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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 1 Introduction and Overview The road safety workforce in the public sector is dispersed among thousands of federal, state, and local agencies whose responsibilities range from crash prevention and mitigation to the provision of emergency services. Many factors contribute to crashes and their severity, and many government agencies and workers have important safety-related roles and responsibilities. Hence, the road safety workforce not only spans all levels of government but also encompasses a diversity of expertise in fields such as engineering, research, education, psychology, law enforcement, and public health. STUDY AIMS This study describes the dispersed and diverse road safety workforce and the safety-related knowledge and skills its workers must possess. Continued growth in motor vehicle travel means that progress in reducing the number of people killed and injured in motor vehicle crashes is becoming increasingly difficult. Progress requires rigorous application of scientific and systems-level approaches to safety management by well-educated and well-trained safety experts. For example, the “safe system” approach seeks to identify and address all major factors affecting the incidence and severity of specific crash types, such as the driver, the vehicle, the roadway environment, and emergency response services. It places a priority on prevention through understanding these factors and addressing them through countermeasures that are evaluated repeatedly for effectiveness. Such a comprehensive approach requires road safety experts with a wide range of knowledge and skills from many disciplines. A key objective of the study is to gain a better understanding of the
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 knowledge and skills required by road safety professionals, how this expertise is obtained, and how it is applied by the thousands of workers in the public sector who contribute to road safety on a regular basis. The goal is to advise on steps that can be taken to ensure a timely and sufficient supply of skilled road safety professionals to meet the growing demand for improved road safety. While a larger workforce may be needed to meet future safety challenges, this report focuses on addressing the development of a high-quality workforce. STUDY GENESIS AND APPROACH As explained in the Preface, this study stems from a long-standing concern about the availability of education and training opportunities for current and aspiring road safety professionals. For the past several years, the interdisciplinary Transportation Research Board (TRB) Task Force on Road Safety Workforce Development has observed that many of the professionals drawn into the road safety field are nearing retirement. The lack of young professionals to replace them is a common problem, and the means of educating and recruiting future highway safety professionals is perceived to be inadequate to meet future needs (Hauer 2005). The TRB task force surveyed the educational programs being offered students and road safety professionals and assisted in the development of a set of “core competencies for highway safety professionals” (TRB 2006) intended to provide the foundation of baseline knowledge for road safety education and professional development. In doing so, the task force members realized that encouraging government and academe to take the competencies into account is only a precursor to meeting the future demand for road safety professionals. Development of a larger and better-trained safety workforce requires that policy makers at all levels of government recognize the critical role and needs of this profession and take concerted actions. The task force therefore urged the undertaking of and was instrumental in obtaining sponsorship for this study of the future supply of and demand for road safety professionals. The study focuses on the public-sector workforce because ensuring road safety is a major responsibility of government at all jurisdictional
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 levels. The public agencies, for example, set policy and control the funds to build and improve roadways, administer driver licensing regulations, enforce the rules of the road, and provide emergency response services. Of course, the road safety workforce extends well beyond the public sector to include the many private and not-for-profit organizations that have central roles in safety, including automobile manufacturers, fleet operators, highway equipment suppliers, and advocacy and consumer groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA. Public agencies increasingly rely on private contractors and consultants for work assignments, including safety-related functions, that were once performed by agency staff. Road safety expertise is therefore needed in the expanding contractor and consultant workforces. Road safety experts must likewise populate the faculty and staff of universities, training centers, and research institutions. The public workforce is thus a key part of a much broader workforce and volunteer community that is responsible for road safety. Developing the public-sector road safety workforce is a start to building the road safety profession generally, and it must be accompanied by efforts to educate and train this larger workforce. Transportation workforce issues are complex and have been studied in other TRB reports, including TRB Special Report 275: The Workforce Challenge: Recruiting, Training, and Retaining Qualified Workers for Transportation and Transit Agencies (TRB 2003). One issue is the effect of agency budgetary cutbacks and worker retirements on the size and quality of the transportation workforce generally, particularly in the road safety field. Estimates of the number of road safety workers made in this report are but a snapshot in time and not indicative of longer-term trends in the size of the road safety workforce. Such trends are difficult to predict because they are influenced by many of the same factors affecting growth in the public-sector workforce in general (e.g., budgetary cutbacks, the contracting out of services, demographic factors). With regard to the quality of the road safety workforce, however, the retirement of workers entering the road safety field during the 1960s and 1970s is certain to present a significant challenge to public agencies. Marshalling even the most basic statistics on the scale, scope, and character of the road safety profession proved to be a difficult task
