InTrans / Nov 30, 2021

Traffic and Safety Forum asks “What does safety mean to you?”

2021 event attracted 125+ attendees

Scott Marler, right, and David Lorenzen, left, of the Iowa DOT, field questions at the Traffic and Safety Forum

The 2021 Traffic and Safety Forum was held in mid-November, a week after Iowa reached a grim milestone: surpassing 300 roadway fatalities this year. This prompted Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) Director Scott Marler to pose two questions to the transportation community in attendance.

“What does safety mean to you? How do you internalize the word safety?” Marler asked the 125-plus people in the room.

For many attendees, the answers came easily. They have lost friends and/or loved ones due to traffic crashes; they know the public depends on them to provide solutions to make roadways safer; and they practice safe techniques, like not looking at their smartphone while driving.

“We have to tell our stories, even when it’s hard, even when it’s not the most comfortable conversation,” said Iowa DOT State Safety Engineer Jan Laaser-Webb. “Do you put your phone down? I do.”

Though Marler knows the impacts that stories can have—whether they are shared with loved ones or the state legislature—he also stressed that there are opportunities to implement new programs and practices throughout the transportation community that will make roadways safer. He also laid out the vision and five-year goal for the Iowa DOT during his speech.

The theme of improving safety and making the story personal was also emphasized during the morning’s keynote address by David Harkey, the president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Keynote speaker David Harkey addresses the 2021 Traffic and Safety Forum attendees

“Everything that you do is so important, and it has to be a part of the safe systems approach,” Harkey said, adding, “That’s why it’s so important to change behavior and infrastructure, because changes on vehicles take time.”

The IIHS assesses vehicle safety as far as how it protects vehicle occupants after a crash and what manufacturers do to help drivers avoid crashes. He said there has been a lot of progress since the institute started testing vehicles in 1995, but he acknowledged that it takes time for the overall fleet of vehicles on the roadways to catch up to the latest innovations available.

Several other presenters comprising consultants and Iowa DOT staff shared innovations, opportunities, and challenges in the transportation industry throughout the day-long event.

The Traffic and Safety Forum is an annual event organized and hosted by the Iowa DOT and the Institute for Transportation at Iowa State University. The purpose of the forum is to enable traffic and safety engineering professionals to learn about new and innovative systems and processes, share individual experiences, and collectively address issues of interest.

Keynote speaker David Harkey addresses the 2021 Traffic and Safety Forum attendees