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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 72 · No. 1 > Did You Help Lead the Safety Initiative Today?

Jul/Aug 2008
Vol. 72 · No. 1

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-08-005

Did You Help Lead the Safety Initiative Today?

by Patrick Hasson and Marie C. Roybal

Effective leadership is the intangible ingredient in reducing fatalities and injuries on the Nation's highways.

Ensuring safety on a mountain road like this one—the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming and Montana—presents a different set of challenges than do urban highways, yet addressing them is equally important.
Ensuring safety on a mountain road like this one—the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming and Montana—presents a different set of challenges than do urban highways, yet addressing them is equally important.

Transportation safety continues to be a high national priority and challenge for the United States, with more than 42,000 annual deaths. Over the years, the safety community has documented countermeasures, practices, and programs that truly can make a difference in reducing the number of persons killed or seriously injured on the Nation’s roadways. Transportation professionals use the results of studies, documentation, presentations, and a variety of other mechanisms to communicate information about lifesaving tools such as road safety audits, median cables, rumble strips, and other countermeasures. Within this mix, however, there is an intangible ingredient to improving safety that is often spoken about, but rarely documented or summarized. That ingredient is leadership.

Authorities have written hundreds of articles and books about the qualities that make a leader, a good leader. From motivating employees to embracing change and new ways of doing business, leaders can make the difference between the success and failure of a program or organization.

To make a safety program work effectively, leadership needs to happen at all levels of the transportation community. All grassroots professionals — engineers, police officers, and safety program managers — and senior managers in Federal, State, and local transportation agencies must exhibit leadership skills and qualities. Safety leadership at every level is essential to motivate and engage a cross section of professional communities and the public to work together on numerous fronts to prioritize and address safety problems.

Keeping safety as a top priority depends on leveraging Federal-State partnerships to their full potential. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) division administrators are the most visible and influential Federal representatives in Federal-State partnerships, which are at the core of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. In recent years, FHWA has recognized a number of division administrators as safety leaders and exemplars in the challenge of continuing to increase safety. (See “FHWA’s Field Safety Leadership Award” .)

Each of these leaders excels in the following areas:

  • Keeping decisionmakers focused on safety
  • Developing and nurturing a culture in the division office that values safety and working with State counterparts to achieve results
  • Finding and making the best use of resources to promote safety
  • Building and maintaining partnerships

A survey of the successes of these proven leaders yields tried-and-true practices that can help transportation agencies institutionalize safety and help make a real difference in reducing crashes on U.S. roadways. At a macro level, three key elements are needed for leadership success, according to Professor Marc Roberts, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The first requirement is a clear, timely, challenging, and implementable vision, along with the mission and goals that are capable of motivating followers. Second, an authorizing environment permits the organization, including stakeholders, to progress. The final requirement is the organizational capacity that enables it to do the job necessary to achieve the mission and satisfy the concerns of stakeholders.

FHWA’s Field Safety Leadership Award

In a May 2007 speech to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Safety Leadership Forum, FHWA then—Executive Director Frederick “Bud” Wright said, “At the Department of Transportation, our goal is to make our transportation system a source  of safety, not tragedy, for America’s families. You are the leaders who can and must make it happen.” In the audience were many division administrators, along with their State counterparts. In a sense, the Field Safety Leadership Award (FSLA) recognizes those who took the executive director’s words to heart and turned them into action.

In practical terms, the award recognizes managers who have successfully partnered with their States and others in championing safety. The FSLA is unique in that safety specialists from across the country submit nominations and vote for candidates they believe are national leaders and role models of achievement. Recent FSLA nominees and winners include the following:

2007 Award Recipient: 
Robert Hollis, Arizona

Nominees:
Bobby Blackmon, Tennessee
Andrew Hughes, Mississippi
John Sullivan, North Carolina

2006 Award Recipient: 
Norman R. Stoner, Illinois

Nominees:
Bobby Blackmon, Tennessee
Dennis Merida, New Jersey
John Sullivan, North Carolina

2005 Award Recipients
Bob Lee, South Carolina
Bob Callan, Georgia

 

Vision: Safety as a Focus For Decisionmakers

Embracing a safety vision, mission, and goals that make a difference in transportation safety ultimately requires the involvement and commitment of leaders in various organizations. Enlisting key decisionmakers and managers in other agencies of the Federal Government and State governments to support the safety vision emphasizes the importance of the endeavor and helps employees to focus their efforts toward reaching the desired result.