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 because of the dispersed nature of the workforce. Except for the efforts of the TRB task force, the road safety profession has received little attention in the literature since passage of landmark highway safety legislation during the 1960s. Hence, in conducting the study, the committee had to extrapolate and make rough estimates of the workforce on the basis of limited data and the expert judgment of committee members. The committee generated information through its own fact-finding activities, including the convening of a workshop consisting of panels of experts in road safety management, research, education, human resources, and public administration (see Appendix A for a list of panelists). The firsthand information and insights gained from the workshop were invaluable to the committee as it drew conclusions and developed recommendations. REPORT ORGANIZATION Since the invention of the automobile, state and local governments have viewed motor vehicle crashes as a public safety concern that warranted government attention and intervention. The degree and nature of government involvement have varied over the years for many reasons, including changes in the severity of the problem and understanding of the factors that contribute to crashes. The federal government’s involvement, in particular, became much more prominent in the 1960s, as policy makers responded to the marked (50 percent) increase in the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes during that decade. Chapters 2 and 3 describe the history of government involvement in road safety and the evolution of the road safety profession over the past half century. Marked growth in motor vehicle travel after World War II was accompanied by increasing numbers of highway deaths, which prompted more systematic and scientific approaches to crash prevention and mitigation. While expertise in traffic engineering and law enforcement was predominant, increasing numbers of experts were drawn into the road safety profession from disciplines ranging from psychology and human factors to statistics and communications. New public agencies
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 were created with road safety responsibilities at all levels of government, while many existing agencies—such as state highway departments— were given explicit safety missions. The dimensions of the road safety problem, past and present, are described in these chapters. The magnitude of the problem makes clear why thousands of agencies at the federal, state, and local levels have critical safety responsibilities. The responsibilities are described, and the size of the road safety workforce is estimated. It is likely that many of the workers included in the estimates do not view themselves as safety professionals even though they are employed by agencies with explicit safety missions and have responsibilities with a direct bearing on road safety performance. The concept of a profession implies a set of workers sharing a body of knowledge and skills. Chapter 4 describes the body of knowledge and the basic sets of skills and competencies that are required by road safety professionals. NCHRP Research Results Digest 302: Core Competencies for Highway Safety Professionals (TRB 2006) outlines the basic safety-related knowledge and skills that all road safety professionals should possess. It covers five core areas of competency and specific learning objectives for each. The core competencies are reviewed in that chapter and summarized in Appendix B. Chapter 4 also examines the coverage of the core competencies in programs to educate and train transportation and public safety professionals. The chapter indicates that there are many possible avenues for the core knowledge and skills to be acquired but few that are comprehensive and guided by the overarching concept of a distinct road safety profession. Chapter 4 concludes with a brief review of road safety research activities, which are instrumental in providing factual knowledge for the safety profession and attracting students and young professionals to the field. Chapter 5 focuses on the future of the road safety workforce and the opportunities for developing a more professional workforce. The committee summarizes the key findings in the report, draws conclusions from them, and recommends measures aimed at building and advancing the road safety profession.
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Building the Road Safety Profession in the Public Sector: Special Report 289 REFERENCES Abbreviation TRB Transportation Research Board Hauer, E. 2005. The Road Ahead. Journal of Transportation Engineering, May, pp. 333–339. TRB. 2003. Special Report 275: The Workforce Challenge: Recruiting, Training, and Retaining Qualified Workers for Transportation and Transit Agencies. National Academies, Washington, D.C. TRB. 2006. NCHRP Research Results Digest 302: Core Competencies for Highway Safety Professionals. National Academies, Washington, D.C.