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Opening Remarks – Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), 70th Anniversary Event, The National Mall, Washington, DC
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
The National Mall, Washington, DC

​Good morning, FCCLA!  And Happy 70th Anniversary!  It is an honor and a pleasure to be here with you today to celebrate 70 years of strong, effective leadership and service by the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America!  Thank you for inviting me.

In my previous road safety work with the United Nations’ Decade of Action for Road Safety, I had the pleasure of meeting some of you and working closely with former FCCLA members like Kaylen Larson and Elliot Johnson.  So I have seen first-hand your effective and committed work for good causes.

And now, in my new position, I’m proud to serve as Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.   As the first public health scientist appointed to the NTSB, I am especially excited to be here with you, at this rally today, with its focus on health.

Your theme speaks to a well-established truth – Together We Are Healthy.  Because together, we can encourage each other to make healthy choices as individuals, and together, we also can advocate for change, for healthy policies as a society.  I am extremely impressed that you all prepared and served 70,000 meals in commemoration of your 70th anniversary!  Good, nutritious food is a key part of being healthy.  Likewise, having transportation options that are safe and accessible, is another key part of health.

At the NTSB, we investigate transportation accidents in all modes, we identify their causes, and we recommend ways to make transportation safer.  We care about your
being able to travel safely to and from school, and around your communities -- whether it’s by walking, biking, on public transportation, or in cars.  We care about you as new drivers as you gain practice and experience on the road because the early years of driving can be especially dangerous.  And from a public health perspective, we care about prevention – using the knowledge we learn from tragedies to prevent future crashes from happening.

As many of you know, more young people die in crashes every year than from any other cause.  In fact, more than 50,000 young people have died on our roads in the last decade.

Road deaths, especially for young people, are truly an epidemic on wheels.

The statistics show that not only are teenagers more likely to get in a crash in the first place, but at the same time, your fellow teens are less likely to wear a seatbelt.  More than half of teens who died in crashes in 2012 were not wearing a seatbelt. [1]

Fatigue is another real problem. Many of us like to stay up late, but school start times can be very early. Driving fatigued for high school students can be deadly.  Drugged driving is on the rise too. And we are all too aware of the dangers of distraction.

But there is good news.  It is good news to know that there are people like you - people who believe in service.  I believe that each of us should serve our country, our communities, and our world, to the best of our abilities.   And I know that each of you feels the same way because I have seen it in your work.  But what is even more admirable is that you are already aware of the importance of speaking up and advocating for health and safety – for all communities, locally and nationally, just as you are doing today.

When I was a junior in high school, I had been volunteering in my community, in food drives and clean-up campaigns, when I decided to spend a summer volunteering to build latrines in the South American country of Paraguay.  It was while I was walking along a dirt road with the elementary school kids from our village, and we had to jump aside as large vehicles roared past, that I began to realize the importance of safe transportation.

Unlike all of you here today, what I didn’t realize at that time was that I could do something about it!  What I didn’t realize was that safe walking and safe transportation IS public health.  What I didn’t realize was that I needed to speak out, to advocate for safe roads for those kids who weren’t able to speak out for themselves.  I didn’t realize that I could improve their health by ensuring their safe transportation.

It took me many years to realize that.  But it makes me happy and hopeful to know that I don’t have to wait ANY time at all for you to realize that, because you are here, together, 70 years strong, and already speaking up for health and safety, to local, state, and national political leaders.

You are the most connected generation ever. You are connected to the whole world. You can get the message out about road safety like no other generation has. You can SPEAK UP like no other generation has.

You may hear buzz words in the transportation safety community like “changing the safety culture.”  Well, you are the leaders and the generation that will make tomorrow a safer culture for this nation and the world.

And you can start with one tweet, or one posting on Facebook or one Instagram post. That is the first step to getting the message out to as many people as you can, in as many ways as possible, about the importance of traffic safety to our health and happiness.

It’s my job and my husband’s job to protect our 6-year-old son’s health and happiness, but we can’t do that alone. It will take all of us working together to keep everyone safe.  But we can count on each other to do that.

There is an African proverb that I think is especially fitting for us today - on the 70th anniversary of FCCLA making a difference in our communities and in our world:

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.”

I am confident that, together, with all of your help – we will  go far – to make our roads, our communities, our country and our world a safer, healthier, and happier place - for everyone.  Thank you.