HILTON HEAD, S.C.—If your product is involved in a catastrophic road accident, Peter C. Knudson, public affairs officer at the National Transportation Safety Board, has a piece of advice for you:
"Give us a call."
The NTSB's media relations mission is to inform the public and coordinate the board's communications functions, Knudson told his audience at the 35th Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference, held April 10-12 at Hilton Head, S.C.
Just as importantly, the NTSB can provide communications guidance to tire, auto and airplane manufacturers who are suddenly the subject of public scrutiny, he said.
"We're not there to say exactly what you should do, but we can tell you what's coming—hearings, updates, information to be released and media inquiries," Knudson said.
As the chief transportation investigatory body in the U.S., the NTSB investigates every civil aviation accident that occurs in the U.S.—normally about 1,200 annually, according to Knudson.
Highway, rail, marine and pipeline accidents are a very small percentage of the NTSB's activities by comparison, Knudson said. Only those accidents the board deems as "significant"—those that involve multiple deaths and injuries—are the subject of investigations.
"In highway accidents, that's about 15 or 20 investigations out of 7 or 8 million accidents annually," he said.
One of the most recent of those investigations involved an accident that took place Aug. 30, 2018, on Interstate 40 near Thoreau, N.M., according to Knudson.
In that accident, a 2017 Freightliner tractor attached to a 2017 Utility trailer was traveling down the highway when the left front wheel on the tractor suffered a sudden air loss. The driver lost control, crossed the median and crashed into a 2016 MCI 50-passenger motorcoach.
Eight people died in the accident, and 16 others were seriously injured, Knudson said.
NTSB media relations play an invaluable role during investigations such as the one at Thoreau, according to Knudson.
"When there is serious media interest, we handle on-scene briefings," he said. "We inform the public and generally just talk about what we're doing."