WASHINGTON - SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), the national school-based, peer-to-peer prevention, education and activism organization, hosted its youth advocacy institute, SADD SPEAKs (Students for Policy, Education, Advocacy and Knowledge) at the end of June in Washington, DC, and Gianni Iona of Wallenpaupack Area High School was one of 10 selected participants. The SPEAKs program, which will recur on an annual basis, was sponsored by Ally Financial, Ford Motor Company, and The National Road Safety Foundation.
      Car crashes are the number one killer of teens today, and teen drivers are involved in fatal crashes at three times the rate of older drivers. According to the CDC, in 2010, seven teens ages 16-19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. In 2012, Congress passed a highway bill in response to these statistics, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), that includes “teen traffic safety” as a specific focus of highway safety dollars provided to each state annually. A Capitol Hill rally recognized the efforts of key U.S. legislators and introduced SADD’s first National Progress Report highlighting the efforts of individual states to reduce highway fatalities among younger drivers.
        “Teens working together on policy development demonstrates the value of incorporating a youth perspective on these issues,” stated Iona, “and empowers us to influence both our peers and the government officials responsible for traffic safety policy.”
As a participant of SADD SPEAKs, Iona was trained and empowered in advocacy, leadership and the public policy process around traffic safety. Over the past two months, Iona and 9 other youth leaders received online training in transportation policy, basic advocacy skills, and the legislative process, particularly as it affects teen traffic safety, in preparation for their unique six-day trip to Washington, DC, in conjunction with the annual SADD National Conference. In Washington, these SADD ambassadors met with representatives of national organizations dedicated to youth traffic safety and Congressional staff focused on transportation policy. The students trained their peers and fellow conference attendees on the best practices in advocating on Capitol Hill, ultimately leading to more than 60 meetings with U.S. Senate offices. SPEAKs participants also planned and participated in a rally in the Capitol Visitor Center for more than 400 SADD conference attendees, elected leaders, congressional staff and other interested parties.
      “Giving young people the knowledge and skills to touch and potentially change public law and policy are powerful tools, and SADD students are wonderful candidates to direct their passion for traffic safety issues to the national agenda,” stated Penny Wells, SADD National President & CEO. “We expect that their intelligence and perspective will advance the national debate around effective ways to promote teen traffic safety.”
      Iona and other teen advocates now plan to put their new skills into practice by working to influence state and federal policy at the local level. They will also lead SADD’s efforts to mobilize students across the country to become effective advocates for teen traffic safety programs.
     SADD is committed to empowering young people to lead prevention education initiatives in their schools and communities. Founded in 1981, today SADD has thousands of chapters in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the country. SADD highlights prevention of many destructive behaviors and attitudes that are harmful to young people, including underage drinking, substance abuse, risky and impaired driving, and teen violence and suicide. More information about SADD can be found at sadd.org, or follow SADD on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.