, National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, Washington, DC

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome. My name is Robert Sumwalt and I am a Board Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am honored to serve as the chairman of this forum on Truck and Bus Safety.

For those of you unfamiliar with the NTSB, let me give a brief description. The NTSB is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in other modes of transportation — railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline — and issuing safety recommendations to prevent future accidents. Our goal is to figure out WHAT happened and then, more importantly, WHY it happened, so that we can work to prevent similar accidents in the future.


This forum has three objectives. First, we will review the progress since the NTSB's 1999 and 2000 hearings on truck and bus safety. Second, we will discuss current issues and initiatives. And, finally, we will identify emerging issues that we should stay on top of during the next ten years.

As for the first objective of this forum, know that some of you were active participants in the 1999 and 2000 hearings. Let's see a show of hands for those who attended those hearings. I'd like to thank you and all the organizations represented here today for your continued participation. I hope that this forum will lead to as many insights as did the previous hearings over a decade ago.

During the next two days, we will hear a lot about successes in truck and bus safety, and about areas where improvement is still necessary. Let's start the day by framing the discussion with safety data.

In 1999, heavy vehicle-related accidents claimed over 5,300 lives and caused more than 176,000 injuries. The fatality rate was 0.180 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Ten years later, , in 2009, heavy vehicle-related accidents claimed about 3,600 lives, by far the lowest loss of life ever recorded in the FARS database. Even more impressively, the fatality rate in 2009 dropped to only 0.107 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled—40% less than 10 years earlier.

The fatality rate due to heavy vehicle accidents have been dropping steadily since 2005, and I can't help but believe that this is largely due to the safety efforts of everyone assembled here. We should take pride in these accomplishments. At the same time, we must remind ourselves what each little data point in these statistics represent. Each data point represents a family member who will never again come home to loved ones.

Every time the NTSB sends a Go Team to an accident, we are reminded of how destructive accidents can be to everyone involved. We are also reminded how much more needs to be done to minimize the likelihood of serious accidents. Yesterday marked the anniversary of the May 9, 1999, "Mother's Day accident" in New Orleans. Since then, we've launched on over 40 major investigations involving heavy commercial vehicles and have issued over 400 recommendations to improve truck and bus safety. These recommendations encompassed such areas as data collection, driver fatigue, roadside barrier warrants, bus roof strength, driver distraction, collision avoidance technologies, and many more. It is because of our deep involvement in each of these accidents that we are so determined to get each of our safety recommendations implemented.

We are joined at this forum by members of the Truck Safety Coalition – individuals who have survived accidents involving commercial trucks, and the family members of those who tragically did not. On behalf of my fellow Board members and the NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives or been injured in these accidents. We welcome your attendance at this forum, and will use this opportunity to try to ensure that such tragedies are not repeated.

This brings us to the second objective of this forum, which is to discuss current activities to improve truck and bus safety. This is where we will dedicate most of our time during the next two days. This is arguably an exciting time for the industry, with several important changes being introduced and others not far behind.

The largest change is the advent of FMCSA's Compliance Safety Accountability Program, better known as CSA. This is a program that we at the Safety Board have long anticipated, and I look forward to learning more about CSA's continued implementation and progress. Other big changes include the new entrant safety assurance process, the proposed changes to the hours of service, and the proposed electronic onboard recorder regulations.

Later this afternoon, we'll discuss bus operations, particularly low-cost carriers. This is a growing industry that has created a renaissance of sorts in intercity bus travel. However, recent accidents have made many wonder whether this industry segment deserves further scrutiny.

Tomorrow we will begin at 0800, and we will cover a variety of important topics, including driver safety, driver health, and emerging technologies. We frequently hear that over 90% of accidents can be attributed to operator error, but many of these errors originate from operational and environmental factors that place our drivers at risk. In other words, a large majority of accidents can be prevented by focusing on the needs of our drivers.

The session on driver safety will explore driver risk factors and other barriers affecting their safety. That session will be followed by one on driver health. Driving is a difficult profession. Most long-haul drivers are paid by the mile, meaning that they have little time to exercise and to eat a healthy meal. Many drivers suffer from health problems that could potentially put themselves and the traveling public at risk. This is something I saw first-hand last September when I accompanied our investigators on a bus accident that involved a driver who had a heart attack in Bethesda, Maryland. There are several initiatives in this area and let's use this forum to share ideas and experiences to reduce the risks to driver safety and health.

Tomorrow we will end with two sessions on emerging technologies: one on crash avoidance and the second on crash mitigation. When you think about it, it is truly amazing how far technology has come in the past decade. Anti-lock braking has provided the foundation for a host of crash-avoidance systems. Several carriers have been in the forefront equipping their vehicles with these technologies.

Our final session will explore crash mitigation technologies – technologies that can reduce the risk of death and injury for those involved in an accident, such as advances in passenger restraints, vehicle crashworthiness, vehicle under-ride protection, and highway barrier systems.