Transportation professionals and decisionmakers in all parts of government face many competing messages, so keeping safety at the forefront of their minds is a challenge. One of the keys to successful safety leadership is helping transportation professionals recognize that saving lives on the Nation’s roads is a compelling mission and a priority for the American public. Keeping road safety in the mix in every discussion helps the transportation community stay focused on the issue regardless of the daily firestorms that could supplant the safety message if allowed.

FHWA division administrators play a key role in helping achieve and maintain this focus. Illinois Division Administrator Norman R. Stoner, for instance, gives safety presentations to State leaders at meetings, conferences, and other regular interactions. In all instances, Stoner emphasizes the safety message and keeps it on the table as a priority.

Illinois Division Administrator Norman R. Stoner
Illinois Division
Administrator
Norman R. Stoner

One example was in the fall of 2004 at the annual Illinois Traffic Engineering & Safety Conference. Up to that point, Stoner had had several conversations with then-Secretary Timothy W. Martin of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) about the need for a revitalized focus on safety. The two leaders had agreed that it was time to go public with the idea. Stoner’s assigned topic for the presentation at the annual conference was a Federal funding update. After reporting on the funding situation, he transitioned into a discussion on the moral imperative to reduce human suffering and challenged the audience of engineers to adjust their attitude so that they “refuse to be fatalistic about fatalities.”

In addition, organizational stovepiping and a fragmented approach to safety decisionmaking were all too common in Illinois. To model a multidisciplinary approach in the division office and integrate safety into day-to-day duties, Stoner created internal cross-functional teams. The Safety Vital Few Action Team was tasked with identifying safety performance objectives for the division and potential strategies for achieving those objectives. The Illinois division’s safety performance objectives were aligned with the agency’s and integrated into individual performance plans. For fiscal year (FY) 2004, the Safety Vital Few Action Team championed a division objective of developing a statewide comprehensive strategic safety plan. This objective led to a concerted effort, with assistance from FHWA headquarters, that succeeded in developing the safety plan in the summer of 2005, even before passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

In Tennessee, Division Administrator Bobby Blackmon demonstrated his priorities by ensuring that safety was the topic in his first meetings with Commissioner Gerald F. Nicely of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and Governor Phil Bredesen’s  Highway Safety Office. The three reached agreements to work together on initiatives to save lives in Tennessee as a priority.

Tennessee Division Administrator Bobby Blackmon
Tennessee Division
Administrator
Bobby Blackmon

 

Median cables, such as the cables these workers are installing on a South Carolina road, are one of many  lifesaving tools that can help improve highway safety. Leadership makes the difference in bringing about safety measures such as median cables.
Median cables, such as the cables these workers are installing on a South Carolina road, are one of many lifesaving tools that can help improve highway safety. Leadership makes the difference in bringing about safety measures such as median cables.

Similarly, Arizona Division Administrator Robert E. Hollis looks for opportunities to emphasize safety even when dealing with other issues. Using this strategy, Hollis partnered with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Regional Administrator David Manning and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Division Administrator Eric Ice to support Arizona’s creation of a formal safety focus and forum via Governor Janet Napolitano’s executive order in 2004. This order established the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Council (GTSAC) and tasked it with developing, promoting, and implementing lifesaving strategies to reduce motor vehicle crashes.

Arizona Division Administrator Robert E. “Bob” Hollis
Arizona Division
Administrator
Robert E. “Bob” Hollis

Arizona’s Bob Hollis tests driving-under-the-influence (DUI) goggles at a safety event.
Arizona’s Bob Hollis tests driving-under-the-influence (DUI) goggles at a safety event.

