Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt

Robert L. Sumwalt, III
Member, National Transportation Safety Board
Address to the National Organizations for Youth Safety
National Teen Distracted Driving Summit
Arlington, Virginia  October 17, 2011


I want to thank NOYS for the invitation to speak to you this morning. The NTSB and NOYS have enjoyed a tremendous working partnership to advance teen driving safety in the past few years, and I appreciate every opportunity to make that partnership even stronger.

As most of you know, the NTSB is an independent Federal agency, charged by Congress with investigating transportation accidents, determining their probable cause, and issuing safety recommendations to prevent their recurrence.

Our goal is to find out WHAT happened and then, more importantly, WHY it happened, so that we can work to prevent similar accidents in the future.

The NTSB itself has no regulatory authority, but ours is the bully pulpit we advocate fiercely and publicly for safety improvements borne from decades of accident investigations.

That bully pulpit, however, works only so well. As we know from decades of research, the most effective voice for changing societal attitudes and behaviors comes not from government officials like me, but rather from an individual's own peers. That's the very reason why NOYS is such an effective advocate for teen driving safety.

Some of you may have heard of the author John C. Maxwell, who has written dozens of books on leadership. Mr. Maxwell writes that "leadership is about influence - nothing more, nothing less."

As the individuals working among your peers to end distracted driving, you are the safety leaders among our nation's young drivers. You wield the influence.

When I joined the board five years ago, I was asked what I would like for my advocacy area to be. Knowing that my then 12 year-old daughter would soon approach those teenage driving years, I chose teen driving. Well, today she is 17 and, yes, she is driving. I think she's a pretty careful driver, but that still does not discount the sheer anxiety I feel each and every time I hear her pick up the keys and walk out the door.

I'm anxious because I know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. That's more than cancer, more than guns, and more than drugs.

NOYS knows this, too, and that's why it has taken aggressive stands on such issues as underage drinking and driving, seat belt use, and Graduating Driver Licensing.

At the NTSB, the issue of Teen Driver Safety is on our Most Wanted List it's one of our highest national advocacy priorities, and an area in which we see far too many states moving far too slowly.

That's where NOYS can make an enormous, and immediate, impact. You don't have to wait on your state legislatures to change their laws on GDLs, or underage drinking and driving. You can reach out to your peers directly and educate them on the right behaviors, the safest behaviors. It's that personal, one-on-one interaction that can effect meaningful change.

"Leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less."

How will you use your influence to reduce teen driving accidents?

Thank you. Safe travels, and may God bless America.