The third and final objective of the forum is to discuss emerging issues that will require all of our attention within the next decade. This is probably the most difficult of our objectives. Yet, gathered here this week are some of the most knowledgeable people in the transportation industry - I'm sure many of you have insights on the direction we need to go in order to further reduce truck- and bus-related crashes, fatalities and injuries.

The bus industry continues to evolve, and it is often pointed out that virtually everything on store shelves was shipped in by a truck. The number of large trucks and buses registered and on the road continues to increase year over year, as does the number of passenger vehicles. All these vehicles will be sharing space on an aging roadway infrastructure that is already over capacity and straining under increasing demands. Clearly, continued improvements in safety under these conditions will be challenging, but I believe we are up to this fight.

Now, I'm sure you are all wondering how we will cover all the issues in the forum agenda in the time we've allotted. The simple answer is that we can't. However, the docket for this forum will remain open for 30 days for additional party submissions. I hope we all leave with a better understanding of everyone's stake in these issues, so that we can continue to work together to minimize the safety risks for all involved.

Finally, I'd like to mention that tomorrow, May 11th, is when the United Nation kicks off its Decade of Action for Road Safety. Every year, around the world, 1.3 million people are killed and 50 million are injured in roadway crashes. Roadway crashes are the leading cause of deaths among those under 40 years of age. Projections indicate that deaths and injuries will increase by about 65% over the next 20 years unless there is a global commitment to safety and prevention. I would like to commend the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and organizations, such as Make Roads Safe, for their efforts to improving global road safety. We are part of a bigger fight. And, we must do all we can to make travel safe for ourselves and our children.

Introduction of Technical Panel

Joining me here on the dais as part of the Technical Panel, from the NTSB's Office of Highway Safety, are:

  • Dr. Rafael Marshall, Project Manager and Officer for this forum
  • Pete Kotowski, Investigator in Charge
  • Gary Van Etten, Motor Carrier Specialist, and
  • James LeBerte, Senior Accident Investigator and Motor Carrier Safety Specialist

Throughout the course of the forum, other subject matter experts from the NTSB will be joining me here on the dais for various panels. These individuals are:

From the Office of Highway Safety:

  • Robert Molloy, Chief of the Report Development Division
  • Dr. Jana Price, Senior Human Performance Investigator
  • Michele Beckjord, Senior Survival Factors Investigator and Project Manager
  • Dennis Collins, Senior Accident Investigator
  • Jennifer Morrison, Vehicle Factors Engineer
  • Dr. Tom Barth, Survival Factors Investigator, and
  • David Rayburn, Senior Highway Investigator

From the office of Research and Engineering:

  • Dr. Robert Dodd, Chief of the Safety Research and Statistical Analysis Division
  • Dr. Kristin Poland, Senior Biomechanical Engineer in the Vehicle Performance Division, and
  • Shane Lack, Senior Mechanical Engineer in the Vehicle Performance Division

Recognition of Parties

We will use a party system for this forum. Each of the parties has extensive knowledge and expertise in truck and bus safety, and the parties have been selected so that we can ensure that the right questions are being asked. Parties to the hearing are:

At the advocacy table:

  • Truck Safety Coalition
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
  • Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

At the unions and driver associations table:

  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • United Transportation Union
  • Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association
  • Women in Trucking

At the truck and bus industry table:

  • Truck Manufacturers Association
  • American Bus Association
  • American Trucking Associations
  • United Motorcoach Association
  • National Private Truck Council

At the State governments table:

  • Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
  • American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

And, finally, at the Federal Government table:

  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • Government Accountability Office
  • Federal Highway Administration

Thank you to all of the participants for sharing your time, your insight and your expertise.


Now, for a few housekeeping items: As a reminder, please silence your cell phones and familiarize yourself with the emergency exits available to you in the front and the back of the room.

Copies of the agenda are available in the lobby outside the Boardroom. The agenda, along with the biographical information of invited participants and descriptions of the parties, are also posted on the Safety Board's website.

We've invited 24 panelists and more than 30 organizations are taking part in this forum. Notably, there are more organizations participating as parties in this forum than is generally typical at the Safety Board. This stems from our desire to hear all perspectives on each issue. For the invited parties, I urge you to work through your spokesperson and to rotate the responsibility of spokesperson as we move through the panels. You will find "Question cards" on your tables to pass questions to the spokespersons. I would also like to emphasize that this forum is non-adversarial – it is a discussion intended to find solutions in support of working toward a common goal.

Because we have such a full agenda we appreciate your cooperation in helping us keep on schedule, and ask that panelists respect time limits and keep discussions focused on the subject at hand, rather than slip into topics covered by other panels.

We're now ready to begin.

Dr. Marshall, would you please introduce the first panelists?