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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 Summary More than 40,000 people die each year in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, and many more are seriously injured. Reducing this toll is a major goal of governments at all levels. Since the 1960s, the number of fatalities per mile driven has fallen by 75 percent owing to a combination of public and private actions to improve driver performance, motor vehicles, the highway environment, and postcrash emergency response and medical care. As a result, thousands of deaths and millions of injuries have been prevented. Nevertheless, the consequences of motor vehicle crashes continue to be a major public health problem and the leading cause of death among children and young adults. Continued growth in motor vehicle travel means that larger and larger improvements in crash rates are needed to produce any reduction in the total number of people killed and injured in crashes each year. Yet improvements in crash rates in the United States have been lagging behind those of many other developed countries. The public sector must lead in the search for ways to improve road safety. Federal, state, and local government agencies plan, finance, build, operate, and maintain the nation’s highway system. They regulate motor vehicle safety requirements and educate and license drivers. They set and enforce traffic laws and provide emergency response and medical services. They collect safety data and conduct and support safety-related research. Few aspects of road safety are not directly influenced by government policies and programs. Thousands of public agencies carry out these safety-related tasks. Together they employ hundreds of thousands of workers who have responsibilities that affect road safety. Approximately 100,000 of these workers have responsibilities that affect road safety on a regular basis,
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 and nearly 10,000 of them spend all or most of their workday managing road safety. However narrowly or broadly one defines the safety workforce, it is aptly described as dispersed and diverse. It is spread across the country in all levels of government. It encompasses expertise and occupations in such fields as engineering, education, law enforcement, emergency response, public health, psychology, communications, statistics, and planning. To a large extent, the discussion and advice in this report pertain to the roughly 10,000 public-sector employees who work full-time on road safety. However, the desired outcome is that all 100,000 workers who influence road safety come to possess safety-related knowledge derived from science and a systems view of safety that recognizes the interrelated roles of drivers, vehicles, and the highway environment, including the physical infrastructure and nonmotorized users. A knowledgeable and skilled nucleus of full-time road safety professionals is crucial to this outcome. As the safety mentors to the larger workforce, they must lead in bringing about a scientific and systems-level approach to safety management. This report describes the road safety profession, observing how it has evolved over the past 50 years to encompass experts from many disciplines. It further describes how a dedicated cadre of these experts has brought with them a shared belief that empirical evidence and scientific methods are essential in understanding road safety problems and in finding, implementing, and evaluating solutions. Informed by previous studies and by the committee’s interviews with road safety professionals, educators, trainers, human resource managers, and agency executives, the report describes how these experts have found their way into the road safety field, how they received their safety-related education and training, and the kinds of safety-related knowledge and skills they possess. A key finding is that the building of the road safety profession has been a largely ad hoc and unstructured process. Core safety knowledge and skills are often obtained on the job, if they are obtained at all. Few universities offer a systems-level road safety curriculum, and there are few places where public agencies can recruit trained safety professionals. This finding is disconcerting because it calls into question the ability of government agencies to meet the public’s expectations for con-
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 tinued improvements in road safety. There is little doubt that the scale and complexity of the road safety problem will require an increasingly rigorous and systematic approach to safety management that is carried out by a highly skilled, analytical, and multidisciplinary safety workforce. A number of factors cited in the report suggest that the demand for such a skilled workforce is growing—for example, to apply new safety-related tools and technologies and to meet legislative mandates for data-driven safety programs. The demand for safety professionals threatens to outpace the ability of public agencies to attract interested and talented workers to the field and to educate and train them to perform effectively. Rising demand for road safety professionals is, of course, desirable. It reflects the recognition that safety gains are not random occurrences but a consequence of well-informed and well-implemented decisions. The challenge, therefore, is in building the pool of safety professionals who can provide this information and expertise for the thousands of public agencies with road safety responsibilities. Critical to meeting this challenge is a recognition that workforce development takes time, and therefore it is not too early to act. The recommendations below stem from this recognition. They are made in the knowledge that a series of steps, large and small, will be required to nurture and build the road safety profession and that a champion to advocate for the profession will help ensure that these steps are taken sooner and bear fruit more quickly. RECOMMENDATIONS State Associations Should Forge a Broad-Based Alliance to Advance the Road Safety Profession To a greater extent than any other level of government, states have responsibilities that affect all aspects of road safety. They plan, design, build, operate, and maintain large portions of the highway infrastructure; pass and enforce traffic safety laws; regulate driver instruction and licensing; and administer statewide programs aimed at encouraging safe driving behavior. Given the scope of these responsibilities, states employ thousands
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 of road safety professionals and must therefore play a central role in any effort to build this discipline. The two national associations whose state members are responsible for many of these safety-related functions are the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Because collaboration is crucial in building the multidisciplinary road safety profession, the committee urges AASHTO and GHSA to forge a broad-based alliance of safety-related organizations for the central purpose of advancing the road safety workforce and profession. The alliance should include the many public agencies, associations, and professional societies with a strong interest in road safety and should have representatives from the many relevant fields and jurisdictional levels. Federal participants should include the Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other state and local government agencies may be well represented by their national associations, such as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, the National Association of Regional Councils, the National Association of County Engineers, the American Public Works Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. The participation of national associations of local governments is especially important because of the role of counties, municipalities, and towns in ensuring road safety. The alliance should likewise seek the support of private-sector organizations, universities, and professional associations that have a common interest in building the road safety workforce. Participation by professional societies and educational and research institutions, such as the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers and its Transportation and Development Institute, the American Society of Safety Engineers, the Council of University Transportation Centers, the American Planning Association, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and the Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury Research, is highly desirable.
