Good morning! Thank you for the very kind introduction and thank you for the opportunity to speak at this annual Australasian Road Safety Conference. I had the pleasure of being in Adelaide, Canberra, and Perth about 12 years ago and it always is good to meet more Australasian College members. Thank you to Lauchlan [McIntosh] and Claire [Howe], Teresa [Senserrick] and David [McTiernan], and everyone who helped organize this meeting. Thank you for Aunty Ann’s very meaningful welcome to the land. It is wonderful to be in Sydney today and I certainly appreciate your warm welcome to Australia.
I know some of you from my previous non-government position working on the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and I have even seen many of you wearing the yellow Decade tag, which is appropriate since many of the countries represented here today are strong supporters of the Decade of Action.
I also have been impressed by the role of young professionals at this conference – it gives me hope for the future of road safety and our future in general.
When I told my colleagues in Washington, DC, that I was headed to Australia, I think what initially came to their minds was this. [Photograph of a kangaroo.] Or perhaps it was more along the lines of this or this. But the people who came to mind for me were not Cate Blanchett or Hugh Jackman, but rather John Lane, Peter Vulcan, and Jack McLean. By the way, this is not just because I am a road safety fanatic (even though I proudly admit to being one), it is because I have heard stories about them – about the important work they have done to make a positive and lasting impact on road traffic safety here and around the world - for years. I have had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jack McLean and I always remember him vividly because of the stories he told and still tells!
That is a lesson I am trying to learn from these champions of road safety – the importance of the story, the importance of showing our humanity, the importance and effectiveness of the personal touch to the cause, as we do the most evidence-based work we can to achieve zero deaths.
Right now, we are at critical time, a time when we need to do everything we can to prevent the 1.2 million road traffic deaths and tens of millions of injuries around the world every year. This also is a critical time for those of you from Australia because of the recent Inquiry into Australia’s National Road Safety Strategy, a strategy which could save even more lives, if fully implemented. We need to make use of every tool we have and one important tool, one that is often overlooked, is the balance of science and story.
At the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), at the Australasian College of Road Safety, and likely at the other organizations you are a part of, we often talk about data and science and evidence. But we do not often talk about stories. We do not talk enough about stories like Peter’s and Max’s that you heard about this morning from David and Teresa. We do not talk about the importance of stories to help people understand and support science. We do not talk about the balance of science and story.
When I say “stories,” I mean communication at both the policy and the personal level, to politicians and the public, and everyone in between. This also is a balance. It is not only the right thing to do; it more effectively amplifies our work in ways we may not initially realize.
So today, I would like to discuss the importance of using both science and story to help us reach zero. I will touch on some examples including NTSB’s investigation of the first automated vehicle crash, our report on speeding, and the controversy surrounding one of our recommendations to reduce drinking and driving.
Along the way, I hope you do not mind if I tell you a little more about myself and the agency I am privileged to serve, the United States National Transportation Safety Board, which celebrated 50 years as an independent agency last year.
My own story starts in public health with data, and lots of it. In graduate school, I was immersed in the world of systematic reviews, first at the Cochrane Collaboration in the United Kingdom, and then at the CDC with the Guide to Community Preventive Services.
As many of you know, a systematic review is a form of research that conducts an extremely comprehensive search of the literature and uses specified criteria to choose and analyze published and unpublished studies to answer a clearly formulated question. A meta-analysis can be part of a systematic review.
In the 1990’s, systematic reviews were relatively new and mostly confined to the world of medicine. I worked with the Cochrane Collaboration which was named after Dr. Archie Cochrane, an OBGYN (Obstetrician and Gynecologist). This innovative method of research - to get the most complete and objective evidence on a subject - was still in its infancy. I spent hundreds of hours at libraries in London and Houston, combing journals for studies and then pulling and analyzing the qualifying studies. In the end, with Dr. Carolyn DiGuiseppi, Professor Ian Roberts, and others you may know, I published one of the first systematic reviews on an injury topic in the United States.
I loved data so I loved the idea that systematic reviews would find answers to our questions, quantitatively and without biases. I could not quite understand why people did not find the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis as compelling as I did. Although at the time, I was volunteering at a domestic violence shelter and a Level 1 Trauma Center in Houston, where I witnessed many shocking examples of preventable injuries, I still did not quite understand the importance of connecting these stories with the numbers that all those data points represented.