 

In 2005 and prior to SAFETEA-LU, the GTSAC issued its first strategic plan, titled Arizona Transportation Safety Plan: Effective Strategies to Save Lives, Reduce Crashes, and Reduce Economic Impact. This report, developed by an in-house multidisciplinary team of council members and staff, included six principal strategies (or emphasis areas) based on the 4E’s of safety (engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical services): (1) keep vehicles on the road; (2) improve intersection safety; (3) improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety; (4) modify driver behavior; (5) modify motorcyclist behavior; and (6) improve safety data. Among the key accomplishments were (a) establishment of a traffic records coordinating committee, which later adopted a statewide electronic Web-based data system, now under implementation; (b) creation of a road safety audits position and employment of a manager to run the program; and (c) evaluation of safety benefits that led to implementing a statewide photo enforcement program. In 2007, the GTSAC adopted an updated, SAFETEA-LU-compliant strategic highway safety plan comprising six revised emphasis areas: impaired driving, young drivers, restraint usage, speeding, roadway/roadside improvements, and data improvement.

Hollis exhibits a passion for an effective safety culture, encouraging his staff during regular business meetings to do everything they can each day to save the lives of Arizona motorists. In addition, he influences safety stakeholder organizations, such as the Governor’s safety office, State law enforcement, and various nonprofit organizations.

Former Georgia Division Administrator Robert M. “Bob” Callan kept safety on decisionmakers’ radar through actionable items, including periodic e-mails with titles such as “Are We Doing Everything We Can?” to Georgia’s safety officials to highlight critical and topical areas where attention is warranted. Topics included the rise in teen driver fatalities and the increasing number of overall fatalities in spite of best efforts. He enlisted safety champions at both the leadership and line staff levels and used the “bully pulpit” to encourage the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to develop the State’s highway safety action plan, emphasizing a systematic approach to addressing safety. The plan drew on Callan’s research into other States’ safety plans and on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Strategic Highway Safety Plan. GDOT funded and committed $40 million to execute Georgia’s plan. Not only was Callan’s plan part of creating a vision, mission, and goals, but it also helped produce an authorizing environment that facilitates making safety decisions in Georgia.

Former Georgia Division Administrator Robert M. “Bob” Callan
Former Georgia Division
Administrator
Robert M. “Bob” Callan

Authorizing Environment: Developing a Safety Culture

To understand why an authorizing environment is important, one must look at the total atmosphere, circumstances, and conditions in which managers and employees make decisions. Organizations have formal and informal sources of authority for decisionmaking and followup actions. Transportation professionals make decisions based on formal authority such as legislation and on informal authority such as the public, interest groups, the media, and the political environment.

For example, if a transportation professional makes a decision to perform construction work at night, the decision could be based on formal authority if legislated by the State or informal authority if selected (not mandated) by the State as a strategic practice to minimize congestion on that route. In addition, the authorizing environment includes tangibles, such as organizational policies and procedures, and intangibles, such as attitudes, management styles, and even past decisionmaking precedents.

The authorizing environment greatly affects the decisions made by organizations, employees, and managers. Therefore, one of the key characteristics of a successful leader is the ability to create an authorizing environment (by influencing cultural, procedural, attitudinal, legislative, or other means) that permits employees to work together on achieving results and reaching a particular mission.

In its infancy, a safety culture simply could be a cadre of people who routinely and visibly refuse to accept a high number of crashes, serious injuries, and fatalities as being normal. In its mature state, a safety culture manifests itself through interagency collaborations to create and maintain an environment that aggressively works to drive down negative road safety numbers. A mature safety culture is revealed in such things as comprehensive safety plans, effective and useful traffic records systems, systematic deployment of countermeasures, education and outreach through tools such as safety brochures, visible and targeted enforcement, and collaboration across jurisdictional and institutional boundaries.

Safety leaders have the skills to create and maintain a safety culture. Their common trait is a vision they routinely communicate by framing a clear and simple safety message. They find champions outside their own organizations to help carry the message and are persistent in sustaining their vision regardless of short-term setbacks and resistance.

North Carolina Division Administrator John F. Sullivan III, P.E., advocates taking steps to ensure that everyone sees safety as their priority and contributes to a safety culture. “Everyone must understand the outcomes needed to advance our safety goals,” he says. “Once people understand the goals and the outcomes, they can unleash their talent to create initiatives to address some of the factors involved in the highway safety challenge.”

