Youth engagement and Vision Zero

Youth hold an important place within Vision Zero. For one, children and youth are among the most vulnerable road users. In Canada, young drivers die in crashes at a higher rate than any other age group[1]. Canadians aged 5 to 14 are at greater risk of being killed as a pedestrian than any other age group[2]. On the road to zero, many jurisdictions are making the safety of children and youth their first priority, as evidenced by Vision Zero for Youth

In addition to being at an elevated risk for road-related injuries, young people are key actors in prevention and in the culture shift needed for society to see road deaths as unacceptable. Implementers of Vision Zero recognize the importance of engaging youth as road safety advocates in their communities and catalysts for current and future action. Different models of youth engagement can be seen across Vision Zero communities. Here are just a few examples:

  • Montgomery County, Maryland. The county is currently establishing Vision Zero Youth Ambassadors to become road-safety leaders in their school and community.
  • New York City, New York. A Vision Zero Youth Council was organized to help students work together with school, government, and community organizations.
  • Washington, DC. In 2015, the District Department of Transportation held a focus group with Summer Youth Employment Program participants to help identify community hazards, develop youth–friendly messaging, and give their perspective on traffic safety issues.

A Vision Zero approach to impaired driving

Solutions to impaired driving often focus on individual behaviour change. How, instead, do we look at a system approach to this issue? Through the lens of Vision Zero, no impaired driving death is acceptable, and each casualty represents a failure in the system. Addressing impaired driving fatalities requires a coordinated multi–sector approach that includes the road system, legislation and enforcement, the service industry, service and consumption patterns, and product marketing.

Examples of the type of potential countermeasures to address impaired driving from a multi-system approach might include:

  • Enforcement – strengthening of legislation and lowering of limits (e.g., Blood Alcohol Concentration)
  • Regulation of marketing of alcohol and other substances, particularly to youth audiences
  • Policies affecting price and physical availability of alcohol and other substances
  • Vehicle design features such as ignition interlocks
  • Mass media campaigns implemented alongside community-level interventions
  • Alternative transportation, with consideration for: availability, convenience, affordability, and safety

For more information, read the recommendations in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s report, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem.

National Teen Driver Safety Week: Engaging youth in the solution to impaired driving

National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW) is an awareness week designed to make the public aware of teen driver safety issues and encourage communities to be part of the solution. It is held each October and, in Canada, is led by Parachute. NTDSW encourages community leaders, such as law enforcement and educators, to work together with local youth to create change.

For 2018, the NTDSW campaign focused on drug-impaired driving, with additional messaging on distracted, drunk and aggressive driving (including speeding). The conversation extended to social media, using the hashtag #KnowWhatImpairedMeans. 

During National Teen Driver Safety Week 2018, Parachute collaborated with RCMP National Youth Services and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to deliver a youth–focused event to raise young people’s awareness on drug-impaired driving and increase their confidence in making evidence–informed decisions about their own safety and the safety of others. We formed an interactive panel for members of the RCMP’s National Youth Advisory Committee (NYAC). The NYAC is a group of 150 youth from across Canada between the ages of 13 to 21, who discuss current issues that youth face in their communities, schools, and personal lives. 

Photo of panel members of National Youth Advisory Committee

Throughout the hour-long event, NYAC participants submitted questions to the panel members: 

  • Gregg Thomson, Victim Services, MADD Ottawa Chapter
  • Stephanie Cowle, Manager, Knowledge Translation, Parachute
  • Ashton Bennett, Youth Policy Analyst, RCMP National Youth Services
  • Mylaine Gauvreau, Youth Policy Analyst, RCMP National Youth Services

We asked the panelists to share their observations on this youth engagement experience.

How does engaging youth impact the RCMP’s work?

Ashton and Mylaine – “Engaging with youth is essential for the RCMP, as youth are identified as a strategic priority within the organization. The RCMP National Youth Services work on reducing youth involvement in crime, whether as victims or offenders. Youth serve an important role in the development of programs, initiatives, and projects. The RCMP National Youth Services consults with the NYAC, approximately 150 youth across Canada, to ensure youth voices are represented within the work conducted in the unit.”

What stood out to you during the event? 

Gregg – “The level of knowledge dedication and understanding of the road safety issues facing our youth. Certainly by all participants and especially with the leadership of Ashton and Mylaine. This is a young peer led group with exceptional vision. They were not afraid to ask questions!”

Stephanie – “The group had lots of questions comparing alcohol and cannabis. It’s important we help youth understand both the similarities and differences between these substances and their impact on driving. There were also a number of questions about what to do when faced with social pressure, or how to help a friend who may be impaired. It’s encouraging to hear young people thinking about their safety and the safety of others. We need to give them the tools to act.”

Ashton and Mylaine – “Although the event focused on various safe driving issues, it became apparent that the youth were mostly interested in learning more about impaired driving and cannabis. 

The participants asked many questions about drug-impaired driving. Many of the youth were curious about the tests police have to detect cannabis impairment, and about how cannabis impairs the ability to drive safely. It’s important that we as a society continue spreading the message to youth that cannabis impairs one’s ability to drive.”

If you could share one key message with youth about driver safety, what would it be?

Ashton and Mylaine – “Driving while under the influence of a substance, whether that be cannabis, alcohol, or other drugs, is considered impaired driving. Impaired driving is illegal, and can not only destroy your life, but also the lives of others. The decisions you make can change your life dramatically – think critically and make informed choices.”

Stephanie – “You have power, probably more than you think, to take control of your own safety. You have an exciting, full life ahead of you. When decisions get tough, focus on the opportunities you want to live for. It’s not worth the risk.”

Gregg – “The risks for our youth are real. The consequences of bad decisions are devastating. Be the one willing to say no … save a life.”

[1] Transport Canada, 2011.

[2] TIRF, 2017.