MWL 2015 - Disconnect from Deadly DistractionsPrevention of distracted driving and impaired driving are two of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’S) “Most Wanted” improvements in transportation for 2015, as Michael Cooney reports for NetworkWorld. Portable electronic devices (PEDs) have been distracting drivers and creating a “real threat” for transportation, NTSB writes.

Connected vehicle technology has contributed some safety features, but it has also given drivers new ways to be distracted, leading to car accidents and deaths,“even in the most strictly regulated transportation enterprises,” NTSB writes. Although the NTSB — which exists to promote transportation safety — does not investigate most highway crashes, among the ones it has investigated since 2003, drivers distracted by PEDs have caused accidents in which 259 people were injured and 50 people were killed, NTSB writes. The Board points out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported hundreds of such deaths in 2012 alone, and that drivers involved in visual-manual tasks, like dialing or texting, triple their risk of a crash.

Moreover, NTSB writes:

In addition, the AAA Foundation reports that hands-free is not risk-free. A driver’s level of cognitive distraction is about equal whether using a hands-free or hand-held cell phone. Even voice-based systems may not eliminate distraction, and may have unintended effects on traffic safety.

In December 2012, NTSB called for a ban on all use of PEDs while driving. Only 14 states and the District of Columbia ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, and 44 states plus the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, but no state bans the use of hands-free devices. “Ultimately, a cultural shift will be required, and it must begin with each of us,” NTSB writes.

Preventing impaired driving is also a top priority for the NTSB on its 2015 Most Wanted list. Nearly 160,000 people have died in motor vehicle crashes involving impaired drivers since 2000, NTSB writes.

Complex machinery such as cars, planes, trains, ships, and pipelines requires operators to be alert and at their best, not impaired by drugs or alcohol, NTSB writes. And that includes prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, NTSB writes, noting that among pilots operating between 2008 and 2012, “the most commonly found impairing substance in fatal crashes was diphenhydramine, a sedating antihistamine found in over-the-counter medications.” The Board writes that it is also concerned about how the decriminalization of marijuana will affect transportation safety.

To counter the problem of impaired driving, states need to do more collecting, documenting, and reporting of driver blood alcohol test results following crashes, NTSB writes. There also need to be stronger impaired driving laws and increased enforcement, with greater use of existing technology such as ignition interlocks and passive alcohol sensors, and development of new in-vehicle systems, NTSB writes. In addition, the Board calls for the use of DWI courts. And it asks drivers to check with their doctors to make sure their medications and medical conditions will not increase the risk of an accident.

Other measures on the NTSB’s 2015 Wish List include the following, as Stephen Smith writes for CBS News:

  • Require medical fitness for duty
  • Make mass transit safer
  • Improve rail tank car safety
  • Strengthen commercial trucking safety
  • Strengthen procedural compliance
  • Prevent loss-of-control in general aviation
  • Implement positive train control
  • Enhance public helicopter safety
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