About two weeks ago, I attended the Lifesavers Conference held in Long Beach, California. Lifesavers is the largest traffic safety conference held in America. The conference has been educating and collaborating on traffic safety for the past thirty-four years; I was able to attend their thirty-fourth conference by being one of their grant recipients. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the entire length of the conference and, yet I still gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from Lifesavers. While attending the conference, I participated in workshops lead by professionals, students, and law officers. During the exhibit hall conference attendees could share ideas and try some of the newest developments in traffic safety technology.
Lifesavers is also a great opportunity to connect with professionals and businesses from across the country. Compared to other conferences that I have attended. Lifesavers really stands out because of its professionalism, engagement with law enforcement, and mission statement. Lifesavers and its many associates plan to Drive To 0 - meaning one day we will not lose a life to car crashes. I believe that if Lifesavers continues to meet and share the advancement of traffic safety, the hope to end car crash fatalities will become a reality.
Addressing SADD students from across the nation at the 2014 SADD National Conference
The journey to my attendance at the Lifesavers Conference started my sophomore year of high school, when I was given the task to start the first ever SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter at Sheridan High School. From there, my involvement in traffic safety and many other teen-related issues skyrocketed and I ended up landing at the 2013-2014 SADD National Student of the Year. After being involved with SADD at the state level for a few years, then being involved in the SADD National Student Leadership for a year, I achieved a goal that I never thought I would get: being the face and voice of SADD students all across the nation was such an awesome experience! I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of young leaders who produced outstanding traffic safety programming and planned one of the best national conferences SADD Nation has ever seen. But from a young college student perspective, the internship with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and spending the summer in Washington, DC had to be the best part of the job.
Former NHTSA Administrator David Friedman and I on my last day as a NHTSA intern
While interning with NHTSA, I had the privilege of meeting and working with many of the people who help plan the Lifesavers conference and work at NHTSA. I was talking with my internship sponsor, Katie Ballard, and she asked me if I had ever heard of or been to Lifesavers and I told her I didn't know anything about it. She showed me the program from the 2014 conference and my jaw about dropped to the floor. What I pictured in my head was an adult version of the SADD National Conference. After being at a few SADD Conferences before, I knew I had to get to the Lifesavers. So I promised Katie that I would see her at the 2015 Lifesavers Conference and sure enough I was there! Unfortunately, Katie could not attend, but I made sure to send her pictures and tell her how much I was learning. The 2015 Lifesavers Conference in Chicago was my first time attending and I absolutely loved it. I had spent so much time planning SADD National Conferences in the past that I often did not have enough time to sit down and educate myself. In Chicago, I was able to learn from some of the world's leading traffic safety advocates and networked with organizations from all across the United States. When I saw that the 2016 Lifesavers Conference was going to be in Long Beach, I made sure to put it in my calendar a year in advance. I knew there was so much for me to learn and so many people to meet that I had to come back, and I am so thankful for being selected as a Scholar, which allowed me to do just that.
Due to my background with SADD, I focused my attention on mostly teen traffic safety workshops while at Lifesavers. I had the opportunity to hear some of my peers share their stores of how they got involved in teen traffic safety, and they did an amazing job. I also got to hear from four 18-20-year-old students who are currently in the LA county court system for traffic-related issues. That was one of the most interesting workshops I had ever attended. The students came from a completely different walk of life than me and I was so intrigued to hear what they had to say about traffic safety. The honesty the each person showed was so real and it made me realize that our work as traffic safety advocates is not going unheard, despite car crashes still being the number one killer of teens. We had a great Q&A time with the panelists and I was so glad I made the decision to go to that workshop. I made sure to attend every single workshop that a student was a part of the panel because I believe that adults can gain a lot of knowledge from students. Another awesome workshop that went really well was a mock court room case of a distracted driver being charged for hitting a pedestrian while crossing the street. All the presenters were actors/actresses in the mock trial and did a great job with presenting the information while making the workshop fun and engaging. I enjoyed how the presenters mixed it up and it wasn't like a normal workshop.
Some other workshops I attended concerned optimizing vehicle safety for teen drivers and innovated school policies that support teen driver safety. Vehicle safety intrigues me because I was the youngest child who got the hand-me-down vehicle or the car that was bought off the side of the road for less than $1000. So when I see all the new car technology that car manufacturers are coming out with, I get excited for what I will be able to drive in the future! And I also learned what kind of car my children will and will not be allowed to drive. The school policies workshop gave me information to use when I finally become an adult and I get into the schools and become an adult advisor for a high school SADD chapter. I'll look at later school start times and interacting with the school resource officer.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Lifesavers Scholar committee and anyone else who had an impact on making the Scholar program happen. I think this program will give so many people who are interested in traffic safety an opportunity to get their foot in the door to meet with very important people in the traffic safety world. This program also allows for students who, like myself, have a heart for traffic safety to continue to learn, be involved and network with people who will be able to help them later on down the road. I look forward to see where my involvement will be next year at the Lifesavers Conference.
