On the Front Lines of Road Safety

By Nicholas Worrell

Nicholas Worrell and Florida Representative Irv Slosberg at the Dori Saves Lives & the Allstate Foundation’s Driver Education Conference.  Representative Slosberg’s daughter Dori was killed in a DUI crash in 1996.
Nicholas Worrell and Florida Representative Irv Slosberg at the Dori Saves Lives & the Allstate Foundation’s Driver Education Conference. Representative Slosberg’s daughter Dori was killed in a DUI crash in 1996.

Each year the Dori Slosberg Foundation hosts Dori Saves Lives & the Allstate Foundation’s Driver Education Conference, a gathering of instructors, administrators, and others. Today, I had the opportunity to represent the NTSB and address attendees at the conference.

To the untrained eye, driver education instuctors might appear to be average middle-class civilians. But to me, they are front-line troops for road safety. Each and every one of them are in a battle to keep Americans alive and safe, against an “enemy” that takes more than 30,000 American lives per year: roadway fatalities.

Traffic crashes used to take many more lives. In the early 1970s, more than 50,000 people died on our roads each year.  We’ve been beating back this enemy steadily over the decades. Our weapons have included better safety technology (including air bags and electronic stability control), stronger laws, high-visibility enforcement, and what educators do – driver’s education and training.  Yet motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death for Americans, particularly those between the ages of 13 and 19.

Our message to these front-line troops was simple: reach out! We have made progress in road safety, and can still bring more weapons to the fight through state graduated licensing laws. But in terms of teaching and training, even the best traditional drivers education program needs reinforcement by peers and parents.

People think of their cars as personal space. Unlike pilots and railroad engineers, we don’t demand recurrent training throughout an everyday driver’s career. We don’t highly regulate personal drivers’ behavior. Driver educators must reach drivers in a very short time period.

 Enough time to teach, but not enough time to train; not enough time to send kids out to meet an enemy that still kills 30,000 Americans a year.

 That enemy continues to add weapons to its arsenal. Distractions from portable devices are on the rise. While we’ve made big strides in fighting drinking and driving, we’re only at the beginning of understanding data on driving under the influence of drugs. And we have only started to understand one of the enemy’s favorite secret weapons: fatigue.

And the enemy continues to deploy these weapons against our youngest, least experienced drivers first, making it all the more critical that our front line safety troops use all available time and resources.

 Our front-line troops need a force multiplier, something that extends the impact of every weapon they can bring to the fight. Driver educators need allies to follow through on the message once they’ve delivered it.

The force multiplier is not in their classrooms. It’s not in their road training. It’s not any of the things that they themselves do. Our front-line safety troops need someone else on the front lines with them, amplifying their messages.

 They need peers to talk to peers, like the fine young men and women who participate in The Dori Slosberg Foundation, NOYS, Impact Teen Driver and FCCLA. And they need parents to take advantage of the long time period between a first permit and full driving privileges, drilling kids in the lessons that they teach.

Furthermore, our front-line safety troops need parents to model good behavior – not talking on their phones, not texting at the red light, not distracting themselves with activites that don’t support the driving task, and certainly not drinking and driving, or driving on insufficient sleep. Kids learn from what we tell them, but they learn more from what they see us do.

So parents, if one of our front-line safety troops – one of our driver educators – reaches out to you, recognize their service, and listen to what they have to say. If you have a teen at home learning to drive, be that force multiplier for our front-line safety troops. Join them in the fight for road safety.

 Take your teen out to practice, and model the best behaviors behind the wheel.

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