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14-03 — Successful Approaches for the Development of an Organization-Wide Safety Culture in Transportation Agencies

Improving transportation-system safety is an important national goal pursued by government transportation agencies and others. New technology and regulatory action can contribute to reducing transportation fatalities, injuries, and property damage, but experience in many fields has shown that more fundamental changes in culture are needed as well. Road users and organizations with a role in transportation safety implicitly accept the levels of risk inherent in the system.

Changing the culture entails enhancing everyone’s understanding of what these risk levels are, how their actions influence their own and others’ risks, and actions they can take to reduce risk in general. Large organizations in a variety of business areas have learned that changing their own organization’s safety culture is an important step toward improving safety for their customers as well as themselves, and that such change can yield a range of benefits.

Discussions of traffic safety culture are becoming more frequent among transportation safety professionals, but clear, practical paths forward for highway agencies have yet to be developed. One promising approach is to begin at home, with the safety culture of the agency itself.

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Scan Results and Report

Implementation and Impact

Following the scan workshop in May 2015, the scan team worked at the state and national levels to advance scan findings. Highlights of these activities include:

  • The scan team presented the findings from the scan to a number of national-level audiences. Examples include TRB Committees on Highway Safety Workforce Development, Highway Safety Performance, and Roadway Safety Culture; and AASHTO Committees on Highway Traffic Safety, Personnel and Human Resources, and Safety Management. The scan team also presented the results of the scan to the Asset Management Peer Exchange, 2nd National Roadway Safety Culture Summit, the Transportation Engineering and Safety Conference, and the Evaluation of Low-Cost Safety Improvements Pooled Fund meeting.
  • The scan team also disseminated the finding of the scan to state-level audiences including the MnDOT Task Force on Cell Phone Use, Minnesota’s Toward Zero Death Conference, and the Alabama Rural Road Safety Workshop.
  • The scan helped to inform NCHRP 17-69 A Strategic Approach to Transforming Traffic Safety Culture to Reduce Deaths and Injuries.
  • Four members of the scan team, including two DOT directors, presented the scan findings in the webinar entitled, An Overview of the Factors and Processes to Increase Organization Safety Culture hosted by the National Center for Rural Road Safety at Montana State University. See the slides [PDF] and recording [Adobe Connect] for the webinar conducted March 22, 2016.

Scan team members continue to work closely within their own states and nationally to monitor needs and identify opportunities to communicate and implement advances in organization-wide safety culture.

Two state DOT directors served on this scan: Rudy Malfabon of Nevada DOT (also scan chair) and Mike Tooley of Montana DOT. On the final day of the scan they provided their perspective on the scan outcomes:

Scan Members

      • Rudy Malfabon, Nevada DOT, AASHTO Chair
      • Timothy Barnett, Alabama DOT
      • Steven Buckley, Kansas DOT
      • Katie Fleming, Minnesota DOT
      • John Milton, Washington State DOT
      • Chimai Ngo, FHWA
      • Mark Shelton, Missouri DOT
      • Mike Tooley, Montana DOT
      • Nicholas Ward, Montana State Univeristy, Subject Matter Expert

Workshop Participants

      • Federal Highway Administration
      • Granite Construction, Inc.
      • Iowa Department of Transportation
      • Minnesota Department of Administration
      • Minnesota Department of Transportation
      • MONSANTO Company
      • Washington State Traffic Safety Commission

Left to Right: John Milton, Katie Fleming, Rudy Malfabon, Mike Tooley, Timothy Barnett, Mark Shelton, Chimai Ngo, Steven Buckley, Nicholas Ward