Among the National Transportation Safety Board’s annual Top 10 “Most Wanted List” of safety improvements are stopping distracted driving and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
In 2018, 400,000 people were injured and in 2019 3,142 were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, which makes it a top priority.
Personal electronic devices, like cell phones and tablets, are among the greatest contributors to driver distraction, the board notes.
It says most drivers mistakenly believe that hands-free is risk free. Using a device hands-free does not reduce driver distraction; in fact, drivers are still distracted by the conversation, NTSB warns.
“Many drivers believe they can multitask and still operate a vehicle safely,” the board says. “But multitasking is a myth. Humans can only focus cognitive attention on one task at a time. That’s why the driving task should be a driver’s sole focus.”
Although states are making some progress addressing this issue, no state has implemented the board’s call for a ban on use of personal electronic devices while driving except in emergencies.
The NTSB also urges employers and fleet owners to adopt policies that would prohibit cell phone use while driving or require the use of lockout features when using company vehicles.
Drugs and Booze
In 2019, 10,142 crash deaths involved drivers with BACs of .08% or higher, representing 28% of all traffic fatalities. Many of these impaired-driving crashes involve drivers who both drink and use other drugs (legal, illicit and over the counter).
Complicating matters, each year more states are passing laws allowing the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, which creates the need for additional public education and new methods for measuring impairment, the board argues.
Too many alcohol-impaired crashes involve drivers previously convicted of drunk driving, NTSB says. All states need to implement laws requiring drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving to use an interlock device, preventing future impaired driving.
“Impaired driving is 100% preventable,” the board says. “We know a per se blood alcohol content of .08 g/dl is too high. States need to lower per se BACs to .05%, an action only Utah has taken.”
It adds that we don’t really know how extensive the drug-impaired driving problem is. Unlike for alcohol, no standardized drug-testing protocols exist. There is no established limit or threshold to determine other drug impairment. Also, evaluating the impact of other drugs on drivers is challenging because many drugs impair individuals differently than alcohol.
“Bottom line: we need to develop better drug-testing procedures and tests,” NTSB says, and identifying best practices and science-based countermeasures to prevent drug-impaired driving.
The board also calls for developing a standard of practice for drug toxicology testing; improving roadside oral-fluid screening devices to detect drug-impaired drivers; and finalizing development of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology.
Other items on the NTSB Wish List include a natiownide effort to reduce speeding, which in 2018 killed 9,378 people. “The true extent of the problem is likely underestimated because the reporting of speeding-related crashes is inconsistent,” it notes.
The board wants to see speed-limiters on large trucks, automated enforcement, expert speed analysis tools and education campaigns it says are underused. It advocates changing laws to remove operational and location restrictions on the use of automated speed enforcement.
The NTSB also wants to see collision-avoidance and connected-vehicle technologies incorprated into all types of road vehicles.