Even after graduate school, when I had jobs that taught me the vital importance of telling the stories behind the science, I was still learning. In my work at the FIA Foundation, a philanthropy that funds projects to prevent road traffic deaths globally, I heard stories from around the world, and became friends with people like Casey Marenge, who became paralyzed from the neck down after a car crash in Kenya but, with the help of her family, and her own very strong will, started a foundation to assist other people in wheelchairs in Africa, a foundation called, “Chariots of Destiny.”
I heard stories about children in Vietnam saved from death and traumatic brain injury by an affordable Pro-Tec helmet built by people with disabilities. I got to know a mother named Denise Dias in Guyana who created the “Mothers in Black” organization after her daughter died after being hit by a drinking driver and who then stood vigil for years outside her Parliament until drink driving laws were passed.
I met so many amazing people, but somehow, it finally was at the NTSB, where I see the immediate and terrible aftermath of transportation disasters, that I have become convinced of the absolute necessity of telling the story, in order to save lives and prevent injuries.
The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates transportation disasters and makes recommendations to improve safety.
When the American public thinks of the NTSB, they think of our dark blue uniforms with the bright yellow letters on the back at the scene of disasters in all modes of transportation – aviation, maritime, highway, and rail as well as incidents involving pipelines and hazardous materials.
We have a Most Wanted List of transportation priorities, which are 10 multimodal issues we know have the chance of moving forward if given some good hard pushes. Currently, 7 of the 10 Most Wanted issues are related to road safety.
We do not have any regulatory or enforcement authority, so we use our powers of persuasion – NTSB’s recommendations are just that, best practice recommendations, not requirements. Fortunately, we are considered the “good guys” who wear the “white hats” and we make decisions solely on their safety impact, so people often want to do what we recommend (especially if the public or constituents ask them to). In fact, we have issued over 14,000 safety recommendations to over 2,300 recipients over the years – and in all modes of transportation. In addition, about 80% of our recommendations have been adopted.
As one doctor I know says, we are like infectious disease outbreak investigation teams, except what we are investigating is an outbreak of kinetic energy instead of a disease. We get as much information as we can to make recommendations to prevent the next “outbreak.” Those on-scene investigations are an important part of our work – that is why we are on call 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.
Once we have finished the on-scene work, our work continues back at our state-of-the-art labs. The final result of an investigation is a very thorough report covering every aspect of an accident and including a probable cause and safety recommendations designed to prevent that type of accident from happening again.
Before I get more disapproving looks, yes, I used the word “accident”.
Although the term “accident” is now not used in highway safety, we still use the term for our other investigations because, under the federal statute that created the NTSB, we are charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident – as well as significant accidents in other modes. “Accident” is a term of art in aviation. It also underscores the fact that we investigate unintentional occurrences – we leave the criminal investigations to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).
We are an independent agency and we have five independent board members, like myself, who are nominated by the sitting President (I was nominated by President Obama). We undergo a Senate confirmation hearing followed by a vote by the Senate for a certain term of office, so our terms are not tied to Administrations or elections. We do not report to anyone – not the White House, not the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) nor any other federal agency or entity – so we can make recommendations to anyone. We always perform our analyses alone - completely independent of any other agencies and organizations.
Ultimately, our work results in products that contain recommendations to advance safety including reports, safety studies, and special investigative reports. We deliberate, we make decisions, and by law, we vote on all items in public, during our meetings governed by the Government in the Sunshine Act. Also, we are so transparent that you will never see more than 2 Board Members together at a time discussing an investigation unless we are doing so publicly, and it is webcast!
Federal agencies, states & territories, and the industry have used our recommendations to make progress in road traffic areas such as: airbags, impaired driving, seat belt laws, school bus design, safety barriers in road design, setting standards for signage, to name a few.
Because of NTSB’s detailed investigations, it may seem that our work is largely technical and mechanical, but like you, my 400 colleagues at the NTSB and I never forget that the true purpose of our work is to serve people. Their stories help us remember that purpose. Part of our work is to assist people who have been affected by a transportation disaster: victims and families of victims. As a Board Member, I talk with family members at the scene and I consider it a responsibility and a privilege.
Survivors and family members share their stories with me and I carry those stories with me whenever I speak about our safety recommendations.
