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Remarks to the National Organizations for Youth Safety Interactive Traffic Safety Lab, Rosecroft, MD
Christopher A. Hart
Rosecroft, MD

Good morning.  Thank you for that kind introduction, and thanks to NOYS for inviting me to speak on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board.

I wish that, when I was a teen, I had the amazing energy of the teen delegates here today.  The Interactive Traffic Safety Lab is a unique opportunity for youth to improve their driving skills through these simulators and exhibits, and to strengthen their advocacy skills to influence their peers to improve their driving behaviors.

Many of your peers may dismiss traffic safety messages from me as so much babble from an old fuddy-duddy.  But if it comes from you, their peers, they are much more likely to listen.

As you may know, the NTSB investigates accidents in all modes of transportation.  We are not a regulatory agency, but we find out what causes crashes and we make recommendations to prevent recurrences.

The NTSB has made many recommendations over the years to protect young drivers.  But despite these recommendations, along with the dedicated efforts of federal and state regulators, teens are more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than from suicide, drugs, violence, and alcohol combined.

In 2015, more than 2,900 teens ages 15-20 were fatally injured in motor vehicle crashes as drivers or passengers.  That means that  about 8 teens will die from a traffic crash every day.  That is simply unacceptable.

That’s why you are here -- to make a difference.  And when I look at you, leaders of your generation, I know that you can make a difference in so many ways. 

Because of tragic lessons learned from decades of crashes, we are riding in cars with seat belts, air bags, and collision avoidance technologies.  But despite these life-saving advances, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.

That’s why the safety journey must continue.  You’re trying to make sure that another 2,900 teen lives are not lost in 2016.

The choices you make, how you drive, who you ride with, and the messages you deliver about driving safely can help make a difference and can help move us toward zero traffic fatalities.  

There are three issue areas on the NTSB Most Wanted List that could move us in that direction: Impairment, Distraction, and Fatigue.

Let’s start with impairment.  A staggering eighty-one percent of teen drivers killed in traffic crashes had a BAC of .08 or higher, despite the fact that drinking is illegal for this age group.  But this is not just a teen driver problem – it is a problem for every driver.  We must separate drinking from driving because impairment starts with the first drink.

Another issue is fatigue.  A fatigued driver is an unsafe driver.  Reaction time, judgment, and risk taking are all negative consequences from fatigue.  Just as you schedule time for other important activities, you need to schedule time to get a full night’s rest.  And like impairment, this applies to all drivers.

Now let’s turn to distraction. Portable electronic devices give drivers more opportunities for distraction, and experience has shown that distraction is a big risk, whether it is texting, handheld, or hands-free.  No matter your age, no use of a portable electronic device is ever worth a human life. 

Every one of us is susceptible to the dangers on our roadways. To reach zero fatalities, our culture needs an attitudinal and behavioral shift. We’ve done this before.  A generation ago, it was more acceptable to drink and drive.  Now, through grass –root programs such as MADD -- Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- we have seen progress.

I am confident that with your efforts, we can continue reducing the number of teens we lose every year to traffic crashes.

So thank you for inviting the NTSB, and thanks even more for your passion and determination to continue improving traffic safety.