Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt

Robert L. Sumwalt
Meharry-State Farm Alliance
Teen Safe Driving Champion Award Presentation
and ThinkFast Program
Blythewood, South Carolina
April 25, 2012

Good morning, I am pleased to represent the National Transportation Safety Board and join Meharry Medical College and State Farm Insurance, to recognize Ms. Kai Sheffield.

I want to start by sharing a story with you. Ten years ago, I was in my hotel room reviewing a speech I was about to give when the phone rang. It was my wife. She was trying to tell me something, but because she was very upset and crying I had a difficult time understanding her. As the conversation unfolded, I learned that the 16-year-old son of very good friends had been killed in an automobile accident.

In the last decade, more than 58,000 teenagers died in car crashes. Preventing these tragedies is a priority at the NTSB, so important that we placed the issue of Teen Driving on our Most Wanted list.

The NTSB believes that young drivers should learn to drive in a controlled environment, one that gradually introduces them to increased responsibilities. States should implement comprehensive teen driver safety programs that include learner's permit and intermediate driver licensing stages, restrictions on nighttime driving by teens, limits on the number of teen passengers, and bans on the use of portable electronic devices.

It may seem like a long time ago, but I remember when I got my driver's license. I remember how it felt like a rite of passage. And I admit that being in or dying from a traffic crash was the last thing on my mind. Now, my daughter is 17-years-old and she is driving. I am anxious every time she walks out the door. What I want my daughter and all of you to understand is that with the reward of being a new driver come real risks. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, taking the lives of fifteen teenagers every day. This death rate is higher than for deaths related to cancer, gun violence, or drugs. My goal is that I won't be citing a traffic crash involving one of you the next time I'm speaking to your peers about teen driver safety.

That's why partnerships with the Meharry-State Farm Alliance are so important. By educating youth about the importance of wearing a seat belt, obeying traffic rules, and not engaging in distracting behaviors like talking or texting while driving will prevent the needless deaths and injuries on our nation's roadways.

Kai the work you are doing to educate your peers on the importance of being responsible drivers is saving lives!