Candace Lightner

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Do You Have the Courage to Intervene?

Real courage is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. Doing the unpopular thing because it's what you believe, and the heck with everybody." Justin Cronin

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 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.

Shanna didn’t speak up when her boyfriend, who was driving fell asleep while coming down from MDMA, a mind-altering synthetic drug that is chemically similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens. She was 19 at the time of her crash. They ran head-on into a guard rail. Her boyfriend was barely injured but doctors and nurses spent several hours trying to stabilize her and discovered she had a traumatic brain injury. Once she was stable, they performed a craniotomy on her because her brain was swelling passed skull capacity. She spent almost 2 weeks in a medically induced coma with a ventilator. She lives with the consequences of her boyfriend’s decision (and her hesitation to speak up) to this day.

If you are a passenger who accepts your drivers dangerous driving choice this could happen to you.

That moment of awkwardness seems like a small price to pay to avoid such tragedies, doesn’t it?

U.S. roadway deaths are rising again at an alarming rate. People are still driving recklessly. Drunk, drugged and distracted driving are on the rise. 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 Livesand the National Road Safety Foundation launched The National Passenger Safety Campaign, and National Passenger Safety Week from [DATE FOR 2023 HERE]. 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.

You have a choice! By speaking up, you show that you care about the lives of your friends, family members and even strangers. We urge you: choose to stay safe by intervening.

Statistics show that in 2019:

  • 62% of all traffic fatalities were passengers.1
  • 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?

First if you are a parent, download The Parent Checklist. This is a great resource to use whenever your child will be a passenger in a car driven by someone outside your family.

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?

Remember your child will be in a car with someone driving a two-ton weapon. By knowing how safe and qualified the driver is can make the difference between life and death.

Download the Courage to Intervene Promiseand encourage the whole family to sign it. Remember passengers are vulnerable. They are at the mercy of the driver.

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. They are really good and helpful. My favorite one involves the passenger who realizes after they started to drive that the driver was impaired. She couldn’t convince the driver that he was in no condition to drive so she asks him to pull over at the nearest gas station so she can use the bathroom. Once she exits the car, she calls her mom to come pick her up.

You can never encourage them enough to speak up if they see a friend or family member about to drive unsafely and remind then they can ALWAYS call you for a ride home if they are in an unsafe 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, or 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.

Candace Lightner is a grassroots activist, CEO, founder, mother and grandmother who has dedicated her life to making roads safer for all who use them. She founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and is now at the helm of We Save Lives, an organization dedicated to ending drunk, drugged, and distracted driving through advocacy and education. Visit their website and the National Passenger Safety website to learn more, get involved, and support their missions.

Candace Lightner
Candace Lighter, Activist and Founder,
We Save Lives
Mothers Against Drunk Driving