BALTIMORE, Md. — A federal safety official on Monday praised Operation Lifesaver Inc. for its leading role in efforts to reduce highway-rail grade crossing accidents by more than 80 percent since its founding in 1972.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman made the commendation in a speech at the Operation Lifesaver symposium in Baltimore.
"We rely on the great work of organizations like Operation Lifesaver to apply common-sense, life-saving solutions at the grassroots level throughout our country," Hersman said, "but for all the remarkable progress that's been made in [Operation Lifesaver's] 38-year history, there is much more work to be done."
Hersman noted that there were 245 fatalities and 708 injuries at grade crossings in 2009. She identified the three primary factors contributing to virtually all grade crossing accidents: the vehicle, the environment or the driver. She then highlighted specific NTSB accident investigations that identified one of these three elements as being a key part of the probable cause of each crash.
While pointing out a few examples where the vehicle and the environment were causal factors, Hersman said that more than 90 percent of all grade crossing accidents are due to the driver. Problems ranging from driver inattention or distraction to unfamiliarity with the crossing can contribute to a driver-caused crash.
Hersman said that both the NTSB and Operation Lifesaver must continue to support efforts to reduce distracted driving and improve driver education in order to eliminate grade crossing accidents — and all vehicle accidents — on U.S. roadways.
Among Operation Lifesaver’s offerings is training specifically for school bus drivers. On its Website, it provides recommended procedures for school bus drivers at grade crossings. An 18-minute training video titled “Decide Smart, Arrive Safe,” which was produced in cooperation with the pupil transportation industry, is also available.
According to Federal Railroad Administration statistics, from 1994 through 2004, there were 31 highway-rail grade crossing collisions involving school buses in the U.S. Those incidents resulted in 111 injuries and 13 fatalities.