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 The Alliance Should Champion the Road Safety Profession on Multiple Fronts The committee envisions an alliance whose goals are both practical and ambitious. The alliance’s activities and actions will help meet current workforce needs while advancing the profession over the longer term. In particular, the committee envisions an alliance that will do the following: Promote a multidisciplinary safety workforce that recognizes the importance of and is capable of applying a science-based and systems-level approach to safety management. Commend and publicize public agencies that are leading the way in recruiting, developing, and building a professional road safety workforce within their organizations. Promote the methods used by such agencies to foster these outcomes. Encourage the continued development and wider use of core competency definitions to guide the education, training, and promotion of road safety professionals who are skilled in scientific methods and in pursuing safety solutions from a systems level. Promote road safety management as a distinct profession and a desirable career path. Persuade public agencies, industry, and universities of the value of forming road safety education and training partnerships, which can help foster demand for road safety training and education and expose road safety professionals to the methods and results of science-based safety research. Advocate support for science-based safety research to inform road safety professionals and to attract top faculty and students to the road safety field from many disciplines—for example, by seeking the creation of scholarships, internships, training grants, endowed university chairs, and research centers across the many disciplines that contribute to road safety. Taken together, such actions should help foster recognition among the public and public officials that a skilled and professional road safety workforce is valuable and necessary. This recognition is essential in sustaining the long-term support needed to build such a workforce.
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 Early Opportunities for Alliance Support and Action The alliance should urge states to take advantage of federal workforce training funds for the purpose of developing road safety professionals. Federal legislation has raised the stature of road safety by calling on states to engage in strategic safety planning and use analytic approaches to safety management. To do so, states will need a skilled road safety workforce. Currently, states are allowed to use federal funds for workforce training and other educational activities; however, there are no federal directives or guidance with regard to the use of these funds for safety-related training. While such guidance may not be required, the alliance can bring greater attention to the need for education and training of road safety professionals and encourage states to devote sufficient resources for this purpose. The alliance should advocate road safety education and training by universities, including the publicly funded research centers. Road safety education and training opportunities are highly fragmented, seldom in the form of a comprehensive program covering the many competencies required by road safety professionals. While many universities have strong safety research programs, fewer have instructional programs tied to this research. An increased emphasis on coupling research with technology transfer, education, and training is desirable because it can expose safety professionals to the methods and results of science-based research. For example, the committee observes that University Transportation Centers, which receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Injury Control Research Centers, which receive funding from CDC, are well positioned to play stronger roles in road safety education and training. In general, the alliance should be a prominent and persistent advocate for comprehensive road safety instruction by universities and other relevant education, training, and research institutions. The alliance should explore the creation of one or more specialized institutes to provide comprehensive instruction and training for road safety professionals. The modest number of road safety professionals in any one agency or state may reduce the practicality of creating comprehensive road safety education and training programs in individual states or regions of the country. In addition, the multidisciplinary nature of the road safety profession presents practical challenges for both traditional
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 university-based education programs, which are often housed in engineering or public health departments, and federal training programs, which are often designed for specific functions such as administering a safety grant program. However, the number of road safety professionals at the national level is sizable. Accordingly, the alliance should explore the need for and ways to provide training and education through existing programs or through the establishment of new programs dedicated to the road safety profession. CONCLUDING OBSERVATION The demand for improvements in road safety is growing but becoming increasingly difficult to meet. Road safety must be viewed as an area of scientific inquiry requiring comprehensive and systems-level solutions. As science-based and systems-level safety programs become more common at the federal, state, and local levels, a skilled and knowledgeable road safety workforce is needed to develop, inform, and implement them. By working together, road safety organizations can call attention to this workforce need and take actions to help meet it. While building the road safety workforce will take time, many steps to start the process can be taken now.
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