By: Stephanie Shaw
The school year has come to an end and summer vacation is in full swing! For many young people, summer vacation means summer jobs, trips away from home, and late nights with friends. It also means more time behind the wheel. As we embrace the excitement and freedom of summer, it’s also important to recognize that, for teens, it’s the beginning of the “100 Deadliest Days”—the driving season in which crashes involving teens ages 16 to 19 years old increase significantly. Youth drivers are getting behind the wheel with cellphones in hand or drowsy from long, summer nights.
Our Most Wanted List strives to end alcohol and other drug impairment, distraction, and fatigue‑related accidents, and calls for stronger occupant protection; during the 100 Deadliest Days, young drivers are often faced with many of the challenges included on the Most Wanted List, which makes the collaboration between the NTSB and youth‑serving organizations so vital.
It is imperative to engage in conversations with the young people who travel our roadways and discuss unsafe driving behaviors that could potentially impact their travels. Peer-to-peer programs have the power to influence meaningful change; youth are more likely to listen to and follow the example of their peers. We use our expertise in traffic safety and safety advocacy to enhance youth leaders’ traffic safety knowledge and support the work of peer-to-peer organizations dedicated to keeping youth safe on the roads. For example, we recently attended the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) National Conference and the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) National Leadership Conference to inform young people about common driving dangers and discuss safe driving behaviors.
At the SADD Conference, youth leaders from across the United States gained valuable knowledge about safety advocacy and effective techniques for influencing policy in schools, communities, and states. At the FCCLA Conference, over 150 young leaders and advisors filled our session on drowsy driving, eager to gain a comprehensive understanding of sleep and drowsy driving. At both conferences, youth and advisors talked with us and shared what they were doing in their communities and schools to prevent their peers from making decisions that could end their lives. Many who
spoke with us were simply inspired to help others and to make a difference, but others’ concerns were much more personal. Countless youth stopped by and shared stories of the tragedies that led them to take action—classmates, friends, sisters, fathers who had been killed in drowsy, impaired, and distracted driving crashes. Friends killed and permanently injured because they weren’t wearing their seat belts when they were involved in a crash. Mothers sharing stories of their children killed in crashes so that no other family would have to experience the same loss.
One of the most effective methods for creating positive change in young peoples’ lives is to empower them to address the safety issues facing their schools, communities, and states. SADD and the FCCLA provide youth with the leadership skills, safety knowledge, and programming to collaborate with their peers and influence safe driving behaviors for future generations. To make our roads safer and reduce traffic fatalities, youth must use their voices to speak up, advocate for causes they care deeply about,
and create change in their peers’ lives by setting a positive example. The knowledge gained from experiences like the SADD Conference and the FCCLA Conference allows youth to identify and advocate for the solutions that will prevent teen deaths.
As youth entered the opening session of the SADD Conference, they were greeted by the song lyrics “This is gonna be the best day of my life.” For far too many youth, their lives will be cut short because of a crash during these 100 Deadliest Days. This summer, we encourage you to talk with the young people in your life to ensure that the best days of their life don’t end this summer.
Stephanie Shaw is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications