Our work matters
HSRC researchers and staff work to figure out how to save lives and reduce injuries on our roadways. Our projects are designed to support transportation professionals across the globe as they work toward that same goal.
Areas of expertise
Engineers, planners and administrators are constantly striving to design, build and operate a roadway environment that is both safe and efficient. HSRC researchers are at the forefront of understanding how the safety of all road users is impacted by the array of design elements and traffic control devices that are present on our streets and highways. This knowledge is transformed into guidance and decision-making tools that enable safety practitioners to get the biggest effect for their safety dollar.
Reliable and robust data are at the heart of all HSRC safety research. The Center has long been involved in the development, implementation and management of data systems to support safety research. The Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Safety Information System (HSIS) is one of those systems managed by HSRC. It is the only national database that allows crash data to be linked to roadway inventory and traffic operations data, thus providing the capability to conduct comprehensive risk analyses.
Humans are remarkably complex. People don’t always operate the way we think they will, and their behavior is not easily changed. This reality is a challenge for transportation safety.
People make a multitude of decisions over the course of a single trip on a roadway, whether by vehicle, foot or bicycle. And safety is often a direct result of chosen behaviors, such as: wearing a seatbelt; driving at the appropriate speed; properly restraining a child in a car seat designed for their height and weight; or walking in a crosswalk. HSRC researchers study how behavior and safety interact in the real world.
In recent years, the transportation safety field has evolved toward naturalistic driving data – which is the collection of data without manipulation of the environment. HSRC has been involved in both the development of analysis-ready databases that include these new data elements, and research using these data to better understand behaviors of drivers and passengers.
For example, HSRC researchers were at the forefront of using in-vehicle cameratechnology to directly observe driver behavior, most recently distraction among young drivers. This naturalistic data has also been used to study interaction between parents and teens during supervised driving. In addition, HSRC has used naturalistic driving data to study roadway curvature and alignment to understand how to best design roadways.
Young driver safety is of great concern for parents and transportation professionals alike. Our Center for the Study of Young Drivers focuses on developing a fundamental understanding of the many factors that contribute to the high crash rate among teen drivers.
HSRC is credited with developing the concept of graduated driver licensing (GDL) in the 1970s, and research in the 1990s contributed directly to enactment of the North Carolina GDL system. Now HSRC researchers are working with other states as they develop or strengthen their GDL policies. In addition, HSRC researchers continue to explore the interactions between parents and teens learning to drive. This knowledge has been translated into a program called Time to Drive, which coaches and provides guidance to parents as they supervise their novice teen drivers.
The national safety belt usage rate in 2014 was 87 percent, but preventable deaths still occurred as a result of unrestrained occupants. Many children continue to be unrestrained or improperly restrained. Occupant protection remains an area of concern for society, and a focus for HSRC.
Through a multi-year program of research and data analysis, HSRC was instrumental in getting both the child passenger safety law and the adult seatbelt law passed in North Carolina in the 1980s. The Center continues to work in child injury prevention by helping to coordinate child passenger safety workshops and trainings for health educators, traffic safety officials and interested citizens. Center staff also serve as an important resource, with an in-state toll-free phone line to field and answer occupant protection questions from both parents and child passenger safety advocates.
Improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety
The desire to increase the number of walking and bicycling trips combined with a record number of vehicle miles driven has created increasing concerns. HSRC has long been involved in pedestrian and bicyclist safety and mobility research and it remains a priority – and area of expertise – for our staff.
Programs run by HSRC – including the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center and the National Center for Safe Routes to School, and projects like Watch for Me NC, Walk Friendly Communities, and Walk and Bike to School Day – have helped pave the way for safer walking and cycling environments and more transportation choices for all.
Developing the transportation profession
Throughout our 50 years of existence, HSRC has made a special effort to share our expertise and research with communities, students, researchers and practitioners. By assisting with hundreds of requests for safety information and data per year, presenting at conferences, and publishing research findings in journals and other publications, HSRC staff continues to promote multi-disciplinary interest in highway safety.
HSRC’s training and education arm, the Road Safety Academy, makes transportation safety education more accessible than ever before by offering both in-person and web-based trainings that cover a broad range of safety topics. In addition, our work includes coordinating dozens of free webinars each year for researchers and practitioners, and developing teaching modules for university courses being taught in engineering, planning and public health schools.
HSRC continually works to develop tomorrow’s transportation safety professionals by awarding scholarships and research assistantships to deserving students and by integrating students into our research work.