Feds taking on distracted driving
(Bloomberg) -- Federal safety advocates are targeting three of the worst habits by drivers that kill more than 10,000 people a year: speeding, impaired driving and distractions from electronic gadgets.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board unveiled its “Most Wanted” list of safety enhancements on Monday and three of the 10 focused on driver behaviors that could help reduce the annual death toll on the roadways that now exceed 37,000 a year.
Another four spotlight such things as sleepy drivers, better anti-collision technology and mandating seat belts on buses and other types of vehicles.
The NTSB is bucking controversy with some of its push. It wants more use of speed cameras, for example, which are unpopular with motorists.
- Eliminate Distractions: Distractions from electronic devices “is a growing and life-threatening problem.” Not only do drivers need to pay better attention; so do pilots, railroad engineers, operators of heavy equipment and pedestrians. Distraction was linked to more than 3,100 traffic deaths in 2017, the most recent data.
- Drug/Alcohol Impairment: Alcohol is one of the leading causes of highway deaths and NTSB is seeking a reduction in the threshold of drunk driving to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent from the current 0.08 percent in most states. Deaths linked to alcohol impairment on highways alone were almost 11,000 in 2017.
- Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials: Only 16 percent of U.S. railroad tank cars meet the latest standards for carrying crude oil and other hazardous liquids. Aging infrastructure in the nation’s pipelines is also creating an increased hazard of leaks and explosions.
- Automated Train Braking: The NTSB has for years sought a requirement for all trains to be computerized to slow or stop for hazards. The government had set 2018 as the deadline for so-called Positive Train Control, but it gave railroads a two-year extension.
- Charter Flight Safety: Charter carriers -- such as air-medical operators and for-hire business jet companies -- aren’t as tightly regulated as airlines, “leaving them susceptible to disaster.” They should be required to monitor flight data for safety trends and install better warning systems.
- Reduce Speeding: Proven tools to reduce speeding on U.S. roads must be more widely deployed to curb the practice, which is a factor in roughly 10,000 highway deaths each year. These include traffic cameras, infrastructure design and vehicle technologies.
- Collision-Avoidance Systems: NTSB wants manufacturers to equip all new motor vehicles with technology that can brake automatically to help avoid an impending crash.
- Fatigue-Related Accidents: A comprehensive approach is needed to combat operator fatigue in aviation, highway, marine and rail transportation.
- Require Medical Fitness: Sleep apnea, a disorder that prevents people from getting normal sleep, has factored into many recent deadly accidents, but people often don’t know they have it. There should be mandatory screening and treatment for all train engineers, bus drivers and other rail and highway workers in safety-related positions.
- Strengthen Occupant Protections: The NTSB wants all U.S. states to pass laws requiring every motor vehicle passenger to wear seat belts, and a crack down on seat belt enforcement. The agency is also calling for better passenger protections in vehicle and rail cars designs.
The NTSB releases its top safety priorities once every other year. This year the agency is focused on already existing safety recommendations that it has issued on the related topics. Of the 267 recommendations highlighted by the agency Monday, it is asking that 46 be implemented within the next two years.
Under the administration of President Donald Trump, creating new regulations has become far more difficult. But the NTSB said that in two-thirds of its recommendations, no new regulations are required to obtain a safety benefit.