Good morning and welcome to the National Transportation Safety Board! I’m Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, and we are excited to have you here with us today.
I have enjoyed working with NOYS youth for many years even before I was at the NTSB. In fact, NOYS youth – from many different member organizations – were often my hardworking interns for events at the US Capitol and the United Nations. I think NOYS youth were even the first to teach me about Twitter many years ago!
So when I came to the NTSB, I was happy to hear that NOYS has been, and continues to be, an important part of our youth safety activities.
As you know from Chairman Hart’s remarks yesterday, safety is a continuing journey, not a destination.
Here at the NTSB, we are glad that as youth safety leaders, you are taking strong steps on your own personal safety journey today, as well as helping people in your communities with their safety journeys. Knowing some of you and knowing NOYS, I am confident that you will lead the way on our country and our world’s journey to ever improving safety in transportation.
As you know, the NTSB investigates crashes – not only on highways, but in all modes of transportation such as aviation, marine, and rail. We also investigate pipeline incidents because pipelines transport goods.
At the NTSB, we do not simply find out what happened. We also investigate why it happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again. We do this by conducting detailed work to determine the Findings, the Conclusions, and the Probable Cause of an accident and then giving Safety Recommendations – all of this work is to help make transportation safer.
Today you will see how we do our work. Deputy Director of Research and Engineering, Jim Ritter, will explain more and his team will take you on a tour of our state-of-the-art lab following the two career panels to hear more about the interesting and lifesaving work that people do here every day.
As for myself and the other NTSB Board Members, a large part of our job is to carefully consider and then vote on the results of accident investigations, and, when needed, to act as our agency’s spokesperson at the scene of major accidents. But today, talking with you is one of the most important things I will do all day. Why? Because I consider it a personal priority to convince more smart, dedicated people, people who really care about making a positive difference in the world – people like you - to seriously consider transportation as a career.
Perhaps I should tell you a little about how I got into this field. I studied public health in school because I wanted to spend my life doing something that would help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives.
While I was a student, I started asking people about different topics in public health and I discovered a topic I had not thought of before, something people did not often think of as traditional public health. That topic was injury prevention especially as it related to motor vehicles – or traffic safety.
I remember writing to an expert at the Texas Transportation Institute asking, “What do you think are the biggest concerns in traffic safety?” You may laugh that I was asking such a simple question – and all of you are way ahead of where I was at that time in terms of knowledge about traffic safety – but, at that time, I honestly did not know much about any of the major traffic safety issues, such as impaired driving or occupant protection or distraction or speeding.
But do you know what happened? That expert at the Texas Transportation Institute took the time to answer my questions and then another expert at the CDC took time to answer more of my questions. That was when I began to realize that transportation safety was a way I could make a big impact on public health and safety.
It wasn’t long before I was studying transportation safety and eventually got fellowships and jobs in the field – jobs that I loved because they were interesting and challenging and because I could see our work was making a positive difference in the world by helping people stay safe as they moved around.
People sometimes ask me how I came to be Vice Chairman of the NTSB and I sometimes answer, “Well, I got a call from the White House,” which I initially thought might be a prank call from one of my brothers! Which is true, but the better answer might be, because I asked questions and there were people who were kind enough to answer them.
That is one of the great things about being a youth or a student of any age - people are usually happy to answer your questions. Plus, you never know when one of those answers will change your life.
That is what happened to me. So whatever area you are interested in – and I should add transportation is a diverse field that needs people of many different talents – I hope you will continue to ask questions and find what you love to do.
But whatever you decide to do, I have a good feeling you will be making our communities, our country, and our world better. So now, if you have any questions for me now, I would be happy to answer them.
Thank you again for coming and please give a warm welcome to Deputy Director Jim Ritter.