Misleading Highway Safety Info from the NTSB – Part 1

Inaccurate information on highway safety is a regrettably common from not only state governments but also Federal Government departments in the USA and this undoubtedly misleads the American people badly.  In this article, I will discuss the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB].

In October 2003, the NTSB  hosted the Public Forum on Driver Education and Training at their Washington DC facility, which I attended on behalf of the not-for-profit organization Drive & Stay Alive.

One of the speakers was Dr. Allen Robinson, the director of and professor in the Highway Safety Center at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and also the chief executive officer of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association [ADTSEA].

Astonishingly, Dr. Robinson made the following, extraordinary claim during his presentation:  “The fatality rate of drivers in the United States is far better than any other country. You know, sometimes we don’t step back and look at our successes. Even though our fatality rate is much better than any other country, it’s not satisfactory to us.”

To simply say that this claim was inaccurate would in itself be wildly short of the mark.  At that point in time, the USA was in dreadful 29th position out of the 30 member-nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] with a per capita road death rate over four-times higher/worse then the leading nations.  It was also second-last in the deaths-by-distance-travelled rate (which America refers to as “VMT”) and not at all good in the rate of deaths relative to the number of registered motor vehicles in this country.  Those are the three regular measures for road death rates.

It is hard to see how Dr. Robinson’s claim could be any further from being accurate.

Questions for speakers at this event could only be submitted in writing, on filing cards supplied by the NTSB, so I submitted a deliberately very polite question asking what metric Dr. Robinson was using for his claim about the USA rate being better than any other countries when, in fact, it was the opposite.  I then watched as the cards were gathered together on a desk at the front of the auditorium and as the man sat at the desk flicked through them, one card got his attention and he summoned a colleague to see it.  That card was then removed from the stack and set aside.  My question was subsequently not asked.  **That,** dear NTSB, is called censorship and was all the worse because my question was entirely accurate, unlike Dr. Robinson’s claim.

My next bout of astonishment occurred when the NTSB subsequently published their report of the proceedings, viz:

National Transportation Safety Board Public Forum on Driver Education and Training, October 28-29, 2003. Report of Proceedings. NTSB/RP-05/01. PB2005-917003. Notation 633A.

…and there, in the second paragraph on page 34, was Dr. Robinson’s entirely erroneous claim.  I contacted the NTSB and after challenges getting past gatekeepers to speak to someone nearer the top, I asked why such an inaccurate claim had been allowed to remain in the proceedings when it was clearly so very misleading and capable of making people think that there wasn’t a problem with America’s road death rates — let alone a very serious problem — and that therefore nothing needed to be done about it.  I was given the answer that the document was merely a verbatim record of proceedings and that it wasn’t the NTSB’s task to edit it.

Really?  Not edited?  Perhaps that would be why, at the foot of the first page of the Executive Summary, the report states: “Some of the speakers’ remarks in these proceedings have been edited.”

An online search for the above “Proceedings” document rather expectably now shows it to have been circulated and cited around the world.  Ironically, one of the websites that has it on display is (was?) Dr. Robinson’s organization, ADTSEA.

As stated above, I complained about this unprofessional situation back in 2003-04 and I wouldn’t have come back to the topic now, except for the fact that recently there has been more very misleading information coming from the NTSB on exactly the same subject of road death rates.

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Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

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See: Misleading Highway Safety Info from the NTSB – Part 2

See: Officials Mislead America About Highway Safety (article from 2003)

 

 

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

6 thoughts on “Misleading Highway Safety Info from the NTSB – Part 1”

  1. It is indeed quite staggering that such a preposterous error can be made by someone who is supposed to be in a position of authority and credence. Every road safety professional in Europe and probably most around the world knows that the USA has a shocking record of road safety. If we use such a basic measurement of fatalities per 100,000 head of population, a rate that is well used in the UN/WHO Global Reports, the figures as used in the latest report (2015) show that the USA had a rate of 10.2 which compares poorly with other countries, UK at 2.9, Sweden at 2.8, The Netherlands at 3.4, France at 5.1, Germany at 4.3, Spain at 3.7 and even Italy at 6.1. Outside of Europe there other countries which show a better rate, namely Australia at 5.4, New Zealand at 6.0 and Japan at 4.7.
    If Dr. Robinson thinks his country is doing well then he should consider his country has a similar fatals/100,000 population rate to Azerbaijan (10), Croatia (9.2), Greece (9.1) and The Philippines (10.5). Not exactly hotbeds of road safety!
    I don’t which is worse, getting the information wrong in the first place or trying to cover up the colossal error by official action. Either way it leaves Dr. Robinson’s credibility and the Transportation Board Safety Board’s reputation both in complete tatters.

