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Speeches

Remarks Before the Press & Youth at Launch of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, Washington, DC
Robert L. Sumwalt
Washington, DC
5/8/2012

I am so pleased to represent the NTSB at the launch of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month.

Secretary LaHood, I want to applaud you for your leadership on transportation safety to safeguarding the traveling public.

Recently, I addressed a group of teenagers at Blythewood High School in South Carolina, where Kai Sheffield, a senior, was awarded a Teen Driving Safety Champion Award by the Meharry Medical College-State Farm Driving Champions Program for her work in spreading the message about teen driver safety. Yesterday, I met with many of you and heard about the events you are organizing to spread the same message. Each of you has inspired me to do more.

At the NTSB, we have seen distracted operations on our Nation's railways, airways, waterways, and-most commonly-on our roadways. The fact is that distractions have been a problem for drivers ever since the first driver drove the first car. The NTSB is becoming increasingly concerned about distractions from portable electronic devices, however, because of the growing number of highway crashes that involve driver distraction, combined with the overall increasing use of cell phones and portable electronic devices. Our nation is at a deadly intersection of mobility and connectivity.

Last September, we completed an investigation where a commercial truck driver, on his phone, crossed the highway median, overrode a barrier, and struck a van-killing himself and 10 others.

Then, in December, the Board met on a multivehicle crash caused by a teen driver who had sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the fatal accident. After a decade of issuing recommendations about distraction, we issued our boldest one yet. We called for a nationwide ban on the use of all portable electronic devices for all drivers.

Our recommendation is not based solely on our accident investigations. Numerous studies conducted by academic and government institutions, both domestically and internationally, make the case that portable electronic devices are dangerously distracting.

We are concerned about distraction in all drivers, but as this is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, I want to take a moment to address distraction among our least experienced drivers, teens like you. Our very first distraction investigation, 10 years ago-a few miles away in Largo, Maryland-involved a young novice driver. While operating her vehicle on a highway in traffic, she was talking on her cell phone. She lost control of her vehicle, crossed a median, flipped over, and landed on a minivan. Five people, including this young woman, were killed.

Based on this investigation, the NTSB asked that states to prohibit the use of interactive wireless communication devices by young, novice drivers.

In many accidents involving teen drivers, risky behavior and poor judgment too often lead to deadly consequences. 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 night-time driving by teens, limits on the number of teen passengers, and bans on the use of portable electronic devices.

We know that the NTSB alone cannot curb the bad habit of distracted driving or ensure teen driver safety. A collaborative effort is required-with all of us working together. That is one of the reasons why you are here, to launch Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. You are an important piece of the puzzle. Peer-to-peer communication does work, and it is an important part of changing culture.

Parents and guardians also have a role. As a parent, I know that the law provides critical guidance in areas like highway safety. But we don't have to wait for a law to help our teenagers. My advice, parent-to-parent: Start your teen driver out in a controlled fashion. Gradually increase the complexity of the driving. Practice in all conditions. Once your teen has a license, restrict the number of passengers that can be in the car, and enforce the night-time restriction. Parents and guardians, most importantly: model good driving. Your behavior is the most powerful instructor. Our teens learn from what they see.

As we gather to kick off the launch of Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, it's time to ask: What will it take to move from awareness to ACTION? The NTSB does not want another decade of tragic crashes, investigations, and recommendations. We need to determine what we can do now-individually and collectively-to stop the deadliness of teen driving. Many of you have already begun the work, and that's why you're here. Saving lives is NTSB's Number One priority. It will take all of us working together to achieve that goal.

Thank you, Sandy, and NOYS for your dedicated work and for inviting me to participate in this event.