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Remarks at the Teen Distracted Driving Prevention Summit, Washington, DC
Christopher A. Hart
Remarks at the Teen Distracted Driving Prevention Summit, Washington, DC

Thank you for that very kind introduction, and thank you NOYS for inviting the NTSB to join you today. I also want to acknowledge Administrator Mendez, State Farm and all of the wireless carriers for the work you are doing to prevent distracted driving.

I am happy to be here among so many teens, advocates, educators, law enforcement and the media, all fighting for one common cause - to end preventable deaths caused by distracted driving. What an amazing effort this is, having teens communicate with teens about safer driving behavior.

Our challenge is clear - reducing motor vehicle crashes involving teenagers. More young people die in crashes every year than from suicide, drugs, violence, and alcohol combined. Moreover, teen drivers are significantly over-represented in fatal highway crashes. In the last decade, teen drivers represented less than 7 percent of the driving population, but more than 20 percent of all highway fatalities occurred in crashes involving teen drivers.

The relative inexperience of teen drivers means, among other things, that distraction can be a major issue for them. In our accident investigations, all too often we find that distraction is a cause or contributing factor. One type of distraction that many states are addressing is distraction from other teens in the car. More than half of all deaths in crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers occur when these drivers are transporting passengers younger than age 20 with no adult present.

The distraction that we’re addressing today, however, represents a threat that promises to get worse unless we attack it aggressively – distraction due to portable electronic devices; and the biggest culprit, by far, is texting. One study has shown that texting increases crash risk by 23 times. We must work together to change the cultural norms so that the dangerous combination of texting and driving is unacceptable.

Portable electronic devices do not belong in the driver’s seat, so the NTSB has recommended that states ban the nonemergency use of these devices by all drivers. How do we counter the increasingly prevalent notion that driving while distracted by a PED is ok? It will take much more than simply changing the laws to save lives. We need all of you to help change the culture of safety in this country, including educating both parents and youth about the risks associated with distracted driving.

What is so vitally important - and why I appreciate all of you being here today - is a cohesive, multi-faceted approach to change the culture of driving while distracted. We have recommended that all states enact laws, but we have also recommended strict enforcement, as well as extensive education, because we have learned from previous safety campaigns that laws aimed at changing behavior are much more likely to produce the desired result when combined with high visibility enforcement and public information campaigns. For example, before states enacted laws requiring the use of seat belts, their use was only 14 percent. When states began enacting seat belt laws, belt use increased to 59 percent in about 8 years. But it took high visibility enforcement and extensive education to bring seat belt use to its present level of about 85 percent. There have been similar results with other issues, such as drinking and driving, and widespread use of child restraints.

Legislation, enforcement, and education are all necessary to accomplish real behavior change.

When we issued our recommendation calling for a full ban on portable electronic devices, we knew it would be a challenge. We knew it would take time, and we knew it would require the commitment from all of you. Thus far we have seen progress, and I applaud all of you for the work you are doing.

But we continue to see crashes caused by distraction, so we still have a long way to go.

Teens must continue to develop good driving habits, and the young leaders who are here today must continue to educate their peers. We adults must also model good driving habits because our children learn from what they see us do. We must not take this task lightly; it might seem difficult at first, but I know we are all capable. The more voices who speak against distracted driving, who let it be known that distracted driving will not be tolerated, the faster we can stop it.

It is up to each and every one of us to decide that we will make the hard choices. We don't have to wait for a law to know that distracted driving kills. We must make the change now, by making sure that we don't fall into a temptation that could end our life or the life of someone else.

I believe in our future because I see that all of you here today are committed to making it better. I know that we can work together to make our highways safer. Let us take the rest of this day and tomorrow to figure out how we can work together to ensure safer highways for all. The future starts today, and I am glad it starts with all of us.

Thank you.