NTSB chair Deborah Hersman: Future of auto safety lies with technology

Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board sees collision-avoidance technology as the future of auto safety. As for a move from NTSB to a post in Obama's cabinet? She declines to say.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Deborah Hersman (r.), chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, speaks with reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Deborah Hersman chairs the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates accidents and makes recommendations to improve safety. She was the guest at the Feb. 6 Monitor Breakfast.

Biggest concern about Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner planes, grounded because of battery fires:

"There was a thermal runaway in the battery, multiple cells where we saw uncontrolled chemical chain reaction, and those features are not what we would have expected to see in a brand-new battery in a brand-new airplane."

Do the 787's problems mean Boeing's first-time use of lithium-ion batteries in planes was a mistake:

"I would not want to categorically say that these batteries are not safe. Any new technology ... there are going to be some inherent risks. The important thing is to mitigate them."

When the NTSB's tests on the 787 batteries will be done and the planes can fly again:

"We are probably weeks away from being able to tell people, here is what exactly happened and what needs to change."

Reports she is President Obama's choice to become Transportation secretary:

"I feel very privileged to have the job that I have now.... So I am going to be focused on that."

Outlook for auto safety:

"Collision avoidance technology ... will be the future of life-saving devices – vehicles that can prevent, detect, mitigate, and minimize accidents."

Continuing problems with commercial bus safety:

"This issue has been on our most-wanted list.... We see fatigued drivers, we see vehicles that are not maintained properly, we see problems in the crash worthiness and design of these buses ... and in the end we see companies that are not put out of service until after they have a fatal accident."

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