The public primarily knows of our work from the news media and we are on call 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Each Board Member is on call one week every five weeks and we each, no matter what our background, cover all types of transportation – for example, although prior to NTSB I focused on road safety, I covered the largest maritime disaster in the last 35 years when the cargo ship El Faro was lost on its voyage from Florida to Puerto Rico with 33 souls aboard. We worked with the Navy and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to recover the Voyage Data Recorder at a depth of 15,000 feet of water.
I have covered multiple rail accidents, the most recent being the train derailment in Washington State in December and aviation accidents such as the helicopter crash into New York’s East River during a tourist photography flight in March.
I also have chaired the board meeting for a Gulfstream business jet that crashed upon takeoff from an airport near Boston. In addition, next month, I will be chairing the investigative hearing into the 737 engine failure which resulted in the death of a passenger and an emergency landing in Dallas.
Although we cover disasters in all modes of transportation, and often these other modes get more attention, we always remember that the greatest loss of life, year in and year out, is on our roads. So what exactly happens when we “launch” to an investigation?
Our Response Operations Center (the ROC) is constantly monitoring the news around the clock so we are alerted to accidents of all sizes. When there has been a major accident and we decide to launch a full investigative team, called a Go Team, with a Board Member, the entire agency springs into action. We often launch within hours of learning about an accident so it is fast paced. We gather our Go Bags, which contain safety gear like hard hats, safety goggles, reflective vests, gloves, steel toe boots, and everyone gathers at DCA Reagan Washington National Airport where we take one of the FAA airplanes directly to the accident scene. As soon as we land, we let law enforcement, first responders, local officials, and the public know that we are on scene and beginning the investigation.
At the scene of an accident, the Investigator in Charge or IIC leads the investigation, organizes the personnel, holds organizational meetings, and briefs me so that I can speak to families, the press, and politicians as needed. Although it is hectic, there is an established order which helps things run smoothly, which enables us to tell our story. Being at the scene and talking with news media gives the NTSB a platform to shape the story for the benefit of safety. It gives us legitimacy and credibility to tell the story, a story that we always back with science.
Although the public sees us most on the news at the scene, as with most things, most of our work is afterwards back at our offices and in our labs. When we are not on accident launches, we are holding public board meetings, working behind the scenes to analyze evidence and test materials, and seeking ways to advance our safety recommendations.
In order to have the information we need to make safety recommendations from a single investigation, our investigations are extremely thorough. For major highway crashes, for example, we have experts who investigate many areas:
weather and fire
Back to the title, “Science and Story” is a tool, although we may not call it that; it is a tool that we use to advance road safety at the NTSB. Since we often study a single representative case (and let me tell you, it was difficult for me to transition from a systematic review and meta-analysis mentality to a single case study!), we can be agile and do in-depth investigations. It also means that we can tell a specific story to represent the hundreds or thousands of similar deaths and injuries. “Story” is simply effective communication of science. Science and story is a balance.
Sometimes we use more science and other times more story, depending on the audience and the environment. Science and story also can be mutual amplifiers. However, science and story always should be built on a foundation of good evidence.
It is not easy to balance science and story. That is why it is our obligation as road safety professionals to evaluate the science accurately and therefore tell the story accurately. We are the protectors of good data and good science. Yet, science alone is not enough. Does that mean we should cast it aside? Of course not! Even though politicians and the public are sometimes swayed by one story, and sometimes it is an inaccurate story, it is up to us, as road safety professionals and advocates and policy makers, to ensure that the story is based on a foundation of evidence. As members of Australasian College of Road Safety, you have a reputation for rigorous science, but that also means you have a responsibility, a responsibility to tell a compelling story to support the science.
I know the NTSB can learn from all of you and I hope we can offer you some insights that can assist you in your important work as well. Today, I want to provide you with three examples as a glimpse into our work and illustrate how and why we use both science and story. First, I will talk about our speeding study briefly, second, our advocacy efforts related to .05 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) which illustrates how the tool of science and story can be effective, and third, our investigation into the first fatal automated vehicle crash which gives us a cautionary tale.
I wanted to mention speeding because I know it is one of the priorities highlighted by the Inquiry into the NRSS (National Road Safety Strategy) – AND because it is a topic where the solution MUST be paired with a story to be effective. The solution must be communicated effectively to the public and I also know that communication is a priority in your National Road Safety Strategy.
