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Speeches

2019-2020 Most Wanted List Remarks
Robert L. Sumwalt
National Press Club, Washington, DC
2/4/2019

​Good morning. Today we are here today to introduce the NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Thank you for being here – we are delighted to be here, and we are delighted that you are here. And, I really mean that. As you know, this event was originally scheduled for January 9, but as a result of the partial government shutdown, we had to reschedule it.

When our staff returned to work last Monday, we considered rescheduling again. However, to the credit of our dedicated staff, they insisted that they would do whatever necessary to get ready for today. Truly, throughout the NTSB, we have professional men and women who remain steadfast to the NTSB’s mission of preventing accidents/crashes, reducing injuries, and saving lives.

As far as the shutdown is concerned, there were 97 accidents/crashes that we were not able to initiate an investigation on.  

Now that we’re back in business, we’re going back, doing our best to begin the investigative process on each of those. In most cases, the actual wreckage has been moved, so it’s possible that perishable evidence may have been lost, which potentially prevents a determination of probable cause. Since our investigations result in safety recommendations designed to correct deficiencies noted in the investigation, honestly, I worry that we may have lost potential life-saving information.

One of the most difficult things that we Board members do is meet with grieving family members at an accident scene, often within hours of the tragedy. The only consolation that I have ever been able to offer them is a commitment to find out what happened, so we can prevent it from happening again. In this case, we possibly won’t have those answers that they need. And that, in itself, is tragic. 

In 2017 nearly 39,000 people died in transportation accidents/crashes, with more than 37,000 people dying on our nation’s roadways. That’s, on average, about 107 people per day. 

Look around you, right now. Each day we lose about the population of this room each and every day.  Put another way, that equivalent number of deaths of having five fully loaded Boeing 737’s or Airbus A320’s crashing 5 times a week -- each and every week -- week in and week out – each week of the year.

Progress on such unfinished business is the purpose of the Most Wanted List. Today, we are here to share the lessons we’ve learned from far too many transportation tragedies.

Today, we are here to ensure that action is taken on our safety recommendations to prevent accidents and crashes; it’s about forward progress from paper recommendations to lives saved.

The 2019-2020 Most Wanted List promotes several specific safety recommendations that can and should be implemented during the next two years.  It also features broad, longstanding safety issues that still threaten the traveling public.

So, here is the grand reveal of the NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List:

Eliminate Distractions

Distractions come in all forms, and anything that takes the driver’s or operator’s attention away from the task at hand is potentially dangerous.

Personal electronic devices are common-place, and distractions from these devices is a growing problem that must be addressed.

End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation

Each year, more than 10,000 people die in highway crashes related to alcohol impairment.

This does not account for the drug-impaired highway deaths.

Seriously?

We must do better! And, we can do better.

Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials

When hazardous materials are shipped, they must be transported in a manner that ensures safety of the surrounding communities and those who provide the transportation. 

We have 45 recommendations outstanding in this area which are intended to improve safety. Let’s get them done!

Fully Implement Positive Train Control

One year ago, today, NTSB investigators were on scene in Cayce, SC, investigating a collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train.

That accident was 7 weeks after an Amtrak train hurtled off the track in DuPont, WA, claiming 3 lives. Yes, these events, like the 150 or so others we have investigated over the years, were PTC-preventable.

PTC has been mandated by Congress, but there has been delay after delay in fully implementing this life saving technology.

Each day that we go without PTC, we are at risk for another PTC-preventable accident.

Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes

Speed kills.

It is a factor in more than 10,000 deaths each year on our roadways. That’s one-third of all highway crash deaths.

Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations

Part 135 involves medical flights and on-demand charter flights.

Although many Part 135 flights operate with very high levels of safety, NTSB accident investigations have highlighted that Part 135 operations aren’t required to meet some of the stringent safety regulations that are required for air carriers operating under Part 121.

Think about this: Should there be a different level of safety for paying passengers?

Install Collision Avoidance Technologies in all New Highway Vehicles

Collision avoidance systems can prevent and mitigate the severity of crashes.

In fact, collision avoidance systems could save nearly 1,000 lives.

Why are these systems not standard equipment in all newly manufactured vehicles? Our crash investigations and safety studies point out that they should be.

Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents

It is estimated that fatigue played a role in 90,000 highway crashes in 2015, but NTSB has investigated accidents in all transportation modes that involve fatigue.

Can we do anything about fatigue in transportation? You bet we can.

We have 42 outstanding safety recommendations related to fatigue, and they need to be implemented.

We are tired of fatigue in transportation.

Require Medical Fitness

As a result of our accident/crash investigations, we have repeatedly called for Obstructive Sleep Apnea screening.

FRA and FMCSA initiated rulemaking to require such screening, but they rescinded it in August 2017.

This is unacceptable to NTSB because until there is such screening and treatment for operators, people will continue to die because of OSA.

Strengthen Occupant Protection

There’s been a debate over the years: should school busses have seat belts?

Let’s end this argument now – the NTSB believes school busses should be equipped with lap/shoulder belts.

We also need window glazing and improved roof strength on motorcoaches, along with greater crashworthiness standards for passenger rail cars.

In wrapping up the overview of the NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List, let me point out that the NTSB does not simply come up with this list based on a whim. It’s not the flavor of the day. It is data-driven, based on the results of our investigations of tragic and senseless deaths. The NTSB MWL is written in blood.

Today, if today is like any other day in America, an entire roomful of people will lose their lives in transportation tragedies. But, these recommendations, if acted upon, will result in safer transportation. And THAT is why we are here today.

In just a moment, Chris O’Neil will moderate a panel discussion among the Board members regarding our MWL.

Before doing that, however, let me issue a call to action: We at the NTSB can speak on these issues. We Board Members can testify by invitation to state legislatures and to Congress. But we have no power of our own to act. We are counting on industry, advocates, and government to act on our recommendations. We are counting on the help of the broader safety community.

We are counting on you. It’s up to you to implement these recommendations.

Thank you. Chris, let’s get started.

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