The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) 2013 “Most Wanted List” includes recommendations in four areas that heavily impact trucking: Eliminating Distraction in Transportation; Eliminating Substance-Impaired Driving; Mandating Motor Vehicle Collision Avoidance Technology; and Preserving the Integrity of Transportation Infrastructure. NTSB also made very specific recommendations about what should be done to address Improving the Safety of Bus Operations.

According to NTSB, its annual “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements” highlights “safety-critical actions” that DOT-modal administrations and other government agencies need to take to help prevent accidents and save lives.

The board pointed out that because it “has no formal authority to regulate the transportation industry, our effectiveness depends on our reputation for conducting thorough, accurate, and independent investigations and for producing timely, well-considered recommendations to enhance transportation safety.”

"We're releasing the list now so it is available to policymakers at the state and federal levels as well as industry groups as they craft their priorities for 2013," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.  "We want to highlight the results of our investigations and ensure that safety has a seat at the table when decisions are made."

Among new issue areas on this year’s list are eliminating distraction, collision-avoidance technologies and infrastructure integrity. The dangers posed by distracted operators was especially singled out by the board, which noted that it caused  “multiple accidents investigated by the agency in recent years and its deadly effects will only continue to grow as a national safety threat.”

Summary of NTSB remarks on each area related to trucking:

Distraction: “Portable electronic devices that do not directly support the task at hand have no place in vehicles…  States and regulators can set the proper tone by banning the nonessential use of such devices… Companies should develop and vigorously enforce policies to eliminate distractions. Manufacturers can assist by developing technology that disables the devices when in reach of operators.

Substance-impairment: “Successful programs should include assessment for substance abuse and treatment when warranted… Technology also holds great promise. Ignition interlocks and continuous alcohol monitoring devices can prevent an impaired driver from getting behind the wheel. Developing new technology that can quickly and effectively test drivers for drugs is also critical. The key is to establish a comprehensive toolbox and tailor the program to the specific offender's situation.”

Collision-avoidance: “These technologies are available today in many vehicles. However, they are options that a vehicle owner can add, and some technologies are not even required to meet performance standards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should establish performance standards where still needed and mandate that these technologies be included as standard equipment in cars and commercial motor vehicles alike. Their full life-saving and crash-avoidance potential will not be realized until supported by federal rulemaking and related standards.”

Infrastructure integrity: “…the highway network may present the largest problem in ensuring structural integrity. Although state and local governments control most roadways and bridges in the U.S., highways serve as part of an integrated national network. It is, therefore, imperative that the Federal Highway Administration ensure that bridge inspector training is comprehensive and consistent across the country so that no issues are overlooked. Despite state and local governments owning roadways and bridges, there must be a national inspection standard that raises the bar of infrastructure integrity.”

NTSB’s recommendations drew praise from the American Trucking Associations (ATA). “The NTSB Most Wanted List identifies a number of areas where the Board and ATA have a shared interest in improving highway safety,” said ATA president & CEO Bill Graves.

Specifically, Graves cited NTSB’s identification of the dangers of impaired and distracted driving, the need to repair and improve infrastructure and the benefits of active- safety technologies as important to the trucking industry.

“ATA has long been an advocate of reducing impaired and distracted driving on our highways,” he said. “Truck drivers are already subject to ATA-supported bans on texting and hand-held cell phone use, but ATA firmly believes these bans should be extended to drivers of all vehicles.

“Similarly,” he continued, “our industry is a leader in combating impaired driving, as seen in our early advocacy of mandatory drug and alcohol testing and remarkably low violation rates, particularly when compared to the rest of the motoring public. But we can always do better.”

Graves said that two areas in which trucking can do better in combating impaired driving are through the use of hair testing of regulated drivers to detect illegal drug use and the creation of a clearinghouse to better track drivers’ drug and alcohol test results..

He agreed with NTSB’s call for the need to do more to ensure highway infrastructure is both safe and efficient.

“Even though we just saw a highway bill signed into law,” Graves stated, “it was woefully underfunded and will do little to improve our infrastructure. Well-built and maintained roads are key to improving safety.”

He also said that NTSB’s endorsement of active-safety technologies, such as lane-departure warning systems, stability control, forward collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control were “something ATA has voiced support of for years and a topic we hope lawmakers and regulators address soon.”