Traffic Safety Header
December 2012 




WASHINGTON - The National Transportation Safety Board today released its 2013 Most Wanted List, with six of the ten issues focusing on highway travel where most transportation fatalities take place and includes the number one killer on the list: substance-impaired driving.

The new annual list of the independent federal safety agency's top advocacy priorities calls for ending distraction in all modes of transportation. Distraction was the cause of multiple accidents investigated by the agency in recent years, and its deadly effects will only continue to grow as a national safety threat. 

"Transportation is safer than ever, but with 35,000 annual fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries, we can, and must, do better," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "The Most Wanted List is a roadmap to improving safety for all of our nation's travelers." 

The list covers all transportation modes. There are six new issue areas - distraction, fire safety, infrastructure integrity, pipeline safety, positive train control and motor vehicle collision avoidance technologies. 

"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," Hersman said. "We want to highlight the results of our investigations and ensure that safety has a seat at the table when decisions are made."

The NTSB's 2013 Most Wanted List of transportation priorities includes:

* Improve Safety of Airport Surface Operations  

* Preserve the Integrity of Transportation Infrastructure  

* Enhance Pipeline Safety  

* Implement Positive Train Control Systems  

* Eliminate Substance-Impaired Driving  

* Improve the Safety of Bus Operations  

* Eliminate Distraction in Transportation  

* Improve Fire Safety in Transportation  

* Improve General Aviation Safety  

* Mandate Motor Vehicle Collision Avoidance Technologies


With a high-tech assist, Virginia safety officials teach the perils of texting, driving


ROCKY MOUNT, Va. - If it could work for a bottle of ketchup, surely it would at the scene of a mock car crash.


At least that was the reasoning a group of area traffic safety officers used when they applied a slew of checkered Quick Response codes to their standard crash presentation, given to middle school students each year.


Months of brainstorming and a $10,000 federal grant later, traffic officers, including Roanoke County police Sgt. Tim Wyatt, watched Thursday as students at the Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration in Rocky Mount huddled around a mangled car. The teens milled around the wreck, scanning QR codes with iPads.


"Oh my gosh!" one student yelled. "OK, that one is a little scary."


As students scanned, the codes initiated video and audio clips aimed at emphasizing the importance of wearing seat belts and avoiding texting while driving.


If the wreck scene in front of them wasn't enough - with its smashed Pontiac Sunfire and crash dummies splayed glumly across the asphalt - the shocking videos just inches from their faces drove the message home. And that's the type of interaction that officers like Wyatt want to achieve, especially in localities like Franklin County, where teen crashes this year have caught the attention of authorities.


The latest fatal crash in Franklin County involving teens happened in mid-October, near Boones Mill. Six people were involved in that crash, and two later died.


The Thursday safety presentation included demonstrations by officers with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and police from Bedford, Salem and Roanoke County. A Virginia State Police trooper was there, too.

"This is the most attentive I've seen them all day," said Salem police Detective Todd Cheyney, as he surveyed the scene.


The QR code concept was homegrown, dreamed up by Alisa Goodwin, an adult daughter of Steve Goodwin, a DMV transportation safety program manager. Steve Goodwin said that he's not aware of a program like it anywhere else in the state, and that he was pleased with how it evolved into a reality. Using DMV money granted by the federal government, Goodwin and a team of regional traffic officers purchased 13 iPads and set to work linking the codes to videos on their traffic safety website. They named the program ScanEd.

Goodwin said the code interaction changed the reach of the program by creating a one-on-one experience between students and the crash scene. Scanning a cellphone started a video that warned about texting and driving. A code on a piece of debris showed a video of crash aftermath.


"The first group, when they pulled up one video in particular, they were just like, 'Oh, wow!' " Steve Goodwin said.


Getting that reaction isn't always easy. The typical crash presentation includes three stations. One involves showing the effects of airbag deployment. Another allows students to wear warped goggles and get behind the wheel of a golf cart, an attempt to show how drunk driving can affect one's ability to operate a vehicle.

With so much activity, student attention can wander. But when Wyatt invited students to wear earphones and use the iPads, focus returned to the scene.


Wyatt has gone from school to school for several years, anywhere that will allow him to talk, he said. And during that time, the officer said he's seen teen crash numbers in Roanoke County decline. When he started, 25 percent to 34 percent of crashes involved teens, he said. That rate has dropped to 15 percent to 17 percent now.


"Obviously, we'd like to see it get lower," he said.


