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One of my more memorable experiences since becoming FTA acting administrator a few months ago was taking the wheel of a virtual bus as part of a state-of-the-art simulation exercise at the New Flyer Vehicle Innovation Center (VIC) in Anniston, Alabama.

During the October grand opening ceremony of the VIC, a manufacturing lab and training facility for new-technology buses, I drove a simulation bus used for operator training. It opened my eyes to the challenges bus operators face every day, even though my track was mostly obstacle free. Moreover, I took a front seat to the high-tech future of driver training, which should go a long way toward improving safety.

Technology was on display throughout the VIC on the opening day. New Flyer of America, the largest transit vehicle manufacturer in North America, has more than 50 years of experience in manufacturing next-generation buses. The company opened the center, which includes a manufacturing lab, exhibit space, and training areas, to continue to advance bus technology through sustainable research and development.

For several years, New Flyer has produced buses using zero-emission technology, and many of those vehicles populate fleets that have received FTA Low or No-Emission Grants. The program provides funding to state and local governmental authorities to purchase or lease low-emission buses as well as charging facilities and other supportive technology. 

New-technology buses are gaining in popularity as agencies realize cost-savings thanks to reduced fuel and lessened maintenance because vehicles run on fewer parts. The changes equate to thousands of dollars over the life of each vehicle. Moreover, they run quietly and emit minimal particulates or carbon monoxide, key components of smog. Passengers report that they enjoy the quieter, odorless travel.

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With Thanksgiving only a week away, Americans are in the midst of one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.  As millions of passengers take to the skies, DOT is here to help make their trips as smooth as possible.  Today, DOT rolled out the first phase of an effort to redesign its airline consumer website to better help air travelers understand their rights.  The improved design and streamlined pages will help consumers access needed information before, during, and after their flights now that the busy holiday travel season has kicked off. 

DOT believes that an essential part of protecting air travelers is ensuring that they know what their rights are.  The pages launched today are just the first step in the Department’s plan to redesign and simplify the aviation consumer information available on its website. 

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Celebrating the 50th Annual Secretary’s Awards Ceremony

Secretary Elaine L. Chao kicked off the 50th Secretary’s Awards Ceremony to a thunderous ovation. Recipient’s from all Agencies, Offices and as far away as Juneau, Alaska, were gathered in the West Atrium of DOT headquarters to receive awards on excellence and merit.  The Secretary took the opportunity to give a special thanks to the more than 300 DOT employees who have volunteered for special assignments to assist with recovery efforts after the recent series of devastating hurricanes.

The list of milestones is impressive:

  • Processing over 300 authorizations for drones to assist with surveying damage,
  • Issuing waivers in record time to allow more truck drivers to transport fuel to hospitals and gas stations,
  • Dispatching MARAD ships and personnel to provide power, food, clean water, and berthing for first responders and emergency workers and more.

Every DOT mode has stepped up to help. As many of you know, Secretary Chao traveled with Vice President Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence to the devastated areas.  The spirit of the volunteers and recovery workers was inspirational.  It will take time and sustained effort to get these areas back to normal.  Repairing damaged infrastructure will be a key factor in the recovery and the Department has an important role to play in helping these regions get back on their feet.

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Fall Back, then Check for Vehicle Recalls

Don’t forget to fall back this Sunday, November 5 at 2 a.m., as Daylight Saving Time ends. This is a wonderful time of year to check off a few other housekeeping details, including checking your smoke detector batteries and taking a moment to check for vehicle safety recalls. Adding this to your spring and fall safety routines keeps you and your family safe all year long. You can also take the opportunity to check for safety recalls for child car seats and tires. To see a list of open recalls, visit NHTSA.gov/Recalls.

Why Do I Need to Check for Recalls?

Vehicle recalls in the United States hit an all-time high in 2016 for the third year in a row. Automakers initiated 927 separate recalls affecting a record 53.2 million vehicles--the highest number of auto recalls in one year.

Even with these numbers, only about 75 percent of vehicles recalled in a given year are ever fixed. Being part of that other 25 percent puts you, your passengers, and others on the road at risk. Read more about 2016 recalls in the Recall Annual Report.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and many people throughout the FHWA and across the nation wore pink on Friday to raise awareness and to remember those affected.

Group of FHWA employees wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness

Earlier this month, the American Cancer Society reported that breast cancer death rates fell almost 40 percent over the last 25 years. Researchers attribute this to screening and early detection by self-exams, mammography and improvements in treatments over the recent decades. In the weeks ahead, particularly during the Federal Benefits Open Season, I encourage you to consider what the various health plans offer – specifically regarding cancer detection, screening and preventive care.

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With the arrival of Halloween and the end of Daylight Saving Time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is reminding Americans to drive safely, keep an eye out for trick-or-treaters, and never drink and drive. As the clocks turn back the weekend of November 5, drivers and pedestrians should also be aware of the safety challenges that occur during the shorter days of fall and winter. 

Children dressed up for Halloween on Front porch

Drinking and increased pedestrian traffic on Halloween night has historically been a dangerous combination. On Halloween night (6pm – 5:59am) in 2016, 47 people died, and nearly a third of those deaths (13) involved a crash with a drunk driver, that’s three times more than an average day. Almost one-third (30 percent) of Halloween crash fatalities were pedestrians, compared to 16 percent on an average day. From 2012-2016, 22 percent of pedestrian fatalities on Halloween night involved a drunk driver.

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This past month has been extraordinarily challenging for our fellow citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico, as two extremely powerful hurricanes caused loss of life and extensive damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Impassable road in Puerto Rico

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The Secretary was the keynote speaker celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Seafarers International Union’s Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education at Piney Point, MD, which provides entry level and advanced training for seafarers.  She also delivered remarks at the Annual Convention of the Seafarers International Union of North America.  

Secretary Chao meets with ship operators, SIU

Secretary Chao noted the contributions of Seafarers to the rescue and recovery efforts in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico...

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Young artists - get ready to show off your talent! Federal Motor Carrier Administration's (FMCSA) 2017 Road Safety Art Contest encourages children to use their creativity and artistic skills to raise awareness on how everyone – including large trucks and buses, cars, bicyclists and pedestrians – plays important roles in keeping our roads safe.

Road Safety Art Contest Poster

The contest is open to all students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Previously known as the “Be Ready, Be Buckled” Safety Belt Art Contest, this year’s contest expanded from emphasizing the importance of commercial truck and bus drivers using safety belts to educating passenger vehicle drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to coexist on the same roadways as commercial motor vehicles and work together to reduce crashes.

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Your child’s safety comes first. That’s why one of the first things you did was buy a car seat. You know that car seats protect kids. In fact, in passenger cars, car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for toddlers.

But did you know that many car seats aren’t used properly? If you’ve ever wrestled with a car seat, you know it’s not easy. Call in the pros: Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians. During Child Passenger Safety Week, certified technicians will be in your community helping parents protect kids by ensuring their car seats are properly installed. You can check here to find a technician near you.

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