NTSB Highlights Transportation Safety Wish List

By DAVID KOENIG | February 6, 2019

Federal safety officials say they want a crackdown on impaired and distracted drivers, wider use of collision-avoidance technology in cars, and tougher regulations for operators of air tours and medical flights.

The National Transportation Safety Board laid out a wish list Monday to improve safety on roads, trains and in the sky.

Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the list was driven by data from accidents that the board investigates.

“It is written in blood,” he said.

The safety board investigates accidents and suggests ways to prevent similar crashes. The agency planned to unveil its top issues last month but was delayed by the government shutdown caused by a standoff over President Donald Trump’s demand for border-wall funding.

Sumwalt said the 35-day shutdown delayed the start of 97 crash investigations. In some cases, he said, wreckage was removed before investigators could finally arrive, and “We may have lost potential live-saving information.”

The safety board has no power to write regulations, and over the years its suggestions have often been rebuffed by other agencies. The board has 1,200 pending recommendations that have not been acted on by agencies including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The board’s frustration has grown deeper during the Trump administration, which has sought to reduce regulations on industry. The administration has held up proposals to require electronic speed-capping software in new heavy trucks and require auto makers to equip future cars and light trucks with vehicle-to-vehicle communications to prevent collisions.

In Washington, board members announced their list of topics they want addressed by new rules in the next two years. The list would cover cars and trucks, trains, planes and pipelines. They declined to rank the list. Among the items:

– A crackdown on impaired and distracted drivers. The board believes there is no difference in accident risk between talking on a hands-free mobile phone or a hand-held device; it wants drivers to be banned from using either except in emergencies.

– Require automakers to make collision-avoidance technology standard in all new vehicles.

– More training and other requirements to increase regulation of operators of charters, air tours, air taxis and medical flights. Passengers don’t understand that these operations aren’t required to meet the same safety standards as airlines, Sumwalt said.

– Install GPS-based technology called positive train control that is designed to prevent collisions like the Amtrak train that hit a parked CSX freight train last year in South Carolina, killing two Amtrak employees. Congress mandated the technology by the end of last year, but compliance has been spotty and the deadline has been extended.

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