By Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt
“Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.”
On April 26, I found myself echoing this saying from the Talmud more than once at “Act to End Distracted Driving,” a roundtable hosted by the NTSB in collaboration with Stopdistractions.org, DRIVE SMART Virginia, and the National Safety Council. The roundtable brought together survivor advocates to facilitate more effective action on distracted driving.
It was a moving and insightful day, with participants expressing the impact that distracted driving has had on their lives and on the lives of their loved ones. Survivor advocates spoke about trying to give a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves, turning their personal tragedies into effective advocacy efforts to prevent others from going through what they have gone through. Incredibly, many survivor advocates expressed frustration that they had not done enough. Here are some of the takeaways from the roundtable.
A club we don’t want to be in. Once one participant made this remark— “this is a club we don’t want to be in”—it resonated around the table. It also reverberated in a question another participant asked: “How many of you thought distracted driving would affect you before you lost someone?”
But this “club” exhibited incredible mutual support, gritty determination, and smart strategy, even as its members revisited their losses, relived their grief, and shared their stories.
From pain to passion. Survivor advocates recognized that they’d “taken pain and transformed it into passion and pushed their agenda [to end distracted driving].”
“Collaboration equals change,” another participant said. “Together, we can tackle this.”
“Branch out as an advocate,” one participant offered. “There are so many demographics to reach. It’s not just about speaking to teens.”
“Work with everyone. Life isn’t a guarantee—we don’t know when it will end. Enforcement is the biggest thing that should be pushed out.”
“Technology is advancing faster than laws are changing. Your story can change a life.”
“Never underestimate the power and impact we have on someone else’s life and the world we live in.”
From passion to action. Survivor advocates took their passion and turned it into action.
“Form a coalition. Find people in your state capitol, hometown, etc., that feel the same as you do on distracted driving. Don’t do it alone.”
“We are not alone. There are thousands of us. Stay the course. Celebrate successes. Rest, but stay the course.”
“[Understand the] critical importance of putting a face to the epidemic. Leverage supporters to end distracted driving. Advocates are critical to making an impact.”
“We have to work together. All are making a difference. Little by little, we are making progress.”
“Gain knowledge, meet people, to accomplish the goal to make change.”
“People make this program work. Stay in touch and work with folks and boots on the ground. Don’t take a 10,000-feet-level perspective.”
The power of stories.
“There is incredible power in telling stories. Stories can change the world. I will continue to tell my story and the stories of people I’ve met. I’m optimistic and I look forward to saving a whole bunch of lives.”
“Statistics tell, stories sell. Today has ‘sold’ my heart. Sharing stories defines a person’s character. Bad things will happen, but how you respond defines your character.”
“Your story is being heard. You’ve inspired me to reach beyond to influence others.”
We can all be advocates.
“We all have the potential within us to become advocates. Taking the message with us to our homes, towns, schools, etc., is the best way to honor the loved ones lost.”
“I never thought I would be sitting here. Now I’ve gotten my strength at looking at the grandchildren that were left behind. They have to grow up without their mother. So much information that has been shared . . . friends I’ve made will help me continue to make change.”
“I have a clear pathway to help families who experience loss from distracted driving. Children will emulate the behavior of their parents and other influencers in their lives. “
Impressions from the day.
“There is something bigger here than just what I can control. I’m going to expand my sphere of influence on how to make an impact on distracted driving.”
“United we stand, divided we fall. Don’t give up, we will end this fight.”
“[Today was] confirmation that I want to do this the rest of my life; to be an advocate and improve road safety.”
“[I’m] grateful to have the opportunity to be here, meet other advocates, learn more to continue the fight.”
If this could be you . . .
Everybody processes grief differently. But if you are a survivor who wants to be an advocate, or if you simply recognize that distracted driving requires a big change in our laws and culture, there is somewhere to turn. Advocates have worked together to form the National Alliance for Distraction Free Driving. On its website, you will find advocacy resources, templates for presentations, videos, and other tools contributed by many organizations working to turn the tide against deadly distractions.
As we concluded the roundtable, I said again, “‘Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.’ You don’t have to save the world. All you need to do is keep one person from dying, and if you have done that, it is as if you have saved an entire world. Your work is important. You are making a difference. And you are saving lives.”
You, too, can make a difference and save lives. Next time someone calls you and you know they are driving, ask them to call back once they’re not behind the wheel. Next time you are with a driver who attempts to text, call, or post something on social media, politely ask them to stop. After all, we are all in this fight together.