Thank you Dontria for that warm introduction. And thanks to the leadership of NOYS for the opportunity to join you today. To all of the youth here, we appreciate everything you are doing to make our roads safer. And to all of you who have taken the time and effort to participate, let me tell you right now, you are the future leaders in making America's highways as safe as they can be. You are part of a movement and all movements begin with leaders. On behalf of the NTSB, I call upon each and every one of you to accept the challenge to lead toward greater safety.
Here is a quote from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani: "There are many qualities that make a great leader. But having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader." He said this after September 11th, but these words still ring true for the leadership I'm asking you to provide in transportation safety.
The world will never praise you for taking hard positions, but to save lives, especially your own and the lives of your friends, takes more than looking at videos and listening to speakers. It takes action. Speaking up and modeling good behavior...always using your seat belt and insisting on seat belt use...telling a friend to put down the phone and not drive distracted...taking the keys from someone too impaired to drive. These are the bold actions that show true leadership and I want every one of you to take the lead. That's what makes the difference.
But sometimes your good intentions will be unpopular. I call on you to buck the trend...to forge a new path... to rise above the rest. Your actions can save lives. It's May - high school students across the country are getting ready for their proms and seniors are getting ready to graduate. So many of your friends are driving for the first time in their lives. Your leadership is needed now more than ever. Year after year we read the stories of car crashes on prom night, or of crashes on the way home from graduation parties, or even accidents involving drivers who are just learning and need 100-percent focus on the driving task.
Two years ago, I read a news story about two stand-out athletes, Brendon and Samantha, from Hagerstown, MD, who lost their lives on prom night. The headlines: "Community Devastated After Fatal Accident on Prom Night."
Brendon and Samantha didn't get to go to college. They will not go on to have a career...or a family...or a future. At the NTSB, it's our job to investigate transportation crashes and find out what happened so that we can prevent future tragedies like this. We see these horrible results when something goes wrong or when someone makes a bad decision. But in conjunction with the NTSB's work, I believe gathering together for events like today's is also a big part of preventing the next tragic crash while driving to prom night, a graduation party, or home from school.
You all know that motor vehicles are the leading cause of death for teens. These are not accidents. We call them crashes and appropriately so because they can be prevented. They often involve alcohol or drugs, distractions from devices or other passengers, or the failure to use a seat belt. Sometimes it's just inexperience. They can all be prevented. It just takes someone - someone like you - speaking up and modeling good decisions. This, my friends, is the essence of leadership.
The fact is that making a difference in this world is not just showing up...or following others...or waiting for someone else to take the lead. It is about you and your personal convictions to make a better...safer...world. It is speaking up, taking action, and leading by example.
Life is precious.
Here is how Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson sums up what I am saying to you in her novel, "Gilead:" "...there must be courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us...to make ourselves useful."
The NTSB's mission depends on you, the future leaders of America, to be generous with your courage and your bravery...to bear the strength and convictions of your generation. For only in so doing will you make a measurable difference in this world. So I challenge each of you to keep speaking up. I challenge each of you to get the word out and grow this movement. I challenge you all to be true leaders and make the roadways safer for all of us.