Students Fighting for Change: the Vision Zero Youth Council

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Alison Collard de Beaufort and Polly Trottenberg, NYC DOT Commissioner
Alison Collard de Beaufort and Polly Trottenberg, NYC DOT Commissioner

Alison Collard de Beaufort writes about founding the Vision Zero Youth Council for young New York City students:

"Road safety around the world is a growing issue, and threatens thousands of lives every day. However, cities across the globe have decided to take a stand, and work to eliminate fatal car crashes from our society. This movement is known as the Vision Zero Initiative. Started in Sweden, the project has grown to include New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Austin, and many more around the world. In NYC, the project includes street redesign, law enforcement, and education, to initiate a change in the way people think about safety on our roads - a culture change.

Although many have joined this fight for change, the initiative lacks a way to get kids involved in making that change happen. This is where the Vision Zero Youth Council comes in. The Vision Zero Youth Council is an organization I created for New York City students in grades 4 through 12, to give them an opportunity to push for this culture change. The Youth Council meets monthly at a local school. where we hold discussions about how we can make roads safer and encourage members to participate in planned activities. For example, at one of our meetings, students drew maps of their schools and surrounding streets, and marked where they felt unsafe when arriving or leaving campus. Overall, our goal is to pinpoint problem areas and turn ideas for solutions into reality. Like the FIA Foundation, which envisions a safe route to school for all children by 2030, we want every child to feel safe when walking down the street, to ultimately achieve Vision Zero.

Nonetheless, when more than 500 kids a day are killed in crashes worldwide, and thousands more are injured, there is an urgency to participate in campaigns that advocate for street safety. If you do the math, that means that more than 182,500 children die every year on roads. Sammy Cohen Eckstein, Joie Sellers, and Mohammad Uddin, were classmates and friends of mine whose names were added to the list of children killed. When you hear this news, your mind goes blank. Confusion, grief and panic takes over. After Mohammad was killed, I decided that I never wanted that to happen again. I got in touch with a local politician, who introduced me to many passionate people dedicated to the issue - people who later helped me form the Youth Council.

Now, safety culture change has many forms, and needs to be applied everywhere. A complication is that this culture needs to reach many different types of people, and the younger population is distracted yet captivated by their mobile phones, tablets, and computers. These devices provide both distraction and motivation – they lead to our inattention while crossing the street, but are the prime way to inform and motivate the younger generation to do something. The paradox of modern technology is a challenge that the Youth Council tries to leverage. A lot of our members would rather watch a movie or scroll through social media than meet up with other students to talk about and act on issues like street safety. We’ve adapted accordingly, by creating online games or applications, or making videos about our efforts. Hopefully, as more and more people take part in this culture change, social action will become more important than social media.

I know I’m not the only youth who feels this way, and who wants to do something to create safer roads. I encourage others to form their own groups to advocate for safer roads, as well. We have to do this so that we don’t see our friends added to the fatality list. Local efforts are crucial, and we need more of them all over the world, because this is a global problem. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals remind us of its reach. With a target of going from 1.2 million deaths on our roads per year to 600,000, we need to work together to turn safety culture into a real, global movement.

I look forward to the day where there is not a single child, teenager, or adult killed in a traffic crash. Even before this day comes, I thank everyone who has fought, is fighting, and will fight for Vision Zero."