Julio Mendez - SADD Student Leadership Council
Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities as a Traffic Safety Scholar, Speaker, and Exhibitor on behalf of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). Surprisingly, I was the only local scholar from California as well as one of the youngest, since the majority of the scholars were Graduate and Doctoral students. It was very interesting and intriguing to learn about the different types of research that my fellow scholars were working on. What I loved most about the Traffic Safety Scholarship program was the opportunity to learn and network with several other students that all had similar values and goals to improve traffic and highway safety conditions in the U.S. In addition, the emphasis on joining the traffic safety workforce after our studies was mind-opening because there are so many opportunities and jobs in traffic safety that one can go in to.
The conference itself was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. The valuable information given at the workshops and the opportunity to network and connect with not only students, but professionals in the traffic safety world was amazing. I gained so much knowledge about highway safety from all types of perspectives including the media, government, nonprofits, law, etc. I was able to meet tons of wonderful traffic safety professionals and experts from various organizations, such as Rhonda Craft, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, among others that motivated and inspired me to continue the work I've done.
Additonally, I had the opportunity to speak to a crowd of 100+ individuals on the Distracted Driving panel that I was on, presenting the project I organized and coordinated in my high school. Most of all, this conference was so much fun! Making new friends, connecting with accomplished individuals, and most importantly, learning so much about traffic safety. At the end of the day, this entire learning experience reminded me of our ultimate goal in highway safety - that is to save lives. Our work revolves around saving lives and making the right choices to live a healthy life.
I am extremely honored to have attended this conference. A huge thank you to the Lifesavers Planning Committee and Traffic Safety Scholars program staff. Thank you to SADD National for providing me with this opportunity as a member of the National Student Leadership Council. Thank you.
Madeline Seel - SADD National
When I found out I was selected for the Lifesavers Conference Traffic Safety Scholarship, I was ecstatic! Sunny California in the middle of dreary, Pittsburgh April was a dream come true. For four years now, I have been working in the world of traffic safety. I got involved in 2012 when my brother's best friend was killed in a motorcycle crash; the crash was the result of carelessness and alleged distraction. From that moment forward, I knew that I needed to get involved. I did that by hosting a day-long conference called Y.I.E.L.D. (Youth Involved Education of Legal Drivers) in Pittsburgh, PA for high school students and advisors to learn about the dangers of distracted driving. Through this original program, I came upon SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions.) A year later I was honored to accept a position on the SADD National Student Leadership Council and then the following year, the 2014-2015 SADD National Student of the Year. Traffic Safety has become my passion and potentially, a part of my career.
The opportunity to attend Lifesavers meant that I could continue my involvement in traffic safety efforts even into my college education. Lifesavers proved to be a learning opportunity, a place to connect with professionals from a variety of domains, and a chance to celebrate the work that traffic safety advocates are doing all across the country. It was just what I was looking for. I attended daily workshops, general sessions, and celebratory events during my three days at Lifesavers.
Traffic Safety Scholars Welcome Reception
Workshops spanned many topics, which meant attendees could experience all sides of traffic safety. For example, I attended a workshop called, "Welcome to the Party! Designer Drugs, Stash Compartments, Logos, Drug Clothing & More" about how EDM (Electronic Dance Music) culture is often intertwined with drug use and subsequently, how drug use at these events translates into issues such as drugged driving or transportation of illegal substances. I typically think that I am a fairly well informed person, but this workshop was my favorite of all those I attended as I had never heard the things presented! Other workshops included topics such as the effective program, "Towards Zero Deaths" in Minnesota, advances in car technology that allow for safer driving, and even a mock trial to show how distracted driving cases are handled in a courtroom. Each workshop gave its own unique perspective on how various efforts are making strides in traffic safety and gave me wonderful ideas of how to continue to advocate for traffic safety in my community.
Presenting in my Workshop
Lastly, I had the chance to present my own workshop about school policies that are working to promote safer driving among young people. I talked about Y.I.E.L.D., my recent internship in the Impaired Drivers Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and working with SADD to create programs that are geared towards high school students to promote safer decisions and all around healthier students. It was an amazing opportunity to present at a national conference alongside other experts. I was honored to represent SADD and all youth to give young people a voice in traffic safety. Again and again, it was stressed at Lifesavers, along with at NHTSA, that traffic safety is a growing field that more young people should be involved in. At Lifesavers, I felt that I had the opportunity to learn more about what traffic safety really means. As I continue to define what my career will be, traffic safety will remain an important part of who I am. Thank you to the Lifesavers Committee for granting me this scholarship and the opportunity to keep learning and growing just as all those involved in traffic safety continue to learn and grow from each other!