In the United States, motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death among those ages fifteen to twenty. Approximately 4,000 teens died and 300,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2006. Even though they drive less than other age groups, mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.
Teens driving on rural roads face a greater challenge. Even though rural roads carry less than half of America’s traffic, they are home to over half of the nation’s vehicular deaths. Worse, the fatality rate for rural crashes is more than twice the fatality rate in urban crashes. For teens, the mix of speeding, not wearing a seat belt, driving while distracted (on cell phones or with other teens in the car), driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and driving inexperience, often times has a deadly consequence.
As part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rural Safety Initiative, we have partnered with National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) to develop a new generation of advertising and educational materials to encourage teenagers to drive safely. To do that, we called on the one group in America that actually understands how to talk to teenagers and knows how to get them to do something different….other teenagers.
Last month, I invited six extraordinary teenagers living in rural areas around the U.S. to exchange ideas on new ways to communicate with teens about safer driving by teens. Their enthusiasm and passion for advocating traffic safety issues was clearly apparent. We discussed why teens were not using seat belts each and every time they are in a car, ways to prohibit retailers from selling alcohol to minors, how to better target teen drivers through media and communication campaigns, why teens do not perceive distracted driving (such as text messaging while driving) as a dangerous and also what can be done to better prepare teens through driver education to drive on rural roads which are often gravel instead of paved.
Hearing their personal experiences with traffic safety in rural communities and why they are so passionate about the issue was inspiring. I have asked them to share these experiences and their thoughts on the best way to educate other teenagers on traffic safety issues:
Jason Westerheide- Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Minster, Ohio
Today was an awesome experience for us: six youths, coming together with a Deputy Secretary and passionate traffic safety activist, to collaborate and highlight the underlying traffic safety issues that are not being discussed. Hopefully we can move forward after today to stimulate the youth, to convince the adults, and empower everyone to take positive actions for traffic safety with both youth and adults! Through education, communication, and collaboration, we will make a difference in the lives of many Americans to come.
Eric Dixon- Technology Student Association (TSA), Knoxville, Tennessee
Communication is the key to solving rural traffic problems. This communication needs to be youth-to-youth in order for the youth of our nation to accept these traffic safety issues into their lives and to remember them when the time comes. We are tired of hearing stories and receiving commands from adults twenty years our senior. We want to hear from responsible youth our age, and we want to know we are not alone in our efforts for traffic safety.
Whitley Shae Hill- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Grayson, Kentucky
I hope that our focus today on the issues and the explanations of why they are issues will create awareness, as well as legislation to prevent rural traffic fatalities. In an effort to eliminate preventable traffic incidents we must raise awareness to youth, as well as adults across the nation about the impact these collisions have on lives, families, and communities. We must also pioneer for future generations the ability to step outside our “normal” boundaries to advocate for safer, more productive roads.
Kristi Ruth- Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, Chariton, Iowa
I believe that rural traffic safety is a very important issue. This is something that affects millions of people across the U.S. Coming from a very rural area, I understand the importance of being able to drive on safe rural roads. I have had many close calls that could have had a deadly outcome. Thousands of teenagers lose their life every year due to traffic incidents. Teens need to know they are not alone in standing up for traffic safety.
Elise Strahan- Youth Crime Watch American and (YCW) and National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), Hubert Heights, Ohio
Having the honor to speak to Deputy Secretary Barrett gave me a chance to voice my views on teens and traffic safety today. I hope that America’s leaders today can better relate to the leaders of tomorrow through education and communication.
Jacob Holm- Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Valley City, North Dakota
It was an honor being involved in the discussion with Deputy Secretary Barrett. This is a prime example of how teens can become involved in traffic safety issues. When youth get together with a common voice we have the opportunity to truly make a difference. I challenge you all to let your passion flow and make a difference in our world. We are the generation that will make a difference in policy and social norms. If we band together we will make a difference. Just remember that standing up for what you believe in is never uncool or nerdy. It takes a lot of strength to do what is right so I applaud you for taking the first step in the right direction. Always remember that you are never alone in doing the safe and right thing.