Roadway Safety Institute efforts make practical, lasting impact

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For the past six years, researchers from universities across the Midwest have been working to improve transportation safety through their efforts with the Roadway Safety Institute.

The Institute was the Region 5 University Transportation Center funded through the 2012 federal transportation bill. Led by the University of Minnesota, the Institute also included partners at the University of Akron, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Western Michigan University. Its grant period ended in September 2019.

Driven by the goal of preventing crashes to reduce fatalities and life-changing injuries, the Institute focused on research that could make a real impact on the number of lives lost on our roads. In total, 26 faculty and research staff conducted 68 projects that employed varied approaches to improve safety for all types of roadway users.

Highlights include:

  • A collaboration with American Indian communities across Minnesota to explore unique tribal safety issues. After findings identified pedestrian safety as a critical and under-recognized priority, the research team went on to assess pedestrian safety at four reservations and to develop recommendations for countermeasures that were then used by at least one tribal community to secure funding for safety improvements.
  • A study exploring the link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and crash risk for truck drivers. Researchers found that drivers who fail to adhere to OSA treatment are five times more likely to be involved in serious, preventable crashes.
  • The creation of a bicycle collision-warning system that provides auditory alerts to motorists, helping them keep a safe distance from cyclists and reducing the risk of crashes. This project led to a nearly $1 million NSF grant to explore the implementation and commercialization of the system with Quality Bicycle Products.
  • A transdisciplinary effort involving researchers from two universities collaborating with the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, on a project aimed at reminding drivers to watch out for pedestrians. At project sites where feedback signs were installed to display the weekly percentage of drivers who stopped for pedestrians, the average compliance rate jumped from around 32 percent to as high as 78 percent.
  • The expansion of a freeway laboratory in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, to facilitate the study, development, and testing of connected vehicle technology as well as fundamental research on driver behavior and traffic flow.

The Institute by the numbers:

  • 26 faculty and research staff conducting 68 projects
  • 31 activities held for K-12 students with 3,400 participants
  • 71 events aimed at a professional audience, reaching 2,900 people
  • 140 undergraduate and graduate students supported
  • 170 media stories referencing RSI research or activities

Over the last six years, the Institute also developed a variety of activities targeted to K-12 students to raise awareness of transportation safety topics and career opportunities in related fields. This work included creating a permanent exhibit at The Works Museum in Bloomington, Minnesota, focused on teaching kids and their parents how to “be safe and be seen” while walking or biking in the dark, and developing safety-focused lesson plans on topics ranging from distracted driving to retro-reflectivity.

The Institute also conducted technology transfer initiatives to bring its research results to a wider audience. This included developing workshops on automated vehicle technologies designed to give transportation professionals foundational knowledge and show them how related research can be useful in practice. The Institute also hosted pedestrian safety workshops where practitioners across the region learned about proven, cost-effective ways to improve safety and a community’s safety culture.

 “We are very excited about the latest technologies, public policy issues, and improved understanding of human behavior that our researchers have explored and continue to pursue,” says Institute director Max Donath. “This work will likely have an impact on both reducing road fatalities and crashes and improving mobility options for all travelers well into the future.” 

For more detailed information on the range of activities conducted during the Institute’s six-year grant period, view a complete summary report on the RSI website.


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Michael McCarthy