Although transportation safety has improved in recent decades, a significant number of people continue to be killed or injured. These incidents may involve highway vehicles, railways, air carriers, or buses.
Many safety problems can be prevented through policy changes, enforcement of traffic laws, and other measures. Engineering techniques can also improve roadway safety. For example, applying high-friction surface treatments can reduce skidding that can cause crashes.
In the simplest sense, transportation safety is defined as the ability to travel safely between various points without being injured. Transportation professionals study how to minimize the number and severity of crashes by improving road infrastructure, educating drivers, and promoting safe behavior. While eliminating all motor vehicle accidents is impossible, focusing on those that result in serious injuries or fatalities is a primary goal of many agencies.
The overall improvement in roadway design, engineering, and maintenance practices is a major factor in reducing traffic-related deaths. However, there are other contributing factors as well, such as driver impairment due to alcohol or drugs, cellphone use while driving, and the lack of safety equipment (such as seat belts and DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets).
NHTSA investigates vehicle defects, sets fuel economy standards, helps States and local communities reduce drunk driving, promotes safety belts, child safety seats, and airbags, enforces odometer fraud, and researches motor vehicle safety topics. Transportation-related injuries have decreased across all modes of travel since 2000, with the largest reduction in highway modes.
Some States are adopting Vision Zero policies, which aim to eliminate traffic fatalities through changes to infrastructure and laws. Other strategies include the application of surface treatments that increase friction and make skidding less likely, particularly on mountainous roads and corridors with sharp turns. These improvements are in addition to other efforts, such as educating drivers on how to reduce risky behaviors and encouraging everyone to perform daily inspections of their vehicles and towing equipment.
Freight trains are generally held up as the safest way to transport massive shipments of hazardous chemicals across the country, but it’s no secret that train derailments happen often. Even a few crashes involving flammable cargo can cause huge damage and kill people.
Nevertheless, the rail industry’s billions of dollars in annual private investments are paying off: The mainline train accident rate, the hazmat train accident rate, and employee injury rates have all been declining for years.
Yet despite this record, there are still over a thousand derailments each year, and many worker deaths and injuries remain preventable. As ProPublica has recently reported, railroads are pressuring workers to ignore safety concerns and to go along with their policies — even when they are unsafe — in order to make more money and move freight faster.
For example, workers who raise concerns about dangerous equipment are sometimes punished, such as a BNSF employee who suffered a spinal cord injury when his train crashed into a 6-ton tree that had fallen on the tracks; company supervisors didn’t heed his warning about faulty brakes and loose hoses. Moreover, some railroads have been using performance-pay systems to discourage employees from reporting hazards and calling their own safety hotlines.
Remember, all train tracks are private property, and walking on them is illegal unless you’re at a designated crossing. Look both ways before crossing and obey the signals at all railroad crossings. It takes a mile – or 18 football fields – for a freight train traveling at 55mph to stop.
While it’s true that air travel is the safest form of long-range transportation, it is not without risk. Pilot error, ground equipment malfunctions, or engineering maintenance issues may contribute to an accident. However, the majority of accidents involve a combination of factors.
Various airline and airport safety measures help reduce the number of airplane accidents. For example, most aircraft are equipped with fire suppression systems to prevent in-flight cargo fires like the one that destroyed South African Airways Flight 295 in 1987. Most airports also have runway safety cars that are designed to stop aircraft at the end of the runway before they can overrun it. This helps prevent accidental damage and protects the people who work on and around airplanes.
As the number of major aviation accidents has declined, the FAA is now working to use data proactively, through a safety management system (SMS) approach, to search for warnings or red flags that can help prevent incidents and accidents from occurring. This is a difficult task, and the agency sometimes must trade off safety improvements for other transportation goals.
Passengers can improve their chances of survival in the event of an accident by following the three-minute safety tutorial given during each flight. For example, dummies in crash tests have found that bracing for impact by placing the head between the legs and holding the hands over the head significantly increases the chance of survival.
While physical security has long been a significant concern for transportation planners and managers, the increased globalization of freight shipping has brought new concerns, such as terrorist attacks, cargo theft, and other forms of organized crime. Criminal activities seek profit, not ideological or religious goals, and use transportation to exploit vulnerabilities and create chaos.
For example, a personal watercraft (PWC) is like a small motorboat, but it’s propelled by a jet instead of being pulled from a hull. Because of this, it is a lot less stable in rough waters. It’s also more likely to be towed by a larger boat or ship, and it can cause injury and death if the operator falls overboard.
In addition, it’s very important to have the proper safety equipment on board. This includes a US Coast Guard-approved PFD in adult and child sizes and an emergency whistle capable of producing a loud, two-second blast. Also, make sure one person serves as a lookout and keeps an eye on the propeller to avoid it striking swimmers or submerged objects.
For truck drivers and other transportation professionals, avoiding mental states that can compromise safety is essential. This includes rushing, frustration, and fatigue. It’s also important to do pre-drive vehicle inspections and walkarounds to ensure that there are no maintenance-related risks that could impact the driver or other people who get into contact with the transportation vehicles or goods during their transportation.
Every day, millions of Americans get to work or school on buses. Buses are among the safest ways to travel compared with passenger cars. Although cars cause more accidents than any other transportation mode, car occupants are significantly less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash than those on other modes of travel. The safety record of today’s buses is a direct result of strict regulations and regular inspections.
School buses are especially safe. Their design, which incorporates compartmentalization, closely spaced seats, and high, energy-absorbing seat backs, creates a protective environment for passengers. In addition, special laws protect students boarding and exiting the bus. These rules and special routing practices make buses safer than traditional passenger vehicles.
Drivers are reminded to keep a safe distance from buses, including those that have stopped to load or unload students. Children should always walk on the sidewalk or to a point at least three giant steps away from the street, and wait until the bus stops flashing, the extended stop arm is withdrawn, and the driver says it’s okay to cross.
School bus drivers operate under stringent safety protocols and undergo extensive training. They must also conduct preventive maintenance and safety inspections to ensure their buses are performing at peak condition. Additionally, specialized buses for preschool children and special needs students use car seats and/or restraint systems that differ from those used in standard passenger cars.
Pedestrians are a vital part of the transportation system, and they must always be aware of their surroundings. They must cross streets only in designated areas, such as intersections and crosswalks, and always obey traffic signals and signs. Whenever possible, pedestrians should walk on sidewalks, keeping as far away from traffic as they can. They should look for gaps in traffic before stepping off the curb and never assume that drivers can see them.
Motorists must slow down when they approach pedestrians in crosswalks and intersections and should always yield to them. They should also be extra attentive around schools, hospitals, markets, and other high-pedestrian traffic areas. Moreover, they should never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs; such substances impair their judgment and reaction times.
When making a turn, motorists must remember that pedestrians may move into their path unexpectedly. Drivers should pay attention to the speed limit, especially in school zones and construction work areas, as fast-moving vehicles are more likely to injure pedestrians. Furthermore, studies have shown that vehicle design is a significant factor in pedestrian injuries; vehicles with vertical front ends are more dangerous than sloped ones, as they inflict head injuries by throwing pedestrians forward and rolling them onto the hood. The size and weight of a vehicle also play a role in injury severity, with larger vehicles tending to cause more severe injuries.