By Danielle Roeber
If I could travel back in time to visit myself during my senior year at James Madison University, I suspect that senior would never have imagined a career in transportation safety. I suspect she would not have imagined working for over a decade at the National Transportation Safety Board, devoting great attention to advocating for measures to prevent impaired driving. In that time, I have contributed to two of the agency’s impaired driving reports – the first, Actions to Reduce Fatalities, Injuries, and Crashes involving the Hard Core Drinking Driver, as a Presidential Management Intern (now Presidential Management Fellow), and the more recent, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving, in 2013. I have testified, given speeches, and drafted letters and other media content to push for NTSB recommendations from those reports. I have also met families of victims and been affected by their stories. Like many advocates, however, my passion was not necessarily personal. I had not actually known a family member of an impaired driving victim before the crash occurred. All that changed on March 20th.
In my senior year, through marching band, I met a freshman named Charlie. We were in the same section. Proving that it is a small world, many years later, I ended up working with Charlie’s wife. When Charlie and his wife had a little girl, I remember smiling at the thought of what Charlie would tell his daughter about freshman boys on the day he dropped her off for her first year of college. On March 20th, Charlie’s dad died in a multi-vehicle crash; the driver of one of the other vehicles has been charged with driving while intoxicated and death by auto.
The road of life can make some crazy turns. What are the odds that I would meet Charlie at JMU? What are the odds that I would read a newsletter, discover another JMU graduate at my agency, and that she would be married to Charlie? What are the odds that I would spend much of my professional career on an issue that would so directly affect Charlie’s life? There is no silver bullet to eliminating impaired driving, and no one person can tackle this problem by him or herself. But it bothers me greatly that in over 10 years of working on this problem, we continue to lose lives, about 10,000 lives each year. And I’m a little angry that despite my best efforts, Charlie and his family have joined a group to which no person should belong.
With last year’s NTSB report, some questioned whether “reaching zero” is practical. Can we truly “eliminate” impaired driving? I think yes. It will take a comprehensive effort. But even more, it demands full commitment, commitment to the phrase “not one more.” Not one more drink before driving home. Not one more impaired driving crash. Not one more preventable death.
Danielle Roeber is the Safety Advocacy Division Chief in NTSB’s Office of Communications