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Remarks to NTSB Youth Open House, Washington, DC
Robert L. Sumwalt
Washington, DC

Good morning and welcome to Washington and to the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Robert Sumwalt, and I am one of the Board Members of the NTSB.

I understand that you represent various high schools across the nation, so before I proceed I want to recognize you by state. When I call your state, please stand and we will greet you with a warm round of applause:

Nebraska ... Oregon ... Pennsylvania ... California ... Utah ... Illinois ... Montana ... Mississippi ... Ohio ... Florida ... Virginia ... Maryland ... Washington, DC. Thank you.

By a show of hands, how many of you know about the NTSB and what we do?

The NTSB is an independent federal agency, charged by Congress to investigation transportation accidents, to determine probable cause of the accident, and make recommendations to prevent future accidents. We investigate accidents involving all modes of transportation - we investigate all civil aviation accidents in this country, and we investigate selected accidents involving rail, marine, highway, and pipeline and those involving transportation of hazardous materials. You will hear a great deal more about us during the course of the day.

We have about 400 employees - most of which are here in Washington. The remainder are located in regional offices throughout the country. There are five board members, appointed by the President, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

I am excited for each of you, for the opportunity you have to educate yourself about the NTSB and teen driving safety. Teen driving is a very important issue here at NTSB, so much so that we that Teen Driver Safety is on our Most Wanted List. It is one of our highest national advocacy priorities and, unfortunately, an area where we still encounter many challenges.

I want to start by sharing a few stories with you. Ten years ago, I was in a hotel room reviewing a speech I was about to give when the phone rang. It was my wife. She was trying to tell me something, but because she was very upset and crying I had a difficult time understanding her. As the conversation unfolded, I learned that the 16-year-old son of a very good friend had been killed in an automobile accident.

Unfortunately, accidents involving teen drivers is not uncommon.

Last April, in Haymarket, Virginia, an 18-year-old driver was traveling with four friends. The driver was speeding - traveling 68 mph in a 40-mph speed zone, on what was known as "roller coaster road." They struck a deer that was in the road and the driver lost control of the car. The car went off the side of the road and crashed into two trees-leaving two dead and three injured. No one was wearing a seat belt.

In Porter, Texas-in 2011-five teens were packed in a Honda Accord when the driver lost control of the vehicle. The 17-year-old driver, along with an 18-year-old friend, died instantly. The other three teen passengers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Can any of you tell me what the most deadly form of transportation is?

Motor vehicles.

Each year, more than 32,000 people are killed in car crashes in the United States. That's more people than attend many state universities.

And do you know who is involved in a disproportionate number of crashes and deaths? Young novice drivers like you. In the last decade, more than 58,000 teenagers have died in car crashes.

What is especially tragic is that car crashes are the Number one cause of death for teenagers, taking the lives of about 15 teenagers every day. This death rate is higher than for deaths related to cancer, gun violence, or drugs.

As in the stories I just shared, risky behavior, poor judgment, and bad decisions by teen drivers too often lead to deadly consequences. The NTSB believes that teens should learn to drive in a controlled environment, one that gradually introduces them to increased responsibilities. States should implement comprehensive teen driver safety programs that include learner's permit and intermediate driver licensing stages, restrictions on night-time driving by teens, limits on the number of teen passengers, and bans on the use of portable electronic devices.

My daughter is 17-years-old, and she is driving. I am anxious every time she walks out the door. What I want my daughter and all of you to understand is that real risks come with the reward of being a new driver.

That's why when you are learning to drive, you hear so much about using seat belts and not drinking and driving. It is why states have graduated driver licensing laws designed to allow young drivers to safely gain driving experience before obtaining full driving privileges.

But, there is a growing concern: The NTSB is seeing more and more crashes caused by distracted driving. In one recent crash, a young driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the accident. The last text was right before the fatal impact that killed him.

In our first distraction investigation-in 2002-a young driver who was talking on her cell phone crossed a median, flipped over, and landed on a minivan.

That conversation killed five people.

You are here today because you want to help prevent these tragedies. Working with the National Organizations for Youth Safety to participate in the Global Youth Traffic Safety Month is a step in the right direction.

The NTSB and NOYS both realize that peer-to-peer education and support of youth leaders are an important part of the solution to decreasing youth traffic injuries and fatalities. You join us here today from schools and youth organizations to learn together and build a youth movement that sets the stage for a generation of safer, more educated young drivers. The power of NOYS and Close-Up to gather such great youth leaders from around the country is an inspiration to all of us-reminding us to continue to work with youth and involve them in the process of both education and action.

Not one more teen has to die for us to figure out that it's smarter-and far safer-to pull over before placing a call, reading a text, sending a tweet, or updating a Facebook page. My goal is that I won't be citing a traffic crash involving one of you or your peers the next time I speak about teen driver safety.

Our Chairman Deborah Hersman said it best, "No call, no text, no update is worth a human life."

In closing, I want to thank you for your leadership on this very important issue. As one writer put it, "Leadership is about influence. Nothing more, nothing less." I hope that your experience in Washington this week will help you use your leadership influence to positively inspire your peers to practice safe driving habits.