With America's youngest drivers now back in school, now is the time to educate them about the dangers of distracted driving. And to make sure they get the important safety message that one text or call can wreck it all, we've recently had very strong support from many terrific partners, most recently NASCAR, Front Row Motorsports, State Farm, and AT&T.
In 2010, 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, and an estimated additional 416,000 were injured. New statistics released by NHTSA show that, also in 2010, 375 teens were driving while distracted in crashes that resulted in the loss of 403 lives. Of those killed in teen distraction crashes, 55 percent were teens themselves.Our new NHTSA data show that in 2010 drivers age 15 to 19 were responsible for 13 percent of fatal distracted driving related crashes.
That's why on Saturday, I was happy to join State Farm for a "Celebrate My Drive" teen safe driving event in Tysons Corner, Virginia, one of 400 similar events held nationwide that day. And I have to say that the State Farm team pulled out all the stops. From prizes to driving challenges to on-the-spot customized flip books, State Farm had quite a range of activities all of which featured the safety slogan, "Own every mile."
As I told the hundreds of young people at the event, "Own every mile" means to be responsible and pay close attention each and every moment you're at the wheel. I talked about the statistics we've collected and the studies we've performed showing how dangerous it is to text or talk on a cell phone while driving. I even had the cheerleading squads of Centreville High School and Bishop McNamara High School on their feet doing a new cheer that I hope will be performed at high schools across America this fall: "Don't text, [clap clap,] and drive, [clap clap.] Don't text, [clap clap,] and drive, [clap clap.]"
But, what seemed to make the greatest difference to the teens I spoke with were the real-life stories of victims and the loved ones left behind. Whether it was the story I told of a young Peoria woman killed in 2009 while she was texting behind the wheel or the firsthand accounts featured in our Faces of Distracted Driving video series, the particular seems to hit home.
That's why the recent "The Last Text" campaign from AT&T has been so effective. I'm sure you've seen these powerful ads by now where a victim or survivor reads the final text sent or received before a distraction-related crash.
An insurance company and a wireless carrier make sense as safe-driving partners, but so does NASCAR. As America's most popular auto racing group, NASCAR knows that it has an opportunity to reach fans who really take their car culture seriously. So it was a terrific pleasure to be at the Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday for the GEICO 400 and the unveiling of Front Row Motorsports' distracted driving vehicle, David Ragan's #34 car.
“It’s important to stay focused on the road, whether you are on the racetrack or the interstate," said Ragan. "Distracted driving injures and kills far too many people each year – particularly young people. I encourage teens and their parents to visit Distraction.gov, take the safe driving pledge, and learn more about the dangers of driving distracted.”
Look, these partners have stepped up to the plate and done something remarkable and responsible by reaching out to our nation's young drivers. I can't thank them enough for their efforts.
But their efforts won't be enough. It's time for everyone who cares about safe driving to speak up, so instead of celebrating effort, we can celebrate the end of this deadly epidemic.