In addition to investigating individual accidents, the NTSB conducts transportation safety studies, typically approaching an issue from a broader, national perspective. One safety study – about speeding – was adopted in July 2017 and we issued 19 safety recommendations to federal government agencies, several road safety and law enforcement associations, and all 50 US (United States) states. The percentage of US road fatalities involving speeding has remained fairly consistent for many years, at about 30%. The absolute number of US road fatalities involving speeding has increased in the past few years, and is now about the same as fatalities involving alcohol.
In the study, the NTSB identified five safety issues:
Speed limits, including how they are determined
Data-driven enforcement – in particular the quality of speeding-related crash data
Automated speed enforcement, sometimes referred to as photo radar or speed cameras
Intelligent speed adaptation, which is a vehicle technology, and
the overarching issue of National Leadership on this topic.
As a result of the study, the NTSB issued 19 safety recommendations in these five- areas. Briefly the recommendations are as follows: For speed limits, the NTSB recommended that factors other than the 85th percentile be required when adjusting speed limits, that an expert system be used to validate speed limits, and that the safe system approach be used for urban roads. For data-driven enforcement, the NTSB recommended that best practices be identified for evaluating and communicating the effectiveness of high-visibility speed enforcement programs, and that the consistency of crash reporting be improved. For intelligent speed adaptation, the NTSB recommended that manufacturers be encouraged to equip vehicles with ISA (Intelligent Speed Assistance systems) by including it in the New Car Assessment Program. For automated speed enforcement, the NTSB recommended that state laws be changed to allow greater use of ASE, that guidance materials for ASE (Automated Speed Enforcement) be updated and promoted, and that point-to-point enforcement be evaluated and included in the ASE guidelines. Finally, for national leadership, the NTSB recommended that a program to increase public awareness of speeding, including an annual enforcement mobilization, be carried out, that state and local speed management activities be incentivized, and that the actions in the Department of Transportation’s Speed Management Program Plan be completed.
You will be hearing a complete overview of the safety recommendations by one of the authors of the study, Nathan Doble, at the Speeding Panel tomorrow afternoon, but I wanted to briefly discuss Automated Speed Enforcement, a highly effective, if controversial, countermeasure. Many research studies and several systematic reviews have found that ASE not only reduces speeding, but significantly reduces crashes, injuries, and fatalities. In the US, the first ASE programs started in the 1980s. There was a lot of growth in the early 2000s, but that growth has stagnated in the past five years or so, and ASE is currently only used in 15 states and DC. In the US, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) gives ASE their highest effectiveness rating. Yet Congress prohibits NHTSA from allowing states to use federal funds for ASE!
As expected, ASE has been a subject of sharp criticism, namely that they are more about raising revenue than increasing safety. In addition, some US states have the “confrontation clause” which gives an individual the right to confront his or her accuser, making photo enforcement impossible or, at best, only allow ASE with a police officer present.
For automated speed enforcement, the NTSB recommended state laws be changed to allow greater use of ASE, that guidance materials for ASE be updated and promoted, and point-to-point enforcement be evaluated and included in the ASE guidelines.
Only 7 US states have responded to the automated enforcement recommendations (Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming). Of these, only Kentucky has committed to doing anything really concrete – a study including recommendations for an ASE pilot program in school zones and work zones.
We also were disappointed by NHTSA’s responses to some of our recommendations, especially related to Intelligent Speed Adaptation, or ISA, which determines the current speed limit for that stretch of road and then limits a vehicle to the current speed limit. It looks like we are picking on NHTSA here, but auto manufacturers have indicated ISA is more commonly found in European markets because ISA is included in Euro NCAP (The European New Car Assessment Programme), but it is still not part of the US NCAP (United States New Car Assessment Program) safety ratings. Kudos to ANCAP (Australia New Car Assessment Program) for including ISA last year!
Nathan Doble will tell you all about the study tomorrow, but as you can see…
Here is an example of where, in the US, we have a lot of science but we need more story. Perhaps it is the same in your countries? Certainly in the US, we need to bring the human side to the need for automated enforcement for speed and ISA. We need to communicate the story, the human side, of the importance of preventing speeding. The public and policy makers can easily put themselves in the shoes of the driver who speeds because it is something many people do every day, but it is up to us to tell the story of the driver who unintentionally hits someone or the story of someone who was hit just because of speeding. This is where we need to make the human connection. We need to tell the story.
.05 BAC Limits
We know that impairment by cannabis, opioids, ICE, and other drugs are an important emerging issue. In fact, the NTSB has investigated crashes where different impairing substances have been involved, including cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids, opioids, and prescription medications. So we are keeping a sharp eye on this issue.
