How many times have you been a passenger in a vehicle where the driver was speeding, or speaking on their phone or Bluetooth, or had had a couple of drinks before getting behind the wheel? You likely bit your tongue, rationalizing that you didn’t want to meddle or sound like a “backseat driver” by telling them you felt uncomfortable with their driving choices. To speak up might feel awkward, right? Or perhaps you want to speak up, but you don’t know what to say without ruining the relationship. I have often said that silence is the biggest enabler of all.
19-year-old Shanna didn’t speak up when her boyfriend, who was driving, fell asleep while coming down from MDMA, a mind-altering synthetic drug, and ran head-on into a guard rail. Her boyfriend was barely injured, but after doctors and nurses spent several hours trying to stabilize her, they discovered she had a traumatic brain injury and needed a craniotomy. She spent almost 2 weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, and lives with the consequences of her boyfriend’s decision (and her hesitation to speak up) to this day.
Perhaps if she had convinced her boyfriend to find alternative transportation, or refused to ride with him, she would have been spared these injuries and her family this tragic and traumatic event. If you are a passenger who accepts your driver’s dangerous driving choice without speaking up, this could happen to you.
U.S. roadway deaths are rising again at an alarming rate. People are still driving recklessly. Street signs and PSAs telling people to drive safely aren’t enough. We, the public: friends, family, and acquaintances, need to do more. Passengers need to play a more active role in their own safety and that of others. Passengers need to be empowered to speak up and have the Courage to Intervene when their lives are threatened by an unsafe driver.
That is why We Save Lives and the National Road Safety Foundation launched The National Passenger Safety Campaign, and National Passenger Safety Week from January 22 – 28. Our goal is to promote safe driving practices and prevent unsafe ones when we see them by empowering passengers to “SPEAK UP” when their lives are in danger because of a reckless driver’s behaviors.
Statistics show that in 2019:
- 62% of all traffic fatalities were passengers.
- 13% of those who died in alcohol related fatalities were passengers
- 53% of children killed in alcohol related crashes were passengers.
So, what can you do to change these appalling statistics?
As a parent:
- Download The Parent Checklist. Refer to it whenever your child will be a passenger in a car driven by someone outside your family. Remember your child will be in a car with someone driving a two-ton weapon. Knowing how safe and qualified the driver is can make the difference between life and death.
The parent checklist poses questions such as:
- How old is the driver?
- Does the driver have a valid driver’s license?
- How much experience do they have driving and how long have they been driving?
- Download the Courage to Intervene Promise and encourage the whole family to sign it.
- Role play with your child on different scenarios and responses. If you are a teen this is a good exercise for you too. You can see videos on our website of students in various driving situations and how they handled the situation.
As a passenger:
- Speak up when you witness friends or family members about to get behind the wheel while impaired on drugs or alcohol. Arrange for them a ride home or a place to stay the night to sober up.
- Sign the Courage to Intervene Promise and encourage your friends to sign as well.
- If you are a passenger with someone using their phone, even Bluetooth, volunteer to be their designated texter or caller. Let them know that it is important for them to focus on their driving.
- If they refuse to put down their phone, say you want to be let out of the vehicle. Have a Zero-Tolerance policy for riding with a distracted or reckless driver.
- If you see social media posts where a person is streaming while driving, leave a comment reminding them how dangerous this behavior is
- Share on your own social media about the dangers of the 3 Ds: drunk, drugged, or distracted driving.
- Watch our videos to learn more about how to handle unsafe driving situations.
- Add to your mobile device email signature “#ButNotWhileDriving” to remind colleagues and friends that they should never use their phone behind the wheel.
At We Save Lives, our mission is to eliminate road deaths caused by the reckless behaviors of drunk, drugged, and distracted driving. We educate drivers with awareness campaigns and social media outreach, and advocate for stronger legislation at the state and national levels. And now, we are urging those who might have the most power of all: the friends and family of drivers, to do their part to prevent unsafe driving behaviors by having a zero-tolerance policy when they are passengers as well.
This January 22 to the 28th, let’s all have the Courage to Intervene and stand up against distracted, drugged, drowsy, speeding and drunk driving (yes- that includes “buzzed” driving), whether we’re behind the wheel or a passenger. It could be the difference between life and death.