By Nicholas Worrell
I recently had an opportunity, with a team from Drivesmart Virginia, to speak about the importance of safe driving to 3,500 service members onboard the USS George Washington during their safety standdown. These members of the military go into harm’s way, where people are trying to kill them in direct combat operations. However, one enemy they often overlook when they return home is the danger of unsafe driving. Three of this enemy’s weapons on the road are distraction, fatigue, and impairment. Highway crashes kill over 35,000 Americans every year, and many of these crashes are preventable because they are a result of deadly weapons that we can control and defeat.
My interaction with the troops brought back fond memories of my time in the Marines. Having internalized the core values common to military service—honor, courage, and commitment—I felt the need to pursue a career where I could continue to make a difference after leaving the Marines. Joining the NTSB allowed me to do just that. Even before speaking to the crowd aboard the USS George Washington, I knew that the core values I learned as a Marine had guided me in my safety career, but it wasn’t until I was in front of 3,500 sailors that I was able to put that into words.
Service men and women live and breathe the core values of honor, courage, and commitment every day through discipline and accountability. These core values are also applicable to daily safe driving habits they can apply when they get off the ship and back on the road. Here’s what I said about these core values:
Honor. There is honor in saving American lives, including your own and other drivers on the roads. There is also honor in saving American lives by working to make our roadways safer and educating others about the hazards of impaired driving.
Courage. There is courage in standing up for your beliefs and speaking out about what is right, especially as it relates to road safety. It can be hard to tell someone to put their phone down or to take a taxi, but you have the courage to do just that and save a life.
Commitment. It takes commitment to make the right choice and stick to it every time.
Wearing a seat belt or a helmet is a choice you make. So is choosing to drive unimpaired by alcohol, drugs, distraction, or fatigue. A commitment to reducing motor vehicle crashes starts with your own individual behavior and continues as you educate others on the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.
I called on each of these sailors to apply these values to their daily lives when they return to shore. I spoke to them about the importance of planning ahead, getting enough rest, and avoiding distracted driving, and I urged them to apply those values—honor, courage, commitment—to make safe driving a priority in their lives.
According to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” The same is true for safe driving—often the war is won or lost before a driver gets behind the wheel. I encourage all individuals to adopt the values of our service members by having the honor to do what is right when they’re considering driving, having the courage to take an impaired friend’s keys or call a cab when they’ve had too much to drink or not enough rest, and having the commitment to making a plan before they get behind the wheel.
Nicholas Worrell, USMC (Ret.), is Chief of the NTSB Safety Advocacy Division