Safety advocates regularly speak about the “epidemic of distracted driving” and the need to change our driving culture. Many blame teens for the epidemic, suggesting that their need to be connected has caused distracted driving crashes to rise. After attending the NOYS Distracted Driving Prevention Summit I am more optimistic than ever that it is our teens who will lead the movement to change the driving culture – not just for teens but, for their moms and dads also.
NOYS youth from across the country gathered in our nation’s capital this week to learn how to plan and implement distracted driving awareness events in their communities and how to engage their peers, parents, and community leaders to effectively reduce distracted driving crashes. I had an opportunity to speak with the teens at their dinner on Sunday evening. My talk was entitled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Distracted”, which included an impromptu role-play and an interactive discussion about speaking up for your safety when being driven by a distracted driver.
Teens learned from other teens who have successfully organized summits and other events across the country, learned how to raise money and how to capture media attention for their events. A research panel provided the latest data to help students understand the scope of the problem and ways to address the risk with peers.
Those who have been personally affected by distracted driving told their stories as a reminder that behind facts and statistics are real stories and real people whose lives have been permanently changed by the decisions of others to drive distracted. Practical and compassionate advice was given as to how best to use affected family members in educational and legislative efforts.
The two day event was capped off by presentations from youth themselves. Marissa Kunerth from Minnesota, Josh Sorbe, from South Dakota and an 18 year- old professional race car driver, Tristan Nunez from Florida, talked about their efforts to change the culture of driving in their communities. Mariisa and Josh have held local and regional summits in their states and have reached thousands of teens and their parents. They have accomplished so much and as NOYS mentors, are helping teens from across the country conduct their own summits.
Given that teens are committed to driving safer and are working hard to spread the message, shouldn’t adults follow their lead? As parents we must be better role models for our children and as employers we must establish safe driving rules for our employees and lead by example. With our teens leading the way, distraction-free driving will one day be accepted and expected by all of us.