By Nicholas Worrell
Americans take an average of four car trips every day—that’s more than 1,400 per year. It’s no wonder that the chance of dying while inside a moving vehicle is about 1 in 6,700. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in teenagers, and second leading cause of death in all other populations. Without a doubt, driving is risky business.
Reducing that risk was the focus of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) Open House and Transportation Education Day held at the agency’s training center in Ashburn, Virginia, on Friday, October 14th. The event brought together local law enforcement, federal officials, safety advocacy groups, and dozens of high school students from Virginia for a day of hands-on learning and activities designed to promote safe driving habits and educate the next generation of drivers about the consequences of making poor decisions while operating a vehicle. The event was a prelude to National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct 16–22), the annual week-long initiative created by Congress 10 years ago.
Friday’s event, organized in conjunction with the advocacy group DRIVE SMART Virginia, featured a teen-driving panel discussion that included speeches, presentations, and firsthand accounts from crash victims, NTSB investigators, and advocates. One of those who spoke was Brad Hughes, a Virginia police officer who was hit by a pickup truck driven by a districted driver. Hughes had been helping a fellow officer on the side of the highway during an ice storm in March 2014 when he was struck. As a result of the crash, Hughes lost both of his legs. “The man who hit me got a suspended sentence and only served 5 days in jail,” Hughes said. “I got a life sentence.”
More than 150 students at the event also took part in real-world distracted driving simulations designed to show just how vulnerable young drivers can be, especially those who are distracted, not wearing a seat belt, fatigued, or impaired in some other way. Teens in attendance had the chance to use a driving simulator to attempt to text and drive at the same time. Law enforcement personnel distributed “impairment goggles” to allow teens to see how different levels of impairment could affect their driving. The teens were also encouraged to spread driving safety messages to their friends. Students were informed that each year, thousands of people die from—and millions more confess to— distracted driving. They were told that, in addition to increased public awareness and tougher laws and enforcement, part of the solution to this problem must be a cultural change—a change that can begin with them.
Beyond that, parents also need to be a part of the cultural change. A survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that only a quarter of all parents have had a serious talk with their kids about the key components of driving. However, teaching children how to drive safely shouldn’t stop when they receive a license or learn how to change a flat tire. Parents should continue to talk to their teenagers about safe driving and remind them of their responsibility on the road.
The NTSB is committed to saving lives, but we can’t achieve that goal alone; community effort is required to make a difference. So, take the time to talk to your teenagers about driving safely and responsibly—a luxury parents of car crash victims no longer have. Beat the odds of your teen getting in a crash, as so many do within their first year of driving, and let’s keep our young drivers safe.
Please visit our website at http://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl/Pages/default.aspx for more information, and join our discussion using hashtag #1goodchoice on Twitter.
Nicholas Worrell, is Chief of the NTSB Safety Advocacy Division.