New Roadway Safety Institute focuses on user-centered safety solutions for multiple modes

The new Roadway Safety Institute, a $10.4 million regional University Transportation roadway safetyCenter (UTC) established in late 2013, will conduct a range of research, education, and technology transfer initiatives related to transportation safety. Led by the University of Minnesota, the two-year consortium will develop and implement user-centered safety solutions across multiple modes.

The Institute will be a focal point for safety-related work in the region, which includes Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Other consortium members are the University of Akron, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Western Michigan University.

Max Donath, professor of mechanical engineering at the U of M, serves as the new Institute’s director. He shares his vision for the Institute below.

What topics will the Institute's donathresearch investigate?

The people using our region’s roadways aren’t as safe as they should be. It’s a tragedy that more than 4,800 people died on Region 5 roads in 2012, while thousands more suffered life-changing injuries. The Institute’s research will work to prevent the crashes that lead to these fatalities and injuries.

Specifically, we will focus on two key areas: high-risk road users and traffic safety system approaches. Within these areas, our projects will address issues related to rail-grade crossings, roadway departures, vehicle automation technologies, signalized intersections, wrong-way crashes, automated speed enforcement, bicyclists, pedestrians, commercial truck drivers, and impaired drivers. Although this is a broad range of topics, we hope to bring added attention to areas that have either not received much attention in the past or have significant unsolved issues.

How will the Institute's work address regional safety priorities?

Most of our research topics resulted from conversations with state safety engineers in Region 5 departments of transportation. Their input, as well as insight gained from reviewing the state strategic highway safety plans, helped us determine priorities.

Although some issues were uniquely identified by individual states, they are all relevant across our region as well as nationally. For example, safety at rail-grade crossings was a priority for Illinois, but this is becoming a more significant issue across our region and the United States, especially with the increased transportation of crude oil by rail.

What educational initiatives will be conducted?

We’ll focus on educating the public and attracting more professionals to the safety workforce. We want to communicate with students and get them excited about the things that are happening in this field and about the opportunities available to them.

One effort we’re planning is a safety-related museum exhibit that can help explain concepts and technologies to a younger audience. We’ll also work to connect students to employers and offer continuing education to professionals in the safety field. 

What makes the Institute unique?

One distinctive thing we’ll be working on is transportation safety in American Indian lands, where there is an unusually high number of motor vehicle crash fatalities. Half of the states in our region contain tribal lands, and our research will work to better understand why this is happening and to develop more effective solutions. To my knowledge, no other UTCs are working on this issue.

Working with American Indian communities, we plan to gather information from a variety of stakeholders and use it to develop a more comprehensive foundation for understanding safety risks and deploying countermeasures. Secondly, we would like to work with tribal transportation leaders to support the implementation and evaluation of management and policy options that could help improve safety.

How will members' expertise help the Institute accomplish its goals?

It is important for us to address significant traffic safety issues. We want the work we do to make a difference to the people using our roadways. I want to make sure we’re putting something out there that practitioners can use to make that happen.

In order to do that within our two-year timeframe, we’ll be drawing on the safety-related expertise of all our members. Each member has unique capabilities that help contribute to the overall strength of our team and our ability to address regional issues. We’ll take advantage of this extensive expertise to expand our reach and work on yet-unsolved safety problems.