This focus led, for example, to Sullivan’s challenge for division employees to find creative ways to promote highway safety at the local level. In laying down this challenge, with a commensurate commitment to support the best ideas, Sullivan created an environment that authorized all employees to get involved in safety. As a result, five employees who were not routinely involved in safety created the Public Awareness Team: Safety, which developed a multimedia presentation that promotes driver alertness, driver sobriety, and safe driving habits such as the use of seatbelts and child safety seats. The team has made presentations to more than 70,000 people. The team’s recent focus on young driver training has been extremely well received by high schools and has led to positive television coverage highlighting the important challenges that young drivers face. Without a leader who would create an environment that authorized employees to be engaged in safety and make a difference, this successful outreach might never have happened.

Similarly, in Arizona, Hollis developed a road safety audit peer-to-peer program that addresses State, local, and tribal needs. In addition to activities that led to the creation of Governor Napolitano’s Traffic Safety Advisory Council, Hollis speaks with pride about the establishment of an Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT)/FHWA Safety Working Group aimed at pushing ADOT’s leadership and organization toward a stronger internal safety ethic and focus.

In addition, Hollis creatively increased safety awareness among his State partners when, rather than bringing safety experts to Arizona, he used technology transfer funds to take top ADOT leaders and leaders of Governor Napolitano’s Office of Highway Safety to tour three Western States that had issues similar to those of Arizona and that were able to improve safety. The tour helped convince ADOT leaders that they needed to do more in the area of safety if they expected to achieve better results. This action helped create a positive decisionmaking environment for ADOT managers and employees. In addition, the scanning tour led to strong support for ADOT taking ownership in developing Arizona’s strategic highway safety plan and adopting a statewide “Zero” vision for reducing fatalities and serious injuries.

Other division administrators embrace similar concepts. New Jersey Division Administrator Dennis L. Merida makes it his job to ensure that everyone in the division knows that their jobs are to save lives — a paradigm shift. He has given ownership of the safety goals to his entire staff by creating Safety Impact Teams as a venue for linking multiple disciplines. These multidisciplinary teams include all key stakeholders tasked with evaluating high-crash corridors for comprehensive solutions. Their activities received national recognition from NHTSA, FMCSA, Rutgers University, and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

AASHTO Safety Leadership Award

The FSLA recognizes outstanding FHWA safety leaders. In a similar way, to recognize member States, AASHTO established the Safety Leadership Award to recognize safety champions who are taking actions designed to drive down serious injuries and fatalities. The association selects winners from nominations focusing on two primary criteria: leadership and results.

The leadership criteria centers on the presence of senior-level champions who are recognized safety leaders; cooperate with a variety of State and local stakeholders; have developed or are developing a comprehensive highway safety plan; have an active and well-funded highway safety implementation program; and are active in AASHTO, FHWA, or the Transportation Research Board/National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s safety committees, panels, and/or programs.

The association defines results as a minimum 3-year trend showing a decrease in numbers and rates of fatalities and/or serious injuries.

First offered in 2005, the AASHTO program has named seven winners to date, as follows:

  • 2007: Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri
  • 2006: Utah
  • 2005: Iowa, Michigan, and Washington
 

When the teams conduct site investigations, they assess the facility’s design and operation. Students from Rutgers participate to broaden their perspective on transportation safety. These students encouraged the university to develop a transportation safety class. On one project in the Trenton area, traffic crashes went down significantly (around 50 percent) following some minor adjustments to the roadway.

Stoner’s activities in Illinois are another example. Stoner partnered with IDOT (working closely with then-Secretary Martin) to revitalize and restructure the State’s safety direction. Stoner and Martin collaborated with FMCSA and NHTSA to launch the new IDOT Bureau of Safety Engineering and developed a comprehensive highway safety plan for which the division office and IDOT were able to obtain Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s support. Many targeted initiatives followed on the heels of these high-level efforts that led to real improvements in safety in the State. Illinois highway fatalities dropped from 1,363 in 2005 to 1,254 in 2006, the lowest number since 1924. The challenge is far from done, but the momentum is going in the right direction.

