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Acting NTSB Chairman Hart Announces Safety Study On Drug Use Trends In Aviation

August 7, 2014 - In a congressional hearing, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart announced that NTSB investigators are completing work on a study on drug use trends in aviation. 

"In aviation, our investigators sometimes see evidence of drug use by pilots involved in accidents. So we decided it was time to look at this issue more in depth," said Hart in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Government Operations on the federal government's response to marijuana legalization as it pertains to transportation policy.

"In September we will meet to discuss drug use in aviation by examining toxicology testing results conducted on fatally injured pilots." 


Hart said these issues are a reminder that there is much to be done to eliminate safety risks due to the presence of substance impaired operators in our transportation systems. Eliminating substance impaired driving, reaching zero remains a battle that is far from over. Eradicating impairment by drug use across all modes of transportation is an even loftier goal. An ongoing critical first step is improving the standardization of data, an important effort to improve transportation safety. 

In 1992, the NTSB published a safety study, Alcohol and Other Drug Involvement in Fatal General Aviation Accidents, 1983 through 1988. There were only a small number of fatal general aviation accidents during the study period—35—in which the NTSB cited drugs as a cause or factor.  Multiple drug use was identified in 15 (43 percent) of the 35 accidents. 

Of the drugs detected in toxicological tests, cocaine and marijuana were the most frequently identified (12 and 9 accidents, respectively).  The study noted, however, that due to quality control problems at the laboratory used by the NTSB to test for drugs of abuse, few conclusive toxicological tests for drugs were obtained by the agency and test results from the years of the study period were less reliable than test results from the latter years of the study period.  Since 1990, those issues have been resolved.



Hart said the study would describe the prevalence of drug use by aviation pilots over time, compare the prevalence of pilot drug use with that of other populations, and evaluate the need for safety improvements related to pilots' use of any drug. The draft report is expected to be completed in September and considered at a public meeting of the NTSB. Details, including the date and time of the meeting, will be announced later this summer. (Update see NTSB Study Shows Upward Trend In Drug Use By General Aviation Pilots)

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