Michael Bowles, 13, said he was surprised by the code program and the videos attached to the scene. Instead of bland videos with standard messages, the teen said the experience wound up being much more intense.


"It makes you feel like, just don't drive and text," he said.


Information from: The Roanoke Times,


With pot legal, Wash., Colo. police worry about road safety


Statistics gathered for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 2009, a third of fatally injured drivers with known drug test results were positive for drugs other than alcohol.


Gene Johnson and Kristen Wyatt/Associated Press


DENVER - It's settled. Pot, at least certain amounts of it, will soon be legal under state laws in Washington and Colorado. Now, officials in both states are trying to figure out how to keep stoned drivers off the road.

Colorado's measure doesn't make any changes to the state's driving-under-the-influence laws, leaving lawmakers and police to worry about its effect on road safety.


"We're going to have more impaired drivers," warned John Jackson, police chief in the Denver suburb of Greenwood Village.


Washington's law does change DUI provisions by setting a new blood-test limit for marijuana - a limit police are training to enforce, and which some lawyers are already gearing up to challenge.


"We've had decades of studies and experience with alcohol," said Washington State Patrol spokesman Dan Coon. "Marijuana is new, so it's going to take some time to figure out how the courts and prosecutors are going to handle it. But the key is impairment: We will arrest drivers who drive impaired, whether it be drugs or alcohol."


Drugged driving is illegal, and nothing in the measures that Washington and Colorado voters passed this month to tax and regulate the sale of pot for recreational use by adults over 21 changes that. But law enforcement officials wonder about whether the ability to buy or possess marijuana legally will bring about an increase of marijuana users on the roads.


Statistics gathered for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 2009, a third of fatally injured drivers with known drug test results were positive for drugs other than alcohol. Among randomly stopped weekend nighttime drivers in 2007, more than 16 percent were positive for drugs.

Marijuana can cause dizziness and slowed reaction time, and drivers are more likely to drift and swerve while they're high.


Marijuana legalization activists agree people shouldn't smoke and drive. But setting a standard comparable to blood-alcohol limits has sparked intense disagreement, said Betty Aldworth, outreach director for Colorado's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.


Most convictions for drugged driving currently are based on police observations, followed later by a blood test.


"There is not yet a consensus about the standard rate for THC impairment," Aldworth said, referring to the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.


Unlike portable breath tests for alcohol, there's no easily available way to determine whether someone is impaired from recent pot use.


There are different types of tests for marijuana. Many workplaces test for an inactive THC metabolite that can be stored in body fat and remain detectable weeks after use. But tests for current impairment measure for active THC in the blood, and those levels typically drop within hours.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, peak THC concentrations are reached during the act of smoking, and within three hours, they generally fall to less than 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood - the same standard in Washington's law, one supporters describe as roughly equivalent to the .08 limit for alcohol.


Two other states - Ohio and the medical marijuana state of Nevada - have a limit of 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter. Pennsylvania's health department has a 5-nanogram guideline that can be introduced in driving violation cases, and a dozen states, including Illinois, Arizona, and Rhode Island, have zero-tolerance policies.

In Washington, police still have to observe signs of impaired driving before pulling someone over, Coon said. The blood would be drawn by a medical professional, and tests above 5 nanograms would automatically subject the driver to a DUI conviction.


Supporters of Washington's measure said they included the standard to allay fears that legalization could prompt a drugged-driving epidemic, but critics call it arbitrarily strict. They insist that medical patients who regularly use cannabis would likely fail even if they weren't impaired.


They also worry about the law's zero-tolerance policy for those under 21. College students who wind up convicted even if they weren't impaired could lose college loans, they argue.


Jon Fox, a Seattle-area DUI attorney, said he's interested in challenging Washington's new standard as unconstitutional. Under due process principles, he said, people are entitled to know what activity is prohibited. If scientists can't tell someone how much marijuana it will take for him or her to test over the threshold, how is the average pot user supposed to know?


By contrast, he noted, the science on alcohol is well established. Some states publish charts estimating how many drinks it will take a person of a certain weight over a certain time to reach .08.


But such a challenge to Nevada's marijuana DUI limit failed in 2002, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature has broad authority to set driving standards. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that case, said Las Vegas DUI attorney Michael Becker.


"Marijuana affects everyone differently," Becker said. "The prevailing opinion of forensic toxicologists is that a 2-nanograms standard, such as exists in Nevada, absolutely results in convictions where individuals are not actually under the influence. But the 5-nanograms standard more closely approaches the mean threshold of prevailing opinion."


