Teen Road Safety: Progress In the Making

Nicholas Worrell (at left) at teen driving safety eventBy Nicholas Worrell

What does Florida State Representative Irv Slosberg have in common with modern South Africa’s late founding father, Nelson Mandela?

Both lost a young family member in a traffic crash.

Traffic crashes take the powerful and the ordinary, the young and the old; they can happen to anybody. More often than not, they shouldn’t happen at all. That’s why NTSB is advocating for changes that can bring about the ambitious goal of zero deaths on U.S. highways.

As this is the start of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month (GYTSM), I want to highlight the particular toll that traffic crashes take on our teens. We have lost and continue to lose far too many young lives in preventable crashes, but there’s progress in the making.

Representative Irving Slosberg lost his daughter Dori when she was just 14. Florida’s Katie Marchetti was only 16. They’re remembered in Florida’s Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Primary Safety Belt Act, and in the Dori Slosberg Foundation, which is championing the fight against distracted driving in Florida.

Every year the foundation marks the loss of Dori and three others to distracted driving, with events geared towards teens during Florida Teen Driver Safety Week. This year on behalf of the NTSB, I had the opportunity to address many of those teenagers from several high schools during the event in Tallahassee.

They were energetic, eager and willing to learn. And they’d gotten the message: it can happen to anybody. One told me, “I will never drive distracted, I will never drink and drive. And if I see my friends or parents driving distracted, I will tell them not to.”

Representative Slosberg has persevered in his legislative and advocacy efforts to protect and educate teen drivers despite plenty of challenges. That’s progress in the making.

Nelson Mandela lost his great-granddaughter Zenani in 2010 when she was just 13. In her memory, the Zenani Campaign has introduced The Long Short Walk. Last Thursday, Board Member Mark Rosekind participated in this event. He also had the opportunity to address budding young leaders with a passion for transportation safety at the kickoff of the GYTSM.

The NTSB can advocate tirelessly for states to enact and strictly enforce safety laws, but it takes more than that, much more, to save lives. The progress you can see in the making depends on young people themselves and the culture of safety. That’s why it was great to see so many young people at the GYTSM event and taking the Long Short Walk. And that’s why Member Rosekind encouraged his audience to live up to the challenge of building a brighter and safer future.

As Member Rosekind said, “The fact is that making a difference in this world is not just showing up…or following others…or waiting for someone else to take the lead. It is about you and your personal convictions to make a better…safer…world. It is speaking up, taking action, and leading by example.”

Many young people are getting the message and even spreading it themselves. But far too many of us only realize the danger after we lose somebody.

As part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, on April 4, I had the opportunity to address the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at Stevenson University with Joel Feldman, who lost his 21-year-old daughter Casey when a driver distracted by placing his drink in a cup-holder hit Casey in the crosswalk.

The tragedy motivated Joel to take action and educate young people like those at Stevenson University. Mr. Feldman said he drove distracted all the time before Casey was killed. It took Casey’s death for him to recognize that distracted driving isn’t just about smart phones and that he needed to change the way that he drove.

Casey Feldman. Zenani Mandela. Dori Slosberg. So many others.

Sometimes it takes a personal tragedy for us to change…but that’s a pretty high price to pay, especially when tragedy can be so easily prevented.

The young people I have met at these events over the last month were eager to learn about the dangers of distracted driving and some of the steps they can take individually and collectively to help stop the epidemic. They are responding to the call to action by pledging that they will speak up and take action when necessary.

That is progress in the making.

Nicholas Worrell is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Communications.

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