Both in the US and Australia, alcohol-impaired crashes have declined over the last decades and perhaps are getting less and less attention, so we should remember 10,000. That is the number of people who die in drink-driving deaths every year in the United States. Ten thousand people dead. You would think my country would be in an uproar. However, we are not.
The NTSB has made many different recommendations related to alcohol-impaired driving. We have recommended reducing the illegal per se BAC limit for all drivers; conducting high-visibility enforcement of impaired driving laws; ignition interlocks for all offenders; passive alcohol-sensing technology for enforcement; the use of in-vehicle devices; and DUI courts and other programs to reduce recidivism.
We made all of these recommendations as part of our appropriately named Reaching Zero study, but we always get the most criticism for our recommendation for states to reduce their illegal per se to .05 BAC or lower. This is despite the fact that nearly 100 countries around the world – including most, if not all, of those represented here - have such a law and an abundance of studies demonstrate that the number of impaired driving crashes would decrease. I always try to be optimistic, but even I was surprised last year when, against high odds and during a short legislative session of 45 days, the State of Utah passed the first .05 BAC law in any state in the United States.
How did it happen? In part, because people in Utah requested safety information and the NTSB was able to provide it.
When Utah legislators reached out to us early on, we provided unbiased information and I testified twice in their state legislature. We told them that a .05 BAC law is a broad deterrent that decreases the number of impaired drivers on the road at all BAC levels – high and low. We showed them studies demonstrating that even at a .05 BAC, people have problems with coordination, vision, and steering.
When critics called me a prohibitionist, we told them that a .05 BAC law was not about drinking at all – it simply helps people to separate their drinking from their driving. We said people should “Choose One: Drink or Drive”! We told them they could help save 1,790 lives in the US every year.
Nevertheless, there are always opponents of safety. Opponents of the .05 law used scare tactics and spread misinformation through expensive full-page ads in local and national newspapers. These ads contradict information from NTSB, NHTSA, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Yet these ads told a story, a false story, but a compelling story nonetheless. Opponents tried to mislead Utah residents with a story about innocent people getting put in jail after having one drink with dinner. I have to admit, they were provocative and had catchy slogans like “Come for vacation, leave on probation.” There were fearmongering stories that worked. The tourism industry in Utah was ready to fight .05 and the anti-safety lobbyists even orchestrated a demonstration with picket signs protesting .05 at the state capitol.
At the NTSB, we provided stacks and stacks of information, to legislators and the governor of Utah. I thought surely the statistic of saving 1,790 lives a year would be all that was needed. But no, in the end, although our statistics helped, it was the power of the story that prevailed.
My first op ed was full of numbers, but my second op ed was different; it described my brother, a surgeon, who often visited Utah with his family to snowboard. I wrote that by passing a .05 BAC law, Utah would be taking the first step to saving 1,790 lives nationwide, and I thanked them for protecting their families - and mine. Yes, “the story about my brother” prevailed! (He, being a surgeon, was quite smug about that!) Even more importantly, supporters of .05 BAC then showed up at hearings to tell their stories, often citing NTSB information as the science.
The NTSB provided solid, accurate, independent safety information for people to make informed decisions – and to help them tell their story. These stories can help people understand that information, remember it, and sometimes even help advance safety.
Sometimes the story is not about someone killed or injured at all. Sometimes it is just a personal story, like the story about my brother, a story that simply reminds people of a face behind the numbers. That was the case in Utah.
In Australia, as you face the problem of impairment by substances other than alcohol, I know you will not let up on your effective, lifesaving work you have been doing to prevent drinking and driving. Your RBT (random breath testing), your lower BAC limits, your continued strong efforts that have brought drink driving deaths so far down in the past (interventions we quite envy in the US) have saved lives and will continue to do so.
Automated vehicles (AVs) are constantly in the news these days and they are a fascinating topic that has captured the public’s imagination. This is perhaps because AVs help us imagine a future with the enormous safety potential of ever more autonomous vehicles and, ultimately, fully autonomous vehicles everywhere.
The NTSB investigated the first fatal automated vehicle crash in 2016. A 2015 Tesla Model S, an all-electric passenger vehicle equipped with certain automated vehicle control features, struck the right side of a left-turning 53-foot semitrailer, in combination with a Freightliner truck-tractor.
