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NTSB official cites driver fatigue as a primary cause of accidents

Driver fatigue remains a primary cause of serious transportation accidents throughout the United States, says Marion Blakey, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman. “Many times and throughout all modes of transportation, our investigations have found that lost sleep equals lost lives,” he says.

The NTSB chairman re-emphasized the board’s recommendations that the Department of Transportation and its modal agencies establish scientifically-based hours-of-service regulations that reasonably limit duty hours and provide adequate time for rest.

“We are a nation on the move 24 hours a day and this increasingly exposes all of us to the dangers of operator fatigue, not only when we travel but also where we live, work, and play,” said Blakey. “Combating fatigue is not just a problem for government, or for the pilot, ship’s officer, train engineer, or truck driver, it is the collective responsibility of each and every person who operates a vehicle.”

The NTSB is highlighting its ongoing concern to raise public consciousness on the need for vehicle operators to be well rested. “Each year, highway crashes cause the most transportation-related fatalities,” said Blakey. “Of these crashes, recent research shows 100,000 of them involved drowsy driving, and resulted in 1,500 fatalities.”

In other modes of transportation, development of effective fatigue countermeasures has been a perennial priority on the Safety Board’s “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements. Analysis of marine vessel casualties cite fatigue as a cause in 16 percent of accidents. In aviation, the Safety Board recently completed an investigation of an American Airlines crash with 10 fatalities and 105 injuries in Little Rock, Arkansas, where pilot fatigue was a contributing factor. On the nation’s rails, fatigue contributed to nearly 20 accidents over the last decade.

A 1999 Safety Board study of government efforts to address the fatigue issue found that, despite a number of initiatives, little progress had been made in revising regulations to incorporate the latest research on sleep issues. “We can do more to stem the fatalities, injuries, and property damage that result from operators who should be in bed rather than behind the wheel,” Blakey said.

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