The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. federal agency whose primary responsibility is to investigate and determine the causes of various transportation civil accidents throughout the United States including all aviation accidents, railroad accidents, hazardous material exposures as a result of transportation accidents and various maritime accidents.
The Board’s most important product is the safety recommendation. The NTSB has issued about 13,000 safety recommendations in its history, the vast majority of which have been adopted in whole or in part by the entities to which they were directed.
Among transportation safety improvements brought about or inspired by NTSB recommendations:
AVIATION: Mid-air collision avoidance technology, ground proximity warning systems, smoke detectors in lavatories, floor level escape lighting and fuel tank inerting.
HIGHWAY: Graduated drivers license laws for young drivers, age-21 drinking laws, smart airbag technology, rear high-mounted brake lights, commercial drivers licenses, improved school bus construction standards.
RAIL: Positive train control (anti-collision technology), improved emergency exits for passenger rail cars, shelf-couplers for hazardous material rail cars.
MARINE: Recreational boating safety, improved fire safety on cruise ships, lifesaving devices on fishing vessels.
PIPELINE: Excavation damage protection, pipe corrosion protection, remote shutoff valves.
MULTI-MODAL: Alcohol and drug testing in all modes of transportation.
Since 1990, the NTSB has maintained a Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, in which it highlights those recommendations that would provide the most significant — and sometimes immediate — benefit to the traveling public. The Board conducts a press conference every year to announce changes to that list.
Significant investigations conducted by the NTSB in all modes of transportation in recent years include the collapse of the I-35 highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the collision between two transit trains in Washington, D.C.; the pipeline explosion that destroyed much of a neighborhood in San Bruno, California; the sinking of an amphibious vessel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, New York.
In addition, the NTSB has assisted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in its investigations of both the Challenger and the Columbia space shuttle disasters, assisted the Department of Justice during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack investigations, and assisted the U.S. military in its investigation of the aircraft that crashed in the former Yugoslavia that took the lives of more than 30 Americans, including Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.