Tennessee Division Administrator Blackmon works to reinforce the idea that safety is everyone’s responsibility. Not only are employees now aware of the vision and goals, but Blackmon has created an authorizing environment where employees also consider safety in their decisionmaking. In addition, he used his influence to help establish the State’s Strategic Highway Safety Committee, which then developed a strategic highway safety plan. He was instrumental in focusing State agencies on improving crash data and developing a Traffic Records Coordination Committee. Blackmon also helped to promote road safety audits as an ongoing activity to identify low-cost safety improvements in high-crash areas.

Organizational Capacity: Making the Best Use of Safety Resources

Safety, as with other areas, relies on appropriate organizational capacity for success. Harvard’s Roberts defines capacity as “assets and capabilities entrusted to [a] manager, plus those that the manager can influence, and are required to achieve the desired results.”

Unlike other transportation areas, safety success is measured by lives saved. The importance of saving lives demands appropriate investment of resources, both human and capital. Investments, therefore, are needed for continued success. If an agency makes minimal investments, it is likely to achieve minimal successes.

In financial climates where additional resources are not forthcoming, the challenge is to find the right balance to meet a myriad of responsibilities. Within these limitations, FHWA division administrators address the safety challenge through a variety of means. Often, their strategies involve addressing organizational capacity issues to ensure that a priority program receives attention, either by obtaining new funding or redirecting existing funds. Many have a direct hand in increasing the organizational safety capacity in their division or for a partner agency.

After joining the Illinois division, Norm Stoner began a restructuring to provide additional resources for the safety area. When a full-time employee slot became available, he reallocated it to add a safety program specialist to his staff. He tapped FHWA to access staff members from headquarters to participate in a rotational assignment to assist with creation of a comprehensive safety plan in his State. When IDOT requested additional help during formation of the agency’s Bureau of Safety Engineering, he arranged for a staff member from the FHWA Professional Development Program to be assigned to the project.

Twice nominated for the FSLA, Bobby Blackmon promoted safety and led TDOT to create a safety engineer position dedicated solely to working on safety issues. Blackmon obtained resources when FHWA’s Focused Approach to Safety initiative made Tennessee a focus and opportunity State. He took advantage of the training in low-cost safety improvements, road safety audits, and intersection safety available to States targeted in the program. The FHWA Resource Center’s safety and design team provided at least five training sessions in Tennessee each year. FHWA’s Rudy Umbs also provided significant technical assistance during development of Tennessee’s strategic highway safety committee and the original strategic highway safety plan.

North Carolina’s Sullivan ensures that his safety team has the resources it needs to accomplish its tasks, which include developing training, holding transportation-themed events, purchasing equipment and supplies, and producing brochures with safety messages in English and Spanish. The members of the team are from outside the safety discipline, but they undertook effective actions, such as producing driver education training videos, purchasing equipment to demonstrate the effects of intoxicated driving, creating a parent-young driver safety pledge, and developing young driver education.

North Carolina Division John F. Sullivan III, P.E.
North Carolina Division
Administrator
John F. Sullivan III, P.E.

In addition, Sullivan recognizes the need to select projects wisely and squeeze the most out of resources. When North Carolina faced a funding gap for transportation needs, Brad Hibbs, his safety engineer, recommended a new corridor approach for selected safety projects. Sullivan and Hibbs presented this concept to several project decisionmakers within the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). In April 2007, the North Carolina Executive Committee for Highway Safety endorsed the concept of advancing safety improvements based on corridor analysis. Now high-risk corridors are identified, along with deficiencies and risk potentials along those corridors. The next step is to implement safety treatments to address those deficiencies and risks. This concept complements safety improvements pursued under the hazard elimination program.

Early in his tenure at the Arizona Division, Bob Hollis took steps to focus resources on safety. He realized that ramping up staffing devoted to safety is vital to expand the coverage to address growing safety challenges in Arizona. He began to focus resources for the division’s safety program by using an available staff position to add a second safety professional in addition to the person already on staff. Further, he took steps to ensure that FHWA approved Arizona to receive one of three allocated safety positions under the loaned-staff program. Like Blackmon, he took advantage of his State’s designation as an opportunity State to obtain funding from FHWA headquarters for safety initiatives, such as outreach tools, tribal safety efforts, and more.