  2. I was a member of the Transportation Research Boards AFB20 Roadside Safety Design until most recently.
    I gave a Keynote presentation in New Orleans at the AFB20 summer meeting in July 2013.
    Some ATSB folks were in the Audience I recal.
    These were the statistics I had collected and presented for the USA:
    1.83 million road fatalities to date (only since 1966)
    1.33 million deaths from all wars (including US Civil war)
    72,000 fatalities – natural and man-made disasters in the USA
    US annual costs of Road trauma: $310 Billion
    Each day: 112 deaths (or a death every 12 minutes); 6043 injuries
    Each week: 785 deaths; 42,307 injuries
    Iraq war 4,409 US total killed up to the date of the presentation around 6 weeks or US road deaths
    I showed that USA’s deaths were 11 per 100,000 in 2010, 25th in the OECD and only 3rd last with Greece and Poland having a worse record.
    The USA is still the 3rd worst performer at 10.2 per 100,000 only ahead of Chile and Argentina (30th out of OECD nations).
    Even on a per 10,000 vehicle and per billion vehicle kilometres the USA is one of the worst performers of the OECD.
    See: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/transport/road-safety-annual-report-2016_irtad-2016-en
    All road safety ‘Internationals’ know this so I am surprised to read your posting about the ignorance of the facts well known by people beside Dr. Robinson.
    I also noted in my presentation that the design rule was accepted by US road engineers that around 15-20% of people will not recover from a crash based on US AASHTO Road Design Guidelines.
    I suggested this might be called this Vision 20% in contrast to Sweden’s Vision Zero?
    The question I asked the audience is how many do you think should die on roads?
    Watch this to find out what we think in our Australian State of Victoria. Guess what our philosophy and vision is?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsyvrkEjoXI
    I then went one to explain the Safe System approach that underpins the UN Decade of Action, World Bank and WHO’s approach to road safety and that Europe’s best practice countries were 1/3 the rate of the USA on all measures.
    To be fair, since those days where a bunch of us ‘Internationals’ were pointing this out for a while, a lot of lobbying was going on (and continues) in the background by some very determined US road safety professionals, among them Mike Dreznes from the International Road Federation whose head office is located in the USA. I recall Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr prior to joining the ATSB was also a very strong supporter of adopting this philosophy.
    I am a bit puzzled about the latest statement.
    The US now has Towards Zero Deaths which is supported by AASHTO.
    http://www.towardzerodeaths.org/strategy/news/
    I agree that maybe Dr. Robinson should be reminded of this that many learned US professionals have better data than he has obtained.
    Maybe he should hire one of them as his information source.

    1. Hello, Raphael. I ‘know’ you well, through your many papers and comments over the years and I’m delighted that you have replied to my post.

      Like you, I have commented on this subject as a speaker at various conferences here in the USA but I get very frustrated at what Americans call “being ‘yessed’ to death” and then the subject goes very quiet. My point is actually illustrated by the fact that while Dr. Robinson did make the precise comments I referred to, it became clear that none of the high-ranking highway safety professionals in the NTSB auditorium complained about any inaccuracy (only one question card was removed from those submitted) and despite the NTSB statement that their proceedings document had been edited they had apparently decided to leave in the staggeringly inaccurate claims made by Dr. Robinson. Naturally, this makes me wonder: “Why would they do this?” The answer, presumably can only be either incompetence (despite my communications with them in the interim) or a willingness to say nothing about wildly misleading information. If the latter, then to what purpose? Could it be some sort of unwritten policy to somehow keep either the Government or the American public at least partially in the dark? I don’t know the answer, but whatever that it is, the end result is worrying.

      You also mention Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr but you will find relevant comments in the linked web page: ‘Misleading Highway Safety Info’ from the NTSB – Part 2’, at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/2017/05/27/misleading-highway-safety-info-from-the-ntsb-part-2/

      That important event was just one of many I have attended in America, where the apparently inconvenient truths of the poor state of highway safety in the USA remained unspoken and I was often rather unpopular if I injected them via questions. With or without my apparently unpopular mentions of this subject, I regret that I have too often heard comments that amounted to ‘hogwash’ — or perhaps that should be ‘whitewash’ –by professionals up to and including a serving Administrator of NHTSA!

      Just for clarity, the International Road Federation [IRF], of which I am a former director, rather confusingly has two headquarters: one in Washington DC, the other in Geneva.

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