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.


Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America




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

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