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Remarks at 2017 NAWHSL (National Association of Women Highway Safety Leaders) Conference
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Louisville, Kentucky

Good evening!  What a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you to celebrate NAWHSL’s [National Association of Women Highway Safety Leaders]  50th Anniversary.   I am delighted to be here in Kentucky and it is wonderful to see longtime attendees as well as meet new colleagues.  If this is your first meeting, I am sure you know that you are joining a very special group.  Thank you for inviting me to speak, Kay [Brodbeck], and for your leadership.  In addition, thank you, Jennie [Glasgow], for never letting us forget the importance of history and the people who came before us.  I also am honored because I get to follow longtime NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] regional administrator Dr. Beth Baker and NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board]’s own Dr. Bob Beaton.  Both Beth and Bob are dedicated and data-driven transportation leaders whom I feel lucky to know.

I work at the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.  We are an independent federal agency that investigates transportation disasters and makes recommendations to improve safety.  In addition, coincidentally, this year also marks the NTSB’s 50th Anniversary!  However,  that is not the only thing that the NTSB and NAWHSL share.

When you think of the NTSB, you may think of our dark blue uniforms with the bright yellow letters on the back.  You will see us at the scene of disasters in all modes of transportation – aviation, maritime, highway, and rail as well as incidents involving pipelines and hazardous materials.  NTSB has a Most Wanted List of Transportation Priorities which are 10 issues we know have the chance of moving forward if given some good hard pushes.  We also hold meetings and conduct special studies on various topics, including alcohol impairment, rear seat safety, pedestrian safety, and speeding .  This information always is available to the public.

NTSB and NAWHSL may not look much alike, but we have key similarities.

First, neither of our organizations have regulatory or enforcement authority, so we have to use our powers of persuasion – NTSB’s recommendations are just that, best practice recommendations, not requirements.  Fortunately, both of us wear the “white hats” in communities so people and organizations often want to do what we ask.  Second, safety is inherent in what we do, and we have no other motive than promoting it.  I think people understand and respect that.  Third, you know your communities well and help them.  Often we go into communities when they have just experienced one, two, or sometimes dozens of deaths, so we get to know communities during their most tragic times, and we do everything we can to help them.

I attended NAWHSL conferences for at least a decade before I was nominated to the NTSB.  I know it has been more than 10-years, because when I picked up my Mom from the airport just a few weeks ago, I found she is still using this 11-year-old NAWHSL tote bag from 2006!  I know you are thinking I should have given her a new bag by now – and I have – but she will not give up that item - she really loves that bag.  My mother says it is “durable,” and durability is a trait I associate with NAWHSL because of the long-lasting work that you do.

The point is, over the years, I have learned so much from all of you, as NAWHSL representatives.  This year, I especially enjoyed the Share Session and the wonderful panel showing traffic safety from the perspectives of the city, the country, and the islands!   I feel grateful because NAWHSL prepared me well for the NTSB because you always remind me about the importance of showing the humanity in our work.  Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the numbers or the mechanics or the engineering especially during an NTSB investigation, but, as Kentucky State Engineer Patty Dunaway said during this conference, we all are really in the People Business.  NAWHSL always has helped me remember that, because of your consistent and relentless demonstration of compassion for traffic safety victims and for each other.

I have always believed in the power of NAWHSL and I have to admit, over the years, I have tried to figure out the “secret” to your effectiveness!  You have been effective – in fact, even as a relatively short timer attending NAWHSL, I can name 3 instances when NAWHSL has come to the rescue to improve traffic safety – and usually behind the scenes.  For example, NAWHSL was one of the first to focus in a positive way on senior mobility and keeping aging drivers safe, thanks in part to people like Merry Banks.  You were the first to actually “think globally and act locally” because you were the first American organization to pass a resolution to endorse global road safety and then support the Decade of Action, thanks to leaders like Leanna Depue and Jennie Glasgow.  In addition, most recently, with the strategic work of a NAWHSL past president, Rolayne Fairclough, Utah passed the first .05 BAC [Blood Alcohol Concentration] law in the nation.  A law that will help prevent some of the 10,000 lives we lose every year due to alcohol-impaired driving.

So what is NAWHSL’s “secret sauce”?  I think I have it figured out.  I think it is your unique combination of fearlessness and charm, strongly supported by your many diverse community service activities in non-traffic safety areas.  Yes, it is your work as community leaders in other areas to improve your state and local communities that I think helps make your traffic safety work so effective.  Your work with children with serious illnesses, veterans, the deaf community, leadership camps, biking to raise money for cancer, and so many other areas.  It is this other community work, like the original founders of NAWHSL in 1967, that helps demonstrate your genuine concern for your communities and helps people respond positively to your traffic safety efforts.  As the program’s Historical Notes show, “NAWHSL was founded in November 1967 following the National Conference of Women Community Leaders for Highway Safety …”.   Your community work demonstrates your compassion and humanity.

This year, the people of Utah showed their humanity and their fearlessness, thanks to the support of former and current NAWHSL members.  They became the very first state in our nation to pass a .05 BAC law; a law that could save 1,790 lives every year.  They did it despite an extensive and expensive campaign of fearmongering and misinformation that compared impaired driving to “driving while old.”  We at the NTSB were pleased to be invited to Utah to help pass the .05 BAC law, to demonstrate that the best strategy is simply to separate drinking from driving  [Slide presentation displays graphic message - “Choose One: Drink or Drive”].  We stand ready to work with you as well.

I love quotes and, since I am from Texas, I thought I would end with a quote from President Lyndon Baines Johnson [LBJ], who was not only from Texas but also served as President of the United States in 1967 when NAWHSL began.  I have always liked this quote and I think it applies to the unstoppable force that NAWHSL and your colleagues, like the NTSB, can be in saving lives, if we work together.  LBJ said:  “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.”  That is the spirit of NAWHSL.  But when I mentioned LBJ to my colleague John Brown, he reminded me that – once again – there was a woman who was integral to the story – Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady who led the efforts to beautify America’s highways.  John was right.  Lady Bird Johnson said: “Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” That also is the spirit of NAWHSL.  Thank you, NAWHSL, for your service to your communities, your passion for safety, and your kindness towards everyone.  To paraphrase both LBJ and Lady Bird, here’s to many more years of solving safety problems together and caring so much that we are not ever afraid.

Happy 50th Anniversary, NAWHSL!

Thank you.