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Welcoming Remarks, NTSB – Open House and Transportation Education Day with DRIVESMART Virginia, Washington, DC
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC

​Good morning!  And welcome to the National Transportation Safety Board.  Thank you to DRIVE SMART Virginia for helping us organize this Open House, and thanks to all of you for joining us here today. 

I am really glad to see all of you and I hope you’ll enjoy your day here seeing what we do at the NTSB as well as learning more about transportation safety and how you can play an important part in teen driver safety.

But first, on behalf of the entire NTSB, I want to express my condolences to the friends and family of the three recent Herndon graduates who were killed in a crash while traveling in Texas this August. And I hope the two graduates injured in that crash are recovering as fast as possible.  This crash is another reminder that even though reaching teens is vital, we need to work to ensure that safety on our roads is a priority for people of all ages.

As you know, the NTSB investigates accidents – and although we are focusing on traffic crashes today, the NTSB investigates accidents in all modes of transportation -- aviation, marine, and rail. We also investigate pipeline incidents because pipelines transport goods.

At the NTSB, we don’t just find out what happened, but why it happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again. We do this by doing detailed work to determine the Findings, the Conclusions, and the Probable Cause of accidents and then giving Safety Recommendations to help make transportation safer.

I love my job. Every day I get to work with dedicated people doing interesting things – and the best part is that it’s for a good cause – to save lives.  And when I’m at the scene of an investigation – like recently, when I was launched to a ship lost in a hurricane – I have the privilege of talking with family members who have lost loved ones and assuring them that the NTSB will do everything in our power to find out what happened in order to prevent other families from having to suffer the same grief.

My background is public health but I come from a family of medical doctors, including my husband who is a pediatrician.

I’m guessing you’ve heard from your own doctor about lifestyle choices – such as being active, going outside, eating well, and not smoking – and about how these lifestyle choices can prevent disease and death.

This is certainly true, but if the experts could get together and make one magic pill to keep you alive throughout your teen years, the label on the bottle would say “drive safely.”

That’s because every year, 2500 young people die on our roads – that’s seven young people every day. You’ve heard of epidemics.  Well, this is literally an epidemic on wheels.  And this is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a pill to help you drive safely, but we have created effective ways to reduce your risk when driving and to prevent accidents from happening in the first place – some of these methods came about thanks to our in-depth accident investigations here at the NTSB.  Things like wearing your seat belt and not drinking and driving and not driving distracted and GDL laws.  You’ll hear more about this in our teen driving panel this morning and throughout the day.

At the display stations, you’ll also to learn more about our investigations. You’ll see crash remnants and data recorders, and you’ll get the chance to talk to our accident investigators.  You’ll also get to learn about law enforcement tools and strategies.  All of this is part of our work here at the NTSB.

When we investigate a crash, we look at every aspect that could have affected safety – the road, the vehicle, and the driver.  So whatever you’re interested in, I think you will find something here that will fascinate you today.

And I hope you will see how you – each one of you – can help change our communities, our country, and even our world for the better by changing people’s feeling about safety which will help change behavior and culture.  For example, the way that we think about drinking and driving now is very different from when I was young, and it has been a change for the better thanks to people who spoke out against drunk driving.

When I was 9 years old, the car my mom was driving was hit by a drunk driver. My brother and I were in the back seat and fortunately, maybe because we had been fighting, my mom made us wear our seat belts, which was also not common in those days. My brother and I weren’t hurt in the crash, but my mom was injured even though she had her seatbelt on. The drunk driver who ran into us lived in my town and was known to both my family and the police, but he was never charged.

At that time, it was not even considered that far outside the norm to drive after drinking. Laws were weak, and people thought the combination of drinking and driving was their choice, not about the hazard they presented to others.

Today, that drunk driver who hit us would face much more serious consequences. Even though far fewer people today think it’s okay to drive drunk, drinking and driving is still a serious problem we have to tackle.

As we learn more about what puts drivers at risk of crashing, our cultural norms have to change to adapt to evolving risks. For example, we are only beginning to regard distracted driving the same way we look at drinking and driving.

We are fortunate to have Fletcher Cleaves with us today, who will tell us his own compelling story about distraction in the next panel.  And it is a great panel – with Fletcher, Dr. Mary Pat McKay, our Chief Medical Officer and Jennifer Morrison, one of our senior highway investigators.

And I want to mention one more topic: fatigued driving. Last year the NTSB hosted a forum called “Awake, Alert, Alive,” chaired by then-Member Mark Rosekind. Now Dr. Rosekind is the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but he has come back to talk to you this afternoon about the dangers of drowsy driving.

There is a lot for you to see and do today. I hope that all of you leave here better equipped with safe driving knowledge. Just as importantly, I hope that you leave committed to changing your own driving habits based on this knowledge. And maybe, just maybe, you will leave inspired to think about a career in transportation safety.

There’s no magic pill to cure our epidemic on wheels. But we do know a lot about how to reduce serious injuries and death on our roads.  And we can do that with your help.

Many of you can and will become safety ambassadors to share safe driving knowledge with your friends and family.

I challenge you to take what you learn here today to make changes in your own life, and to help others see how we can all play a part in preventing crashes on our roads. 

Thank you.