As I stepped off the airplane in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was an aura of excitement and inspiration in the air. I was about to enter a conference center full of dedicated and driven traffic safety advocates, law enforcement, technology leaders, and youth who traveled from across the country with one goal in mind: ensuring the safety of everyone on our roadways.
I also thought about the importance of this event for my peers. The sad fact is, traffic crashes are still the number one killer of U.S. teens and a top risk to the safety of young adults.
As one of 38 traffic safety scholars from the United States and Canada, I realized that I was among the individuals who would determine the future of traffic and transportation safety. We were a diverse group, each dedicated to unique focus areas. Some scholars were focused on addressing occupant protection, others on infrastructure, while others focused on driving behaviors and decision-making.
As I listened to introductions, I became energized by the passion and expertise of my peers. I, along with 37 others in the room, was a crusader tasked with creating positive change on the roads. As a communication major and passionate advocate, I was ready to immerse myself in the Lifesaver’s Conference with a desire to learn and grow.
With an open mind, I was excited to step out of my comfort zone, learn about unfamiliar fields of transportation safety, hear impactful, real-life stories, and explore unique and innovative communication strategies for connecting with different demographics. I had the opportunity to learn about commercial vehicle safety, innovative experiential marketing tactics to address distracted driving, as well as effective strategies for connecting millennials with traffic safety messaging. As I listened to these speakers, my mind raced with ideas, questions, and opinions about these new topics. From the MADD Victim Advocates Panel to a workshop on methods for utilizing drugged driving statistics to create powerful campaigns, I realized the immense diversity and breadth of highway safety priorities that deserve attention and advocacy.
In addition to exploring new topics in traffic safety, I also learned unique communication strategies for raising awareness around familiar issues such as distracted and impaired driving. I attended workshops that trained individuals on effective social media and marketing strategies to engage target audiences. I was even able to acquire new knowledge about what types of content engages different demographics in cause-driven advocacy campaigns.
Aside from the powerful workshops and speakers, the Lifesaver’s Conference also provided an opportunity to connect with old friends and meet new friends. We were able to visit and explore the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where we even met NASCAR Legend Bobby Allison! I know we cherished the few hours we were able to be NASCAR drivers at the Hall of Fame, but the opportunity to talk about our favorite Lifesaver’s Conference moments, laugh about some of the hilarious times we’ve all shared together, and even make plans for our future times together, were truly some of my fondest memories of the conference. The people I have met through my involvement in traffic safety have become some of my best friends.
As Tuesday arrived and my departure back to New York approached, I reflected on a Nelson Mandela quote that has stuck with me since I began advocating for youth health and safety in high school: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” I realized that this quote was a perfect summation of what the Lifesavers Conference is all about! Every single individual who attended the LifeSaver’s Conference on Highway Safety Priorities had a desire to keep our roads safe and make a difference throughout the United States by working toward the goal of zero fatalities on the roads.
When I reflect on my 2017 Lifesaver’s Conference experience, I am thankful for the opportunity to attend an event that has developed my communications skills, fostered my passion for youth health and safety, connected me with other passionate safety advocates, and inspired new thinking about issues affecting individuals on our roadways. The invaluable memories from Lifesavers will remain close as I continue my advocacy efforts to keep my peers safe on the roads and inspire those around me to take a stand against issues that affect their lives.
As I look forward to my work as a Youth Correspondent Advisor and Tread Wisely Ambassador with NOYS, as well as an Executive Student Leader with In One Instant Teen Safe Driving Program, I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of organizations that are leading the charge to address important issues, save lives, and make a positive difference in the world.
Will you join me in speaking up and working hard to make our roads a safer place, for young drivers and for all? Whatever your own skills and interests, this movement needs you!