Colorado's legalization measure didn't set a driving standard - an intentional omission by the activists who wrote it because the issue has proven divisive. Lawmakers in Colorado, which has an established medical marijuana industry, have tried but failed three times to set a THC driving limit.


Drugged driving cases in Colorado were up even before the legalization vote. In 2009, the state toxicology lab obtained 791 THC-positive samples from suspected impaired drivers. Last year, it had 2,030 THC-positive samples.


Colorado lawmakers are preparing to take up driving standards yet again when they convene next year.

"I believe a 5-nanogram limit will save lives," said Colorado Republican state Sen. Steve King, sponsor of previous driving-high bills.


US Seat Belt Use Reaches Record High In 2012 


redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online


A record 86% of Americans buckled up in 2012, up 2 percentage points from 2011, according to an annual survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).


"When it comes to driving safely, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your family is to use a seat belt," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement released with the annual report.


The greatest improvements in seat belt use occurred in the South, where compliance rates rose from 80% in 2011 to 85% this year. The West has the highest percentage of seat belt use, at 94%.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual survey, "seat belt use has steadily increased since 1994, coinciding with a decline in the percentage of unrestrained daytime passenger vehicle fatalities."


"Thanks to the ongoing work of our state and local partners and national efforts such as 'Click it or Ticket,' we've made steady gains in belt use in recent years," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.


"Moving forward, it will be critical to build on this success using a multi-faceted approach that combines good laws, effective enforcement, and public education and awareness."


The NHTSA noted that 32 states and the District of Columbia have "primary laws" that require seat belt use. These laws mean occupants can be pulled over solely for not using seat belts. Another 17 states have weaker, "secondary laws" that allow motorists to be cited for not wearing seat belts only when they have been pulled over for another violation.


"New Hampshire is the only state that has not enacted either a primary or secondary seat belt law, though the state's primary child passenger safety law applies to all drivers and passengers under the age of 18," the NHTSA said.


The annual survey is the only nationwide probability-based observational survey of seat belt use in the United States. The NHTSA enlisted observers who watched for seat belt use as it actually occurred at randomly selected roadway sites, thus providing the best tracking of the extent to which passenger vehicle occupants are buckling up.


The NHTSA's full report

Seat belt use in Louisiana at record high 79.3 percent


Seat belt use in Louisiana reached a record high of 79.3 percent this year, a factor officials believe is contributing to the state's declining highway death rate. The 79.3 percent rate is an increase from last year's 77.7 percent, which itself matched a previous all-time high.

Preliminary crash statistics for 2011 indicate that Louisiana's highway death toll declined for the fourth consecutive year. Prior to the beginning of the decline in 2008, the number of traffic fatalities had increased most years since record keeping began.


Seat belt use in Louisiana reached a record high of 79.3 percent this year, a factor officials believe is contributing to the state's declining highway death rate. The 79.3 percent rate is an increase from last year's 77.7 percent, which itself matched a previous all-time high.

Preliminary crash statistics for 2011 indicate that Louisiana's highway death toll declined for the fourth consecutive year. Prior to the beginning of the decline in 2008, the number of traffic fatalities had increased most years since record keeping began.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said the numerous programs sponsored by and coordinated between the Commission, State Police, local law enforcement agencies, the Department of Transportation and Development and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, are playing a role in increased seat belt use and the decreased number of lives lost in crashes.

LeBlanc explained that studies conducted by NHTSA have shown that public education combined with increased enforcement is an effective means of improving driver behavior.

"The repeated Click It or Ticket campaigns we've coordinated across the state are raising awareness of the importance of always using seat belts," LeBlanc said. "However, more than half of the people killed in crashes in Louisiana are not buckled up, meaning we still have lots of work to do in this area."

State Police Superintendent Col. Michael Edmonson said the state's safety programs are having a positive effect.

"I am thankful to the law enforcement and public safety officials across the state who everyday make the safety of our citizens a priority," Edmonson said. "I am also thankful to the general public who have heard our message and are making the right choices when operating vehicles on our highways."

Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri H. LeBas emphasized the important role that partnerships between the public and agencies play.

"Safety is our number one priority, and we are proud to support initiatives that encourage safe driving practices on Louisiana's roadways. It is through strong partnerships and initiatives such as this that motor-vehicle fatalities in Louisiana have dropped to an all-time low," LeBas said.

