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Attentive Driving Forum: Countermeasures to Distraction - Chairman's Opening Remarks
Deborah A.P. Hersman
Attentive Driving Forum: Countermeasures to Distraction  - Chairman's Opening Remarks

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Christopher Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener.

Now, please turn your attention to the video screen.

That story - along with so many other tragedies of lives cut short, lives forever changed - that's why we're here today. It's time to address how to modify attitudes, change behaviors, and save lives.

Today, we are joined by experts as well as leading highway safety advocates. We also have exhibitors showcasing how they are fighting distracted driving.

Most poignantly, are the victims and family members who are here. They have suffered unimaginable losses, yet they work hard so others won't experience the tragedies they have known.

One person, who is making a difference, is Ross Brenner. Ross is a sophomore at Spanish River High School, in Boca Raton, Florida, and he's spearheading a national event to raise awareness about the dangers of texting and driving. His message to fellow teens is simple: don't text and drive. As Ross put it so well, "There is already enough danger in the world, we don't have to go out of our way to create our own." Ross, please stand and be recognized.

Another person who has been working for years to make a difference is champion racecar driver Andy Pilgrim. He has been focusing on teen driver safety for more than 15 years. Since car accidents are the biggest killer of our young people, Andy's message has been: Pay attention at all times while driving. His public service announcements, which you can see during the breaks, are outstanding. Andy, please stand and be recognized.

And look at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Yesterday, the town passed a complete cell-phone ban, hands-free and hand-held. Advocates Krista Slough and Joe Capowski, who worked so hard to achieve this ban, are here today. Congratulations to you, both, and to Chapel Hill. It is these individual and collective actions that will change attitudes and behaviors.

At the NTSB, we've seen distracted operations on our nation's railways, airways, waterways, and, most commonly, on our roadways. Ten years ago, we investigated a crash where a young driver was talking on her cell phone. Her car crossed the highway median, flipped over, and landed on a minivan. That conversation ended in five fatalities.

Just last year, we completed an investigation where a commercial truck driver, on his phone, crossed the median, overrode a barrier, and struck a van - killing himself and ten others.

Then, in December, the Board met on a multi-vehicle crash, caused by a teen driver who sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the fatal accident. After a decade of issuing recommendations about distraction, in December that we issued our boldest recommendation yet. We called for a nationwide ban on the use of portable electronic devices while driving.

That recommendation struck a chord. As it should.

We ignited a national dialog and heard from citizens across the country. Some said we had a lot of nerve; there goes intrusive government again. But, others applauded us for taking such a strong stand. We received letters, emails, phone calls, and original public service announcements. One man even sent a song he wrote called, "Shut Up and Drive."

Yes, our nation is at a deadly intersection of mobility and connectivity.

Mobility: Americans are always on the move. Millions of people drive billions of miles each day.

Connectivity: Just look at the growing market penetration of electronic devices. There are more wireless accounts in this country than people.

Raise your hand if you have one or more cell phones, Blackberrys, smartphones, or other devices. These devices are pervasive. They are in our offices, our homes, our schools, and, unfortunately, in our vehicles - with fatal results. People want to be connected - anywhere... anytime ... any how.

Whether it's handheld or hands-free, touching the dashboard, or waving at a windshield - it can be distracting. Further, there are multiple kinds of distraction - visual, aural, manual, and cognitive. And, we've got to dispel the myth of multi-tasking. We're still learning what the human brain can, and cannot, handle.

But, what is the price of our desire to be mobile and connected at the same time? Just ask Jacy Good, Allen Andres, and so many more. They can tell you: the price is too high.

Can any message, call, or text be worth someone's life?

As we gather on the eve of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, it's time to ask: What will it take to move from awareness to ACTION? It's clear that we don't need another decade of investigations and recommendations. It's clear we need to determine what we can do - individually and collectively - to stop the deadliness of distraction.

It's clear that we need to act now. Too much is at stake.

Let's listen, learn, and identify specific steps to put attention back in the driver's seat, improve safety, and, most importantly, save lives.

I look forward to an informative and provocative day of discussion. Now, I will turn the podium over to Deborah Bruce, who has done an outstanding job planning this forum. Dr. Bruce, please introduce the first panel.