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NTSB Safety Priority List Reflects California Transportation Safety Needs

planes, trains, automobilesThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just released its “Most Wanted” list, which reflects what it feels should be priorities for transportation safety in the U.S. moving forward into 2014.  These priorities are all well in line with what I see as transportation safety needs for California as well.  They include the following:

  1. Subways, Commuter and Light Rails: The report indicates that there are still active, pending investigations of rail crashes causing injury or death in various light rail incidents across the U.S. including incidents involving Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in the San Francisco Bay Area.  As cities in California including Los Angeles and San Diego continue to develop more light rail projects such as the Metro Lines in L.A. or the San Diego Trolley system, there will inevitably be light rail crashes that prompt calls for further safety measures in the Golden State.  Los Angeles intends to extend their subway system further into West Los Angeles / Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley, for instance and increased ridership will, no doubt result in some additional mishaps.  The key is determining cause in these incidents and trying to use this information to improve railway safety by modifying equipment and / or operational practices.
  2. Helicopter Operations: The NTSB article points out that helicopter traffic continues to increase especially in urban areas as more and more copters are being used for various purposes like law enforcement support, news gathering, medical services, and transportation.  Between 2003 and 2013, there were 1,470 helicopter crashes nationwide, which resulted in 477 deaths and 274 serious injuries.  Urban areas of California like Los Angeles have seen an increase in aviation traffic including helicopters and will no doubt need to heed the call for further safety to prevent such mishaps here in CA.
  3. Occupant Protection and Passenger Vessel Safety: The NTSB will has and will continue to place a greater emphasis on passenger safety.  As pointed out by the press release, there have been numerous incidents involving passenger trains, buses and other carriers where a lack of proper maintenance by the carriers coupled with inadequate oversight by safety officials has led to accidents causing injury or death.  There were several, high-profile incidents of this with commercial buses as I pointed out in a post a few weeks back (
  4. Distraction: Countless studies have now concluded that the use of portable electronic devices while operating any mode of transport including automobiles, big-rig trucks, boats and marine vessels, trains and aviation vehicles leads to more mishaps.  The NTSB states an intent to not only support state laws like California’s ban on the use of non-hands free devices behind the wheel but, to also continue to support both governments and companies in educating consumers and employees about the dangers of distracted driving and to set policies as to what companies expect of their drivers with regard to use of cell phones.
  5. Fire Safety: Of particular concern for the agency are recent incidents where fire was caused by a power source.  The agency is also trying to better emphasize improving fire detection and suppression to also improve surviveability.  Fire accidents in California cause hundreds of injuries and deaths every year and the very scenario mentioned in the study (i.e. fires caused from power source ignitions) has been the cause of several blazes in CA in recent years.
  6. General Aviation: Based upon numerous accident investigations involving small and larger aircraft, the NTSB has concluded that weather plays a major role in these crashes.  Improvements need to be made in detecting bad weather conditions and in communicating same to pilots prior to take off.  While California enjoys some of the best temperate weather in the U.S., there have been incidents where rain, sleet and even snow (in some of the moutain regions of CA) have caused plane crashes.
  7. Pipeline Safety: The U.S. has two and a half million miles of pipeline delivering oil and natural gas resources to industry and consumers in the U.S.  Failure to properly inspect and/or maintain this infrastructure has led to many explosion and fire incidents causing injury and death in the U.S. in recent years.  There can be no more stark example of this than the recent “San Bruno blast” in northern California, which destroyed homes and injured and killed many victims.  Tighter controls are needed to prevent future, similar catastrophes according to the NTSB.
  8. Positive Train Control:  There are currently regulation in place that require train operators to install and use a monitoring and control system that automatically slows certain trains if sensors indicate that their speed or location may cause a derailment or collision.  The problem is that there are large stretches of track where this system is not being fully implemented.  Train collisions and derailments, while rare, can and do happen and have caused major injuries and fatalities in California including the METRO railway collision near Los Angeles just recently.
  9. Substance Impaired Driving: In 2012 alone (the most recent year studied by the NTSB), there were over 10,000 fatalities related to alcohol-impaired drivers.  They have stated a priority to continue working on ways to educate drivers and otherwise reduce incidents where motor vehicle operators are consuming alcohol or other drugs, getting behind the wheel, and causing traffic collisions.  California saw a fairly steady volume of DUI arrests and drunk driving accidents in the past few years.  Additionally, because medical marijuana is legal in the state and CA may follow suit of other states in completely legalizing the drug, impairment of drivers may increase.

The National Transportation Safety Board is one of the main federal agencies charged with finding ways to reduce transportation related incidents which kill and maim scores of people every year in the United States.  As a California personal injury lawyer, I feel that the Golden State and their elected officials should heed the call of priority lists like this one to better research and fund ways to improve the safety of our roads, airports, and other transportation means!



National Transportation Safety Board: Top 10 Most Wanted List of Transportation Improvements for 2014, Press Release, January 16, 2014

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