Encouraged by the role that working together could have on safety in the future, a near record number of transportation professionals attended this year’s Traffic Safety Conference in College Station, Texas, June 6-8. Held in a different city each year, the conference is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Center for Transportation Safety (CTS).
“Safety has many components represented by the professional disciplines in this room,” TTI Executive Associate Director Bill Stockton told the crowd during the opening session. “Working together collaboratively and understanding the role and contributions that each of you make has a huge leveraging effect on safety. Each of us doing our own thing is good. Each of us doing our thing in partnership with someone who does a different thing is even better.”
The numerous breakout sessions examined the latest research and safety efforts involving familiar topics: roadway engineering and countermeasures, the traffic safety culture, teen driving, aging drivers, motorcycle safety, drugs and driving, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Connected and automated vehicles were an underlying theme of the opening session, luncheon keynote and plenary session where speakers touched on the future of transportation safety.
“Technology will provide us with some fascinating safety discussions,” Commissioner Jeff Moseley of the Texas Transportation Commission told the opening session. “You can be a resource to our lawmakers. How should we be voting on this next generation of highways and how we manage those highways, the technology that we use and how do we balance the safety and the efficiency of the roadway.”
Moseley provided attendees with a preview of a report that will be delivered to the commission at the end of June, developed by the Traffic Safety Task Force. Mosley heads up the task force, which was formed last year to examine ways to reduce crashes.
Moseley said the task force report examines various countermeasures (like rumble strips, various engineering designs and public safety campaigns), their costs, and their return-on-investment.
“As far as we know, there’s not been a report in the history of our agency that has connected the return- on-investment related to lives saved and crashes reduced. That’s what this report is attempting to do. We want to talk to lawmakers and say if you choose to invest in safety, here’s how many lives the data shows us can be saved. Here’s how many crashes can be reduced,” he said.
“Texas recorded 16,758 serious crashes that resulted in 3.533 deaths in 2015. The good news is that number is slightly less than the 3,536 deaths recorded in 2014.”Moseley was encouraged by the 2015 figures, especially considering the increased demand on our roadway system with “a thousand new people coming to live in Texas every day.”
In his luncheon keynote, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said, “Over the last 50 years, [seat belts and air bags] have saved 613,501 lives. The advanced safety technologies we are seeing today represent us being on the cusp of a safety innovation revolution. That’s what’s coming.”
The Administrator praised conference attendees, who included law enforcement, safety experts from the public and private sectors, municipal transportation planners and university-based transportation researchers.
“[You’re] amazing, passionate, dedicated people who are saving lives in their communities,” he said. “All of you are beacons. You’re the folks we need to support as you go about saving lives and preventing crashes. The work you do makes a difference. No one will ever say thank you enough.”
Rosekind also told the luncheon group that a lot of work is left to do, pointing to the 32,675 deaths resulting from crashes in 2014, the latest year of safety statistics captured by NHTSA. The 2015 fatality numbers, he previewed, will show an increase when the report is released soon. As part of the solution, Rosekind pointed to automated vehicle technologies, which could hold “massive, life-saving potential.”
He applauded the recently announced RELLIS Campus at Texas A&M University, which will be partially dedicated to transportation technology research. “The interesting question is — how many lives can be saved by tech? We really are excited to find out that answer,” he said.