Most of the Commission's efforts--including grants it provides to local enforcement agencies--are funded by NHTSA, which coordinates the holiday campaigns on a national scale. NHTSA, Louisiana and many other states participate in Click It or Ticket, the nation's largest campaign dedicated to increasing seat belt use. Louisiana first participated in Click It or Ticket in 2003, which resulted in a five percentage point increase in statewide use of seat belts.

According to NHTSA, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injuries by 50 percent. A majority of the people killed in crashes in Louisiana were not buckled up. An estimated eight lives are saved in Louisiana for every one percentage point increase in seat belt use.

Seat belt use varied widely between regions of Louisiana as well as by type of vehicle driven and whether those surveyed were males or females. The highest rate of seat belt use by vehicle type was 85.5 percent for occupants of vans, followed by 82.9 percent for SUV occupants, 82 percent for car occupants, and 71.7 percent for pickup truck occupants.

Seat belt use in Louisiana has traditionally lagged behind the national average, which was 84 percent in 2011. Louisiana has what is called a "primary enforcement" law, meaning that officers can stop and ticket people they observe violating the seat belt law. Louisiana law requires drivers and front- and back-seat passengers to wear seat belts while a vehicle is in motion. NHTSA reports that states with primary enforcement laws, as Louisiana has, generally tend to have higher usage rates.

Preusser Research Group, Inc., with the assistance of Dr. Helmut Schneider of LSU, conducted the observational seat belt survey for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. A total of 68,963 drivers and front-seat passengers were observed at 390 locations in all regions of the state.

Seat belt use by region in the 2012 survey was as follows:
Lake Charles 85.6 percent
Lafayette 83.7 percent
New Orleans 81.2 percent
Houma 80.4 percent
Shreveport 79.8 percent
Baton Rouge 73.5 percent
Alexandria 72.8 percent
Monroe 62.5 percent


After car booster seat laws, child deaths fell



By Amy Norton


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - U.S. states with laws requiring kids to ride in car booster seats have had fewer child deaths in accidents, especially among 6- and 7-year-olds, researchers reported Monday.


Nearly all U.S. states require that children who have outgrown traditional car seats use a car booster seat, which raises a child high enough so that seatbelts can be positioned properly - with the shoulder strap across the shoulder (not the neck), and the lap belt across the hips.


Florida and South Dakota are the only states that don't mandate booster seats. But the other states vary in their age requirements, and many don't require booster seats for 6- and 7-year-olds.


But in the new study, researchers found that after states began passing booster seat laws, fewer children ages 4 to 7 died in car accidents - and the biggest differences were seen in older kids.


Between 1999 and 2009, states that started requiring booster seats had an 11 percent lower risk of child traffic deaths compared with states without a law. When the booster law included 6- and 7-year-olds, deaths dropped by about one-quarter, versus states with no booster seat mandate.


"I think parents may think that as kids get older, they need booster seats less," said senior researcher Dr. Lois K. Lee of Children's Hospital Boston.


"But this shows that it's kids at the upper end of the age range who could benefit the most," Lee said in an interview.


Already, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that children should ride in car seats with a harness until they are 4 years old, or have outgrown the seat. After that, they should use a booster seat until they're between 8 and 12 years old, or have reached 4 feet, 9 inches in height.


Based on the current findings, Lee said, "I think states should consider extending their age limits to match the AAP guidelines."



The findings, which appear in the journal Pediatrics, are based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for 1999 through 2009. In 1999, no U.S. state had a car booster seat law; by 2009, nearly all had passed one.


Among states that passed a law, traffic deaths among 4- and 5-year-olds fell from an average of 5.7 per 100,000 before the law, to 4.2 per 100,000.


The researchers then looked at states whose laws covered 6-year-olds. The average death rate among kids that age dipped from 2.3 to 1.5 per 100,000.


In states that covered 7-year-olds -- 16 of them in 2009 -- the average death rate among those kids did not decline. But when the researchers accounted for other factors, like other new driving laws, booster seat laws were linked to a one-quarter lower death rate among 7-year-olds.


Lee said that regardless of what your state law is, the best way to keep your child safe in the car is to follow the AAP guideline on booster seats.


Of course, getting your 8-year-old to agree to get in a booster seat can be a challenge, Lee acknowledged. "That's one way legislation helps parents," she noted. "They can tell their child it's the law."


For booster seats to work, they do have to be installed and used correctly. And research has found that families often make mistakes, such as improperly positioning or latching the seatbelts.