The collision occurred on a US Highway west of Williston, FL. The Tesla was traveling eastbound in the right lane and struck the combination vehicle as it was making a left turn from westbound US-27A across the two eastbound travel lanes onto a local road. The Tesla passed beneath the semitrailer, which sheared off the roof, and continued eastward where it departed the right side of the road. The Tesla continued through a drainage culvert and overrode two wire fences. It struck a utility pole, rotated counterclockwise, and came to rest in the front yard of a private residence. Sadly, the driver died.
The Tesla struck the right side of the semitrailer near its midpoint. While there was some structural damage, the semitrailer was functional. In addition to the Tesla’s roof being sheared off, when it struck the utility pole, it was damaged at the left front corner and the front airbags were deployed.
The safety issues we found were:
Operational design domains for vehicle automation
Monitoring of driver engagement
Event data recorders for automated vehicles
Safety Metrics and exposure data for automated vehicles
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication requirements
Autopilot consists of (1) traffic-aware cruise control or TACC, (2) Autosteer, and (3) Auto Lane Change. TACC is an adaptive cruise control system that provides automatic longitudinal control. The systems have limitations. They have reduced operational capacity on roads with abrupt geometry and during inclement weather. There are also restrictions that limit the functionality of the systems.
Tesla’s automation system, as well as other automation systems, have operational design domain (ODD); that is, conditions in which that system is designed to operate but it was not based on the type of roadway. Tesla provided user-based constraints to restrict the use of Autopilot to roadways for which it was designed. Drivers are informed of these constraints through the vehicle manual. The implementation of these constraints relies on drivers’ awareness of them and their adherence to them. For example, the vehicle manual states that “Autosteer is intended for use only on highways and limited-access roads”. It further warns drivers not to use Autosteer in areas where bicyclists or pedestrians may be present. Multiple similar warnings appear in the manual. This is not a safe systems approach.
Level 2 automated systems like this Tesla have more operational design limitations; that is, they have reduced capability compared to Levels 3 and higher. Yet, there are no requirements or guidelines that limit the use of Level 2 automated systems to roadways for which they are designed. An automated system that does not automatically restrict its operation to conditions for which it was designed allows a driver an opportunity to inappropriately use the system, which in this case, ended tragically. This was not a safe systems approach.
This crash occurred on US-27A, which although having a central median divider, is not a limited access roadway. The Tesla driver was able to engage Autopilot and cruise at 74 mph. The system would have allowed the driver to cruise up to 90 mph on this road.
The Tesla’s Autopilot did not respond to the turning truck. The system did not detect the hazard, nor was it intended to, and as such, TACC did not reduce speed, and FCW (Forward Collision Warning) and AEB (Auto Emergency Braking) systems did not activate. So, Autopilot functioned as designed; but the system was operating outside the domain afforded by its limited capabilities. Again, not a safe systems approach!
The initial visual alert is displayed for 15 seconds. If the system still does not detect driver-applied steering wheel torque, it presents an auditory warning, followed by another, 10 seconds later. Finally, the system provides a final auditory warning and initiates a slowdown if the driver still does not handle the steering wheel.
The Tesla’s crash trip lasted 41 minutes. The driver had Autopilot engaged for 37- minutes of that time. The time that the system detected the driver’s hand on the steering wheel is represented by the green dashed vertical lines. Out of 37-minutes during which Autopilot was engaged, the system detected driver-applied steering wheel torque on 7 separate occasions for a total of 25 seconds. Again, not safe systems.
To summarize: The Tesla involved in this crash was a Level 2 automated vehicle. Although the system did not detect the turning truck, Autopilot functioned within its limited capabilities; however, the system operated and was allowed to be operated outside the domain for which it was designed.
The Tesla driver’s lack of response prior to the crash and his lack of handling of the steering wheel indicate over-reliance on automation. Finally, monitoring of steering wheel torque as a method of ensuring driver engagement was not effective.
It is easy to just blame the operator, who did make mistakes, but as you could see, this was far from a safe systems approach to design. We issues recommendations that addressed this.
We also recently released the preliminary report for the ongoing investigation of a fatal crash of an Uber test vehicle with a self-driving system in Tempe, Arizona, which struck a pedestrian.