Installation of this centerline rumble strip on U.S. 421 in the Sand Hills region of North Carolina was a countermeasure to the head-on collisions that occurred on the flat, straight, two-lane route. The initiative reduced lane departure crashes by 75 percent during a 3-year period.
Installation of this centerline rumble strip on U.S. 421 in the Sand Hills region of North Carolina was a countermeasure to the head-on collisions that occurred on the flat, straight, two-lane route. The initiative reduced lane departure crashes by 75 percent during a 3-year period.

Recent research on highway safety has identified a multitude of low-cost, commonly used traffic control devices and practices that can reduce the incidence of crashes. Low-cost safety improvements (LCSI) often are interim measures adopted as alternatives to capital construction. Departments of transportation (DOTs) can apply LCSI to high-crash locations using currently available signs, markings, and other traffic control devices.

Several States, including those with FSLA winners, have found some success applying LCSI. For example, while Bob Callan was Georgia Division Administrator, the FHWA Georgia division and the Resource Center introduced LCSI to several State and local partners through workshops and seminars. As a result, the partners introduced LCSI at several sites. Following an LCSI workshop, Douglas County created a safety action plan that included the application of LCSI treatments at high-crash locations. Dual stop signs, rumble strips, chevrons on curves, and intersection ahead signs were used systematically at those locations. Another example in Georgia occurred when the city of Gainesville deployed oversized stop signs, speed limit signs, and warning signs in critical locations. The city also installed rumble strips in some locations.

Building and Leveraging Partnerships

The heart and soul of any successful Federal highway program is the strong, traditional partnerships between FHWA and State DOTs. These partnerships go a long way toward creating an authorizing environment and can be instrumental to supporting an increase in institutional capacity to get the job done.

Equally important to addressing the safety issue successfully is creation of partnerships with a variety of people and organizations that go well beyond the traditional highway engineering community. The essential roles of engineering, enforcement, education, emergency response services, and many others require special attention and leadership skills to make a program truly succeed.

Specifically, FHWA can play a lead role in fostering and maintaining those partnerships and institutionalizing them so that safety gains can be sustained and continually improved.

Generally speaking, several attributes help build and maintain partnerships. Listening to partners and potential partners and being flexible to help programs succeed are starting points. Identifying or creating avenues for staff-level specialists to lead or support initiatives with partners helps the relationships become more permanent. Also, being aware of institutional gaps and being creative in working with partners to devise strategies to address those gaps can have long-lasting impacts.

North Carolina’s Sullivan says that no one person can solve a problem: “Teams and groups are necessary to brainstorm to create strategies for solving safety issues,” he says. “To be successful, the priorities of the division office must be aligned with those of the State DOT.” Sullivan meets regularly with NCDOT leadership to discuss priorities and determine where the division office staff can add value.

Sullivan’s influence helped lead to a decision to use centerline rumble strips on a 19-kilometer (12-mile) section of a high-volume, two-lane rural road that had experienced a significant number of head-on collisions. As a result of this action, NCDOT reduced crashes on this segment by 75 percent during a 3-year period.

Sullivan adds, “A significant amount of good can be accomplished by simply finding opportunities for safety engineers to network and establish new partnerships. Talking to other groups who have tackled the same problem can lead to the discovery of best practices. Networking with peers to see what has worked in other situations is an important success factor. Providing such opportunities is an avenue that FHWA should continue to support or even increase.”

South Carolina Division Administrator Bob L. Lee used a results- oriented approach to enlist the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) as a partner, discussing safety from the perspective of developing performance measures and creating joint goals. This we-are-in-it-together approach has helped to cement the partnership between the FHWA division office and SCDOT.

South Carolina Division Administrator Bob L. Lee
South Carolina Division
Administrator
Bob L. Lee

The partnership resulted in South Carolina’s highly successful median cable program. Even though data were not readily available at the time, Lee and the SCDOT leadership team recognized the State’s increasing number of high-profile, fatal crossover crashes that had occurred up through 1999. As a result, the staffs worked together to hand-sort crash information and develop priorities for cable installation. They used the information to persuade the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank to fully fund the program, enabling implementation to occur on 766 kilometers (476 miles) of freeway in 2 years, as opposed to a 5- to 7-year period, as would have occurred otherwise, due to funding constraints. Key to success of the program is monitoring and prompt maintenance to ensure that any damage is repaired quickly. The lives saved are well-publicized to maintain public support, which has also led to increased use of median cable barriers by DOTs nationwide. The barriers have received more than 14,000 hits or “saves” since the program was initiated in 2000. Interstate median crossover fatal crashes in South Carolina have been reduced by more than 80 percent from an average of 23 per year in 1998 to 5 per year in 2007.

