This past November, the Fleet Safety Conference took place as a stand-alone track within the Fleet Forward Conference. The keynote speaker, Bruce Landsberg, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), gave an engaging and eye-opening presentation entitled, “NTSB Analysis: Crash Causes, Solutions and the Future”. Bruce’s impressive career spans over four decades. Before becoming the 43rd sworn-in member of the NTSB, he served as executive director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Foundation and then as president of the AOPA Foundation and Air Safety Institute from 1992 until 2014. Using anecdotal humor combined with persuasive statistics, Bruce introduced several noteworthy concepts – also echoed in other safety presentations – worth sharing.
Marijuana is now fully legalized in twenty states. An August, 31st 2022 article by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cites a recent study which has found an association between the legalization of marijuana and an increase in vehicle collisions. According to the Institute, the study showed that “After legalization and the launch of retail sales, there was a 5.8% rise in the incidence of traffic collision injuries and a 4.1% increase in the rate of fatal crashes.”
Bruce describes having investigated multiple crashes where someone was a little high on pot claiming it is not as bad as alcohol. And, his response is, “Well. It depends. Here’s the challenge – it is really hard to measure. With alcohol, we can do a good measurement and figure out roughly how impaired somebody is. But with cannabis, we are still working on that.” He then poses the question to the audience: “Are you testing your people periodically?” In commercial aviation, pilots and crew members are tested randomly before they get on a flight or after they have just landed to make sure they are not impaired and adhering to rules.
Our very own Associate Vice President of Product, Dan Belknap, moderated another session entitled, “Driving in a World of Distractions, Impairment and Rage”. In this session, Phil Moser from Driving Dynamics and an expert in the field of vehicle crash reconstruction, emphasized the importance of addressing marijuana use suggesting putting policy in place around drug and alcohol testing. For example, one policy could be that it is a dismissible offense for an employee to refuse drug testing. Phil questions, “Why would a driver refuse a test? They don’t want it proven they were impaired.” He also mentioned drug recognition experts who are trained in detecting impairment from marijuana and other drugs using field sobriety tests.
C17H21NO – Diphenhydramine
Continuing on with the topic of impairment, Bruce showed the audience the following chemical symbol: C17H21NO. No one knew what it was. It turns out it is the symbol for diphenhydramine – an impairing substance found in all kinds of over-the-counter medications including Benadryl. It is also found in certain blood pressure medications. On every box containing it, there is a warning labels that clearly states not to use it if you are going to be operating machinery. And Bruce is clear that vehicles are machinery. He counseled that drivers need to be aware of the drug and its effects and he recommended that if a driver does use the drug, he should double the dosing interval before driving so that it is flushed out of his system. It is interesting to note that diphenhydramine is a prohibited drug in aviation.
Get off the Phone
We all know texting and driving is bad. According to Forbes.com, “Sending or reading a text that takes your eyes off the road for five seconds while driving 55 mph is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.” But here is another startling statistic. According to Phil Moser, “If you are talking on the phone while you are driving hands free or with a headset, your likelihood of crashing increases to be as much as a person with a .08 blood alcohol concentration.” So, you might ask, isn’t talking on the phone the same as holding a conversation with other passengers? And the answer is no. Phil states, “Studies show that it takes more cognitive ability to talk over the phone than in person.” And he concludes with an emphatic dictate: “The phone call is not worth it. Please talk to your drivers. Put policies in place. No phones.”
Bruce from the NTSB echoed this same sentiment when he described an ongoing debate he has with his son who contends that he is not going to have a problem because he uses a hands-free phone. But to Bruce, with hands or without makes no difference. Talking on the phone is a cognitive distraction. He pointed to his head and explained that, unlike computers, we humans have one core processing unit meaning we cannot simultaneously process things.
According to Phil, in 2021, there were 43,000 traffic fatalities, up 16% from 2019. There were 4.4 million serious traffic related injuries requiring hospitalization meaning 1 in 52 licensed drivers were impacted. He concluded his presentation by predicting that marijuana use will meet or exceed alcohol on the road and that it, along with distraction, are the two main causes for the marked increase in traffic fatalities and we should all be upset by it. He called for a culture shift – one in which phone use while driving becomes as taboo as smoking on an airplane.
Bruce concluded his presentation by conjuring up the famous Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing”, asking the audience to replace the word ‘winning’ with ‘safety’ because, as he poignantly reminded everyone, “After we’ve had a crash, nothing else matters. The trip we were taking. The people we were going to visit. If lives were lost, it is an irrevocable circumstance.”
If you would like to learn more about how we can help you establish an effective safety program, please contact us.