Category Archives: Global Youth Traffic Safety

Teen Drivers: Don’t Take Your Return to the Road for Granted

By: Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Office of Safety Advocacy

We recently announced the launch of a new #SafetyReminder campaign to provide the traveling public with a few friendly reminders as unprecedented stay-at-home restrictions are eased and we slowly resume air, rail, road, and marine travel.

During this return to “normalcy,” we’re especially concerned about young drivers. That’s why we partnered with Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) to host a virtual get together to reach out to teen drivers and their parents.

It’s an understatement to say that 2020’s young drivers have seen a lot in a short time. Like the rest of us, teens have done their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus through self-quarantine, protecting both themselves and others. Now that the country is slowly reopening, it’s time to return our focus to what’s most deadly to young drivers and their peers. It’s time to think not only about socially distancing ourselves, but also about isolating our cars from hazards like vulnerable road users, roadside obstacles, and even other cars. It’s time for a reminder about the biggest threat to teens’ lives: traffic crashes.

Parents have always passed the car keys to the next generation with trembling hands, and for good reason. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for every age group between 1 and 44. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of fatal injury for people between the ages of 15 and 44. So, when it’s time to return to the road, we all need to be aware of the “danger zones” for young drivers:

  1. Inexperience
  2. Driving with teen passengers
  3. Nighttime driving
  4. Not using seat belts
  5. Distraction
  6. Drowsiness
  7. Impairment
  8. Reckless driving

Although it’s good for young drivers—and their parents—to refresh their knowledge of all the danger zones, they should be aware that our recent isolation may have increased risk in certain danger zone categories. For example, stay-at-home orders have hampered new drivers’ ability to gain experience and start to internalize many of the actions that will become second nature with more time behind the wheel. Any skills even the most seasoned driver had before lockdown will be rusty; that’s compounded for new drivers who have had far less time to practice behind the wheel. Beyond that, young drivers may not weigh risk as carefully as their adult counterparts, and the excitement of getting back on the road may easily manifest as risky behavior.

Here’s another consideration that teens and their parents might overlook: driving with teen passengers not only makes it harder for teen drivers to keep their concentration on the road, but it also flies in the face of social distancing. We understand that it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten together with people outside our homes, and teen drivers are probably the most eager of anyone to reunite with their friends. But reunions don’t belong in the same car, where distraction can be as contagious as a virus. Nothing good is going to come from getting behind the wheel if those reunions involve illegal use of alcohol or other drugs, or they go late into the night, or a driver is running on little sleep.

While distraction from passengers is one risk to avoid, driving while distracted by personal electronic devices—which was deadly before the pandemic—is potentially even deadlier now, given how accustomed we’ve become to practicing virtual contact. The always-connected world that helped us be resilient during this isolating time can also make us vulnerable to danger if we continue that constant connection while behind the wheel. No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.

Even age-old risky behaviors, like speeding, that have always been a pitfall for young drivers pose an increased danger following isolation. The roads have been emptier for months, and some drivers have taken advantage, driving unimpeded at breakneck speed. Even on nearly empty roads, drivers need to leave the lead foot at home and keep an eye out for those who treat the less-crowded roads like their personal speedways. Most importantly, drivers need to make sure they—and their passengers—are always using seat belts, in case the high-risk driver in the next lane makes a bad decision.

Teens, for all your admirable resilience in the face of today’s challenges, you are still our most vulnerable and inexperienced road users. You’re going to be a great generation of adults before long; let us help make sure you make it there.

Parents and guardians, don’t send your teens back out on the road unprepared. Talk to your teens about the key components of driving and set the example for safe driving. A study by Liberty Mutual and SADD found that parents are setting a poor example for teens by engaging in unsafe driving behaviors, such as texting and driving, and are not listening to their kids’ warnings. Forty-one percent of teens say their parents continue these unsafe behaviors even after their teens ask them to stop, and 28 percent of teens say their parents justify unsafe behavior.  Take a moment to consider how to keep your young drivers safe, how to help them make good choices, and what example you’re setting. Take time to outline the key risks of driving. If you need a reminder, visit the websites of expert organizations like NHTSA and the CDC. And remember: your example is the most powerful instructor. Teens learn by example.

It’s been said that insisting on one’s rights without accepting one’s responsibilities is not freedom but adolescence. As somebody who works in youth safety outreach, I assure you, that’s an insult to today’s adolescents, who have used their voices and actions to demonstrate that they understand the role of conscience, mindfulness, and selfless service. I have no doubt this resilient group—many of whom gave up rites of passage, like prom and in-person graduation, to self-quarantine and protect those around them—can come back to the driving task with a renewed understanding of their profound responsibilities behind the wheel.

Our virtual joint event with SADD will take place on May 27, 2020, and we want to hear from parents and youth about the challenges and successes of returning to the road. We’ll also discuss resources that everyone can use to promote safer driving, whether they’re talking to peers, parents, or teens.

NTSB & SADD Transportation Safety Youth Leader Check-in

Teens, take care as you reenter the roadway. Don’t let your freedom from isolation end in unnecessary injury or death—for you or those around you. I know it will feel amazing to get back to some kind of normal, but don’t let your sacrifices of the past few months be in vain.

Global Road Safety Week

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, Safety Advocacy Division

Around the world, about 1.25 million people lose their lives every year in motor vehicle crashes. That’s roughly the entire population of Dallas, Texas. Others—20–50 million—are injured or disabled. That’s about the equivalent of injuring everybody in a medium-sized country, like Spain (46 million) or Ukraine (44 million).

