More than a statistic: empowering the voice of youth

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Jacob Smith suffered major injuries in a road traffic crash (see his wrecked car above)
Jacob Smith suffered major injuries in a road traffic crash (see his wrecked car above)

In the first of a series of blog contributions by young road safety activists and leaders, published as part of the FIA Foundation Road Safety Leadership Initiative, Jacob Smith, a member of the National Board of Directors of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, discusses youth advocacy and his personal experience of road injury and the need for the voices of young people to be heard:

“Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, ages 15–29 years. As a youth leader I knew the statistics, however failed to recognize the role I had in changing the statistic. Being a member of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, I participated in many traffic safety advocacy efforts. It wasn’t until I was faced with a life changing obstacle, that I realized the importance of road traffic safety.

Most teens believe a road traffic injury would never happen. I never imagined having a personal experience with traffic safety, but I did. On April 12, 2014 as I was coming back from my State FCCLA Conference, our school vehicle was hit head on by a distracted driver. I was airlifted to a hospital because of the critical injuries. These injuries included a traumatic brain injury, facial fractures, foot fractures, and burst fractures in my lower back. The back injuries were so severe that I was told I may never be able to walk again. Nonetheless, I was determined to never give up in my fight to regain my health. As my condition continued to improve, I thought about the millions of innocent people who weren’t as lucky – the people who would suffer what I went through or worse. I knew I had to share my story to make a change.

This is a prominent issue worldwide, but thankfully we have global leaders who have put this on the agenda. To reduce traffic injuries, and ultimately make healthier cities, we must face reality by reinforcing the importance of making safe decisions, especially by sharing our stories. Sharing our stories doesn’t take a specific level of education or income level, it just takes courage and determination. The road is in our hands! Every decision made on the road will either have a positive or negative effect on you and others. Each person has the power to make a change by being an advocate. Tell your friends and loved ones to buckle up, tell them their safety is your priority.

Youth have an even bigger responsibility to advocate, as roads are the leading killer of our population. We must remember that statistics aren’t there to just inform us. Rather, they are there to empower us to make a change. Youth have a powerful voice. Why? Because we aren’t just a statistic, we’re also the future. We can be advocates for the SDG 2020 health goal- by 2020 to reduce road fatalities by 50%. We can make sure that the next generation isn’t a statistic. Every year the lives of almost 1.24 million people are cut short as a result of a road traffic crash. It shouldn’t take another traffic crash to encourage someone to become an advocate.”