Parents who need advice on using booster seats can go to online sources like the NHTSA website ( and Safe Kids USA (


The NHTSA site also lets parents search for local inspection stations where they can get help installing and using car safety seats.


SOURCE: Pediatrics, online November 5, 2012.


CHP launches campaign to fight driver drowsiness



By Gary Richards


California drivers, you better not be yawning behind the wheel this week. It could lead to a wake-up call from the California Highway Patrol.


The CHP will lead a weeklong campaign along with the National Sleep Foundation and local police to alert motorists to the perils of driving while sleepy -- which is nearly as risky as driving drunk, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


That agency found that, after 17 hours of being awake, a person's motor skills were affected in the same manner as if that person had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent.


"Along with drunk driving, tired driving can lead to accidents, too," said Jose Geronimo of Milpitas. "I know because I was one of those people."


The sales analyst at Juniper said 12 years ago he was driving home on Highway 237 after midnight when, tired and groggy, he dozed off and hit a divider near Interstate 880. The crash broke the axle on his car but he was not injured.


But he was sleepy. He even tried to keep driving after the crash, but Milpitas police stopped him.

"I thought I just had a flat tire so I tried to drive home," Geronimo said. "Probably shock had something to do with the irrational thinking."


The CHP says drowsy driving caused more than 3,600 collisions, 32 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries in California in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available.


Nationwide, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that falling asleep while driving results in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year.


And a survey by the National Sleep Foundation says 60 percent of adult drivers -- about 168 million people -- have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy each year, and more than one-third have fallen asleep.


The problem grows worse this time of year as drivers hit the road on long trips for the Veterans Day weekend, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays, sometimes leaving late at night or early in the morning to avoid California's notorious traffic jams.


How can a traffic cop tell if a driver is dozing off?

"Their driving pattern is very similar to that of an intoxicated driver," said Belmont officer Clyde Hussey. "Driving unusually slow, impeding traffic, drifting across lanes, driving on the shoulder. It is absolutely true that a drowsy driver can, in many cases, be as great a danger on the road as an intoxicated driver."


On the freeway, the CHP looks for drivers who speed up and slow down, straddle lanes and ride the Botts' dots. Many are caught during DUI crackdowns, sometimes getting tickets for what got a cop's attention -- unsafe lane changes, crossing double yellow lines, running red lights.  

Some drivers try to combat drowsiness by rolling down their windows or turning up the radio, said Chris Cochran of the state Office of Traffic Safety. That doesn't work.


Those efforts are "good for only a minute or two," Cochran said. "It doesn't help rid your brain of the sleep-inducing chemicals that are causing you to nod off."  

So what is a groggy person to do if there is not a passenger to share the driving?

"Plan stops so they can take a 15-minute nap or stop to stretch their legs every few hours," Cochran said. "A 15- to 30-minute nap is often better than an hour or two nap. The short nap changes the brain chemistry just enough to ward off the drowsiness for a couple of hours, whereas the longer nap can put you into a lethargy that takes time to wear off, if at all."


For Geronimo, the frightening memory of slamming into the barrier on 237 hasn't worn off.

"I don't drink and drive," he said, "and now, I don't drive when I'm tired."


Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.

  • Get enough sleep, at least seven to nine hours, to help maintain alertness. Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
  • Pull off the road and take a 15-minute nap.
  • On long road trips, schedule breaks every couple of hours or every 100 miles.
  • Travel with a companion who can take a turn behind the wheel.
  • Avoid alcohol or medications that cause drowsiness.
  • Consume caffeine to increase alertness.
  • Stop for food or beverages. Avoid eating while driving.

Sources: CHP, Office of Traffic Safety, National Sleep Foundation


Three New Research Briefs on Walking/Bicycling to School   


Use them to strengthen your message


Active Living Research recently released three new research briefs featuring evidence on policies, programs and practices that support walking and bicycling to school. When children can safely and easily walk or bicycle to school, they get more physical activity - something that can help prevent obesity and promote good health. Research can help make the case for Safe Routes to School to legislators, funders, school officials, city officials and parents, so share the info you find in these three briefs to strengthen your message:


The Impact of State Safe Routes to School-related Laws on Active Travel to School Policies and Practices in U.S. Elementary Schools


Program Practices and Demographic Factors Associated with Federal Funding for the Safe Routes to School Program in the United States


Impact of a Pilot Walking School Bus Intervention on Children's Pedestrian Safety Behaviors: A Pilot Study