Graph. The vertical axis is labeled “Fatal Crashes,” with increments starting at 0 and going up by increments of 10 to 60, and the horizontal axis is labeled “Year,” with years starting at 1997 and going up in one-year increments to 2007. The number of fatal crashes due to median crossovers was about 13 in 1997, 23 in 1998, 30 in 1999, and 27 in 2000. After that, fatal crashes dropped to about 8 in 2001, 6 in 2002, 1 in 2003, 5 in 2004, 4 in 2005, 2 in 2006, and 5 in 2007. Source: SCDOT

New Jersey’s Merida worked with Rutgers University and NJDOT to create a Transportation Safety Resource Center that assists local governments with the analysis and identification of treatments for high-crash locations. Merida also enables his division safety engineer to work closely with the NJDOT staff to assist with key tasks. Merida considers his partnerships with NHTSA and FMCSA leaders as a critical factor to his State’s success.

New Jersey Division Administrator Dennis L. Merida
New Jersey Division
Administrator
Dennis L. Merida

One key success of FHWA working with NHTSA and FMCSA was a dramatic improvement in the quality of crash data. Leadership from the three agencies met with the NJDOT Commissioner of Transportation Kris Kolluri and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative Pamela Fisher on multiple occasions to develop solutions. As a result, new data entry forms and procedures were developed, and more data is being electronically processed directly from the originating crash report. “We now have confidence that the data identifying both the hazardous location and contributing factors to the crash are accurate,” says Merida. “We have also significantly increased the number of safety projects going to construction.”

Tennessee’s Blackmon encourages improvements to the State’s safety program by working closely with TDOT Commissioner Nicely. Blackmon successfully promoted establishment of the Tennessee Strategic Highway Safety Committee, which developed the State’s strategic highway safety plan. “Some of the greatest accomplishments in any program area result from relationships developed with State partners,” he says. “Any success achieved only improves relationships and strengthens the mutual trust between the State and FHWA.”

Recognizing the importance of engaging with State and safety groups, Blackmon keeps informed of progress in joint initiatives and uses every opportunity to discuss their status with State leaders and solicit their assistance in overcoming obstacles. He considers his safety engineer to be critical to creating and maintaining partnerships with State and local agencies.

Using the power of partnerships, Mississippi Division Administrator Andrew H. Hughes collaborated with Executive Director Larry L. “Butch” Brown of the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Commissioner George Phillips of the Department of Public Safety, Public Safety Planning–Office of Highway Safety to make a case for improving the quality and timeliness of crash data. His staff worked with the staffs of these agencies to develop a safety analysis management system that has resulted in significant improvements in crash data. The new system accesses the improved crash data to identify problematic locations, which enables Mississippi to implement appropriate counter-measures to reduce crashes.

Mississippi Division Administrator Andrew H. Hughes
Mississippi Division
Administrator
Andrew H. Hughes

Hughes also worked with the MDOT leadership to facilitate a trial installation of rumble strips that ultimately extended to all interstates in Mississippi. The trial evolved into a new safety product that MDOT named “rumble stripes.” This low-cost safety combination of a stripe on the rumble strip improves the performance of the stripe and has the benefits of the rumble strip. MDOT and FHWA division management embraced the concept and agreed to a standard applied during resurfacing projects that incorporates a minimum 0.6-meter (2-foot) shoulder and a rumble stripe. Since that agreement, MDOT has installed 4,667 kilometers (2,900 lane miles) of rumble stripes during resurfacing projects. Many other States around the country have implemented the technique.

Advice for Other Safety Leaders

Says FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety Jeffrey Lindley: “Being a national organization offers FHWA a tremendous opportunity and challenge. The opportunity is to have many people trying different approaches to achieve the same ends. The challenge is to share information across the organization and States about successful approaches so that they can be duplicated elsewhere.”