These stories are a cautionary tale – yes, a cautionary tale about the importance of safe systems everywhere including in emerging technologies, but it also is a cautionary tale not to rely on silver bullets, at least not yet. They remind us that, even as we encourage wonderful, game-changing, cutting-edge technology like fully automated vehicles, we cannot forget about other, near term, lifesaving solutions such as seatbelts, airbags, pedestrian protection, collision avoidance – the vital safety technology that we already have today, technology that we will continue to build on, technology that will continue to save lives. Of course, let’s not forget infrastructure, legislative, and other solutions inherent in Vision Zero that you work on every day. The story of the fully automated self-driving car that does not crash is a compelling one, but it cannot be the only story people hear. They also need to hear the stories about current technology that is protecting lives every day and new paradigms of saving lives by reducing exposure to traffic and sensible laws and policies. These stories also are a cautionary tale not to get distracted. It is easy to be distracted by the positive effects of new technology or the negative effects of new impairing drugs, but we should keep our eye on the evidence. What is causing the most deaths and injuries? What is proven to save the most lives?
I started this presentation with photos of a few champions and pioneers of road safety from Australia who have inspired me.
Here are two more portraits you may know from the United States, Dr. Bill Haddon and Professor Sue Baker. Just think, they did their work initially without computers, without mobile phones, without GIS (Geographic Information Systems), without many of the tools we take for granted. You know what Dr. Lane, Professor Vulcan, and Professor McLean have done. Well, in the US, Dr. Haddon created an entirely new federal agency focused on the little known topic of traffic safety and Professor Baker founded the first injury prevention center when injury prevention was not considered a real discipline! Plus, they accomplished so much more. They also stayed in touch with each other (I know at least Jack McLean and Bill Haddon did) without email! Their level of accomplishment and of collaboration – and their often personal touch - is impressive and inspirational to me.
I hope you will stay in touch with us at the NTSB. I would personally be happy to help connect you with my colleagues at the NTSB or other organizations in the US who are working on similar topics so you can share ideas. We also have many products related to the topics you are discussing at this conference, for example: pedestrian safety, single unit trucks, rear seats, a bicycle investigation, school buses, and more. All of these can be found online, but of course, it is easier (and certainly more fun) to get in touch directly with one of us. International collaboration is certainly a tool, to share information and cross-fertilize ideas, but it also keeps up our morale to know others in other places who are also focused on doing the right thing - and that is important, too.
Your scientific and technical work and knowledge gives legitimacy to what you say. Your stories show your humanity, so people will remember why you do your work. Stories are information. Information that people will remember. Stories give power to the data to overcome incorrect and misleading information.
Science alone and story alone cannot do it, but together, they are a more powerful force than the sum of their parts. That is the synergy, the amplification, the balance of science and story. As researchers, as engineers, as law enforcement, as advocates, as government officials, as people who believe in science and data, it is our job to tell the story of data, to make the data memorable, to make people feel something about the data.
At meetings like these, we do not usually talk about our feelings, but it is worth remembering what the great writer Maya Angelou said:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
We can make people feel something about science, using stories. Stories help people to remember the science. Stories give power to the data to overcome incorrect and misleading information. Stories help bring humanity to the data.
It is hard for us to believe sometimes, but the world needs road safety professionals like us -- to present the data and to tell the story.
We are lucky. We all get to work on a completely good and noble endeavor, which is helping people get to where they need to go, safely. Safe transportation is something that everyone can support, something people are sometimes desperate to have. What you do and say can save lives and prevent countless injuries in your own country and around the world. Also, it is your stories that will drive the evidence home. I know you are already doing a great deal in your professional roles, but by also being a witness, by telling the personal stories behind safety…you can bring life to the cold hard facts, you can make the prevention of 1.2 million deaths, you can make reaching zero, something that people think about, care about, remember, and act on. Making it personal will help people do what is right. I am still enough of an optimist to think that most people (and most companies, too) want to do the right thing, but sometimes they need a nudge to remember what is right. They are more likely to do the right thing if we remind them of their humanity.
I will leave you with one last quote by another American author, Mark Twain:
“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
This is the end of my remarks but I hope it is just the beginning of greater international collaboration among our countries, among the NTSB and the many organizations present here today. Please do not hesitate to contact me, or my colleagues - Steve Blackistone and Nathan Doble - who also are here in Sydney this week. Thank you again for inviting me to speak today. In addition, thank you for the important work you have done and will do to advance the science and story of road safety to save lives and prevent injuries in Australasia and around the world. Happy 30th birthday and congratulations to the Australasian College of Road Safety!