KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Editor's note: The headline was updated from the original to correct the name from National Safety Passenger Week to National Passenger Safety Week.
Deaths on roads and interstates are rising at an alarming rate, according to experts. State leaders say drunk, drugged, and distracted driving are contributing factors. Now, for the first time, a week is dedicated to promoting safe driving practices.
We Save Lives and the National Road Safety Foundation launched National Passenger Safety Week this week. The goal is to promote safe driving practices and prevent unsafe behaviors when they're brought to someone's attention.
They are working to empower passengers with the knowledge and courage to “SPEAK UP” when any lives are in danger because of a reckless driver.
"There are no such things as accidents — they are crashes, but we don't call them crashes," said Candace Lightner, the founder of We Save Lives. "It's to emphasize these are choices that drivers make."
In 2019, 62% of crash fatalities were passengers, according to the organizations. She talks to people all over the country about safe driving habits.
"I would ask, 'How many of you have ridden with someone who is drunk, drugged or distracted?' and I was amazed at how many people, especially MBA students, raised their hands," she said. "When I asked why, they said, 'Well, I don't know how to handle the situation, I don't know what to say.'"
From there, We Save Lives launched National Passenger Safety Week. It lasts from Jan. 23 through Jan. 30. The educational program is aimed to encourage those buckling up to speak up if someone may not be fully able to drive safely.
"Instead of people thinking that could have been me that could have killed your child, they need to think, that could have been my child," Lightner said.
A Knoxville mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver said it will take more than a week to spread their message to everyone.
"Anyone who would even think about it, I beg of you, please think of Jaylen. Just please, remember her face," Tami Jo Oliver said.
Oliver's 18-year-old daughter, Jaelyn, was killed by a drunk driver in 2021.
"It's a struggle. It's a struggle all the time. Constantly," she said.
Jaelyn was a passenger when a drunk driver crossed over lanes and hit the vehicle head-on. Oliver said the driver mostly hit the side that her daughter was sitting on.
Oliver said Jaylen's driver wasn't impaired, but she wishes someone would have spoken up to the man who took her daughter's life and stopped him from getting behind the wheel.
"Because of the devastation this causes is awful. It's a ripple effect. Jaelyn had her whole life ahead of her and it's gone," she said.
Both Oliver and these foundations are pushing for harsher punishments on those who violate driving laws.
Advocates said the most important thing people can do to stop impaired driving is to talk to their children and teach them about drunk drivers, how to stop them from getting behind the wheel and when to walk away from the situation.
People across the country are also signing the Courage to Intervene Promise and letting everyone know they will not ride with anyone who is drunk, drugged distracted.
To find those safety tips, click here.