According to Illinois’s Stoner, a personal investment in safety is key to achieving safety goals. Being passionate about a cause — the cause of trying to reduce crash fatalities and injuries — is necessary to overcome apathy. “The crash toll is too often accepted as a fact of modern life,” he explains. “It is necessary to instill the idea that transportation professionals can save lives if we are focused on the idea of making them understand that they can play a positive and significant role in achieving safety.” He also advises that it is important to come across as credible and knowledgeable when trying to talk to people about safety if you want to influence them.

Under Bob Lee’s influence, the South Carolina Division and SCDOT use a model of influence to advance safety. The model includes establishing trust, providing motivation, developing plans together with partners, building on early successes, being innovative when looking for solutions, and maintaining accountability with the public.

According to North Carolina’s Sullivan, “Enthusiasm, commitment, communication, and persistence are the skills that leaders need to influence decisionmakers. Also, another important element is helping our partners become successful and [receive] credit for the positive outcomes that are achieved.” Sullivan is not reluctant to share the spotlight. He looks for opportunities where he has the chance to give partners the kudos for their State’s successes.

To Blackmon, “Success requires the effective use of all leadership skills because of the diverse group of people who need to be active players. Division safety staffs need to employ strategic thinking and make priorities of partnering and coalition building. Leaders must rely heavily on their influencing and negotiating skills.” To develop a successful safety program, key State officials need to allocate time and energy to making safety improvements a priority. “Also, we need to find ways to incorporate safety in the early stages of projects by including safety planning in the development process,” he says.

For a safety program to be successful, according to Merida, “Everyone has a role to play. I ensure that everyone in the division knows that safety is part of their job. No one can rely on one or two people to carry the safety message. When an entire office unites, much more can be accomplished.”

The thought that needs to be on everyone’s mind is “What more can we do to improve safety?” Merida says. He also stresses the importance of supporting safety staff so they feel empowered and are more willing to try innovative approaches to carry the safety message forward. He believes that his division has accomplished significant progress by connecting planning, finance, project management, and safety professionals to work together on safety issues.

“We have collaborated with NJDOT to dramatically increase the number of safety projects that have been implemented and the quality of safety data used in project development, including environmental documents and context sensitive design. More important, the number of fatalities is down from previous years,” Merida says.

A median cable might have helped reduce the severity of this crash, possibly saving lives and reducing injuries. Getting the word out about successful techniques and strategies to improve safety is what leadership by the FHWA division administrators is all about.
A median cable might have helped reduce the severity of this crash, possibly saving lives and reducing injuries. Getting the word out about successful techniques and strategies to improve safety is what leadership by the FHWA division administrators is all about.

Last Word

Although effective leadership encompasses different approaches to meeting the safety challenge in each State, common themes emerge. Most significant is developing a safety vision and creating an authorizing environment in which to realize that vision. Allocating appropriate human and capital resources is also important; however, all the capital in the world would not make an unfocused program successful or change parameters in the authorizing environment, such as outdated laws.

Central in successful leadership is the important partnership between the States and FHWA. Whether it comes to finding and making the best use of resources, increasing organizational capacity, building coalitions, keeping safety on the agendas of State leaders, or building a safety culture, partnerships are vital. And the best way to develop a partnership that will succeed and flourish is for someone (and everyone) to step up as leaders to make it happen.

FHWA Associate Administrator Lindley concludes, “Saving lives is one of the Nation’s top transportation goals — whether it is building safer roads or developing and maintaining safer operations on roads. What will you do to make transportation safety a top priority?”


Patrick Hasson, P.E., is the team leader for the Safety and Highway Design Technical Service Team at the FHWA Resource Center.

Marie C. Roybal is a marketing manager for the FHWA Resource Center. She joined FHWA in 2001 and has a B.S. in business administration and a B.A. in psychology, earned concurrently from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She completed her master’s degree in business administration and a master’s in marketing at the University of Colorado at Denver. She is based in the Lakewood, CO, office of the Resource Center.

For more information, contact Patrick Hasson at 708–283–3595 or patrick.hasson@fhwa.dot.gov, or Marie Roybal at 720–963–3241 or marie.roybal@fhwa.dot.gov.

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