By Robert L. Sumwalt
April is an important month for highway safety advocacy outreach. It’s a month where we—and many other government and safety advocacy groups—dramatically increase efforts to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities by raising awareness about several issues: distracted driving, alcohol-impaired driving, teen driving safety, and public health issues as they relate to transportation. If the unfortunate increase in roadway deaths in the first nine months of 2015 is any indication of what’s to come, we must take decisive action now to improve road safety.
Today, April 1, marks the kickoff of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and Alcohol Awareness Month. This month also features a National Public Health Awareness Week (April 4-10). Many states, such as California with its Teen Driver Safety Week, have also selected April to address the dangers associated with teen driving. The NTSB will be fully engaged in social media campaigns and other efforts to address the driving dangers highlighted by these awareness initiatives.
This time last year, I had the unique opportunity to lead a distraction roundtable with 40 of the leading transportation safety experts from around this nation. We all agreed that distraction is a growing and life-threatening problem in all modes of transportation; one year later, unfortunately, the threat from distraction continues to grow. To reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths, drivers and other operators must completely disconnect from an increasing variety of deadly distractions. To stop the epidemic on the roads, we all agreed that we need strong laws, good education, and visible enforcement.
Following last year’s roundtable, I posted several blogs highlighting the actions needed. For instance, in a blog about cognitive distraction and the hands-free myth, I talk about how many of us believe we can talk on a hands-free phone and remain engaged in the driving task. The science proves, however, that we can’t “multitask” and drive safely. (To view the transcript of the roundtable, visit http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events.)
To end the problem of distraction, we must collaborate. But, more importantly, we must take action. The National Safety Council recently, for example, announced an initiative for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, called “Take Back Our Drive.” Their website highlights just why distracted driving and cell phone use is so dangerous, and offers resources for both employers and communities to help develop strategies and policies for combating distraction. In the end, we all have a responsibility to “Take Back Our Drive.”
I want to see my daughter and teens across the world live to see a year without a fatal motor vehicle crash. An increasing number of technological advances will help teens mitigate crashes, but today’s teens have to survive today’s driving environment by making smart choices and being informed about the dangers of driving. That’s why this month is so important for all of us to take a moment to spread the message and talk to our teens, with the following tips:
- Do not drive distracted. Completely disconnect from an increasing variety of deadly distractions, such as Smartphones, tablets, hands-free devices and any other technology that doesn’t support the driving task.
- Wear your seatbelt and require passengers to do the same. It is a fact that occupant restraints and protection systems save lives and reduce the number and severity injuries.
- Don’t drink and drive – and don’t use any other impairing drugs and drive. Using alcohol or drugs while operating in transportation can be deadly – and drugs include not only recreational drugs, but also many over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
Many of us advocating for improvements in transportation safety know all too well that most requested improvements have been inspired by a life, a family, a community forever altered by a tragedy. To combat the epidemic of road fatalities will require more than just a speech, activity or event — it will require united actions from within the research/advocacy community, the law enforcement community and the legislative community. That’s why many transportation safety professionals will gather at the annual Lifesavers Conference in California next week. The goal is to learn the next steps to reducing roadway fatalities and how better to partner and share the important highway safety messages.
Impact Teen Drivers and California Highway Patrol will also kick off the month with a press conference at a high school in Inglewood, CA. Theirs are just a few of the many safety outreach events going on this month.
Improving highway safety cannot wait another day; it starts and ends with all of us. Let April be that month to fully engage. We are still seeing too many tragedies on the roadways … and that’s no April fools!
For more information on NTSB safety outreach efforts or to join our efforts, contact the Safety Advocacy Division: firstname.lastname@example.org.