May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month (GYTSM), and May 6–12, 2019, marks the Fifth United Nations Global Road Safety Week. These events draw attention to the need for stronger road safety leadership to help achieve a set of global goals. International governments have set an ambitious goal to reduce by half the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents globally by 2020.

On behalf of the NTSB, during this GYTSM, I’ll join with advocates and road safety experts from around the world to launch action through the ongoing campaign “Save Lives—#SpeakUp.” The campaign “provides an opportunity for civil society to generate demands for strong leadership for road safety, especially around concrete, evidence‑based interventions.” From May 8 to 10, I’ll also have the opportunity to speak to an audience of public transportation agencies from throughout the Caribbean region, as well as road transportation professionals and academics from around the world, at the 8th annual Caribbean Regional Congress of the International Road Federation in Georgetown, Guyana. As a Caribbean native, I am especially looking forward to discussing the NTSB’s lessons learned, recommendations, and advocacy efforts with professionals there.

One of the big messages I hope to get across is that ending road crashes and their resulting injuries and fatalities worldwide will require a cultural shift, and that shift must begin with young people, who are more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than any other age group. More people between the ages of 15 and 29 lose their lives in crashes than from HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and homicide combined. GYTSM is a time to encourage this demographic to take the mantel and fight to change those statistics.

To learn more about our work in support of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month read some of our past NTSB blog posts

Would you like to add your voice to the conversation happening this week around Global Road Safety Week?  Join the Youth For Road Safety global youth Twitter chat on Friday, May 10, 2019, from 15:00–16:00 GMT (10:00–11:00 EST), follow @Yours_YforRS and use the hashtag #SpeakUpForRoadSafety.



Being a Gadfly of Transportation Safety

By Nicholas Worrell

NTSB’s Nicholas Worrell (bottom row, far left) with IRF Caribbean Regional Congress attendees.
NTSB’s Nicholas Worrell (bottom row, far left) with IRF Caribbean Regional Congress attendees.

Recently, I had the opportunity to address the International Road Federation Caribbean Regional Congress (IRF). I was born in Barbados and became a U.S. citizen by choice, and it has been a pleasure to return to the region to share road safety messages and to learn what is being accomplished there to improve road safety.

My opening remarks before members of the regional congress invoked the Greek philosopher Socrates, who called himself “the gadfly of Athens” because he challenged the status quo. In many ways, the NTSB is a gadfly of transportation safety.

The NTSB, an independent agency, has no regulatory power of its own; however, we have the broad latitude to investigate accidents and to issue recommendations to all sorts of potential change makers, even to other government agencies. We advocate for and urge change through the results of our accident investigations; we have seen firsthand the impact of poor transportation safety decisions, and this gives us a unique and respected voice.

The NTSB’s ability to improve U.S. transportation safety relies extensively on the quality of our reports and recommendations. These are based on exhaustive safety investigations that can take a year or longer, and which ultimately result in a report with recommendations. In every accident, our investigators take into account the human operator, the machine, and the environment.

Our Chairman often says that it is a testament to the work of our amazing investigative staff that more than 80 percent of our recommendations see favorable action.

As I told the IRF, we will continue to play the gadfly to the states, advocating for graduated driver’s licensing, so our children have time to learn and practice their knowledge before they are exposed to hazards like additional teens in the car or nighttime driving.

We’ll continue to play the gadfly about removing portable electronic devices from the driver’s seat.

We’ll continue to play the gadfly about separating drinking from driving and the fact that a driver is impaired before reaching a blood alcohol level of 0.08.

Why? Because our investigations often lead to findings that challenge the conventional thinking regarding transportation safety. And sometimes a new approach is what is needed to save lives and prevent injuries.

Esteban Salinas, IRF Director, Latin America & Caribbean, with members of Jamaica law enforcement.
Esteban Salinas, IRF Director, Latin America & Caribbean, with members of Jamaica law enforcement.

We also want to nurture and create other gadflies, safety advocates, and ambassadors for safety in their own region. And that’s part of the purpose for attending a conference like this. We recognize that each country is different, with its own unique legal and administrative challenges. But one common goal we share is to work harder to save lives and reduce crashes and injuries on our roadways.

We hope that, by working together, our safety messages will trickle down to the pedestrian in the street and the taxi and bus drivers who take the thousands of tourists to their destinations. We hope these messages reach the bicycle and motorcycle riders who do not feel the need to wear a helmet or the everyday driver who feels it’s okay to drive distracted or impaired.

Developing advocacy leaders is a constant daily process – as is advocating for transportation safety improvements, especially when these changes require changes in behavior. Creating effective advocates requires effective research, outreach, and engagement with groups such as the IRF Caribbean Congress. The NTSB hopes it can empower others to act.

Attendees at the IRF Caribbean Congress included transport ministers and their staff. They know, just as we do in the U.S., that a life lost or a life-long injury endured as a result of a transportation accident also has economic costs that go far beyond that person’s family. These events dramatically impact healthcare and education costs, some of which the state will never recover.

As a gadfly of transportation safety, it is our job to pester elected officials, industry, and other stakeholders to help save lives and prevent injuries. Napoleon Hill said that “without persistence, you will be defeated even before you start, but with persistence you will win.” And the IRF delegates back at their jobs as road safety advocates are highly motivated and persistent – so we will win and they will win.

Nicholas Worrell is the Chief, Safety Advocacy Division