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A Galaxy Not So Far Away: Safety Innovation at the 2020 Virtual Traffic Safety Conference

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute's (TTI’s) Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) hosted the first-ever virtual Traffic Safety Conference June 10–12, 2020. The conference, supported by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), focused on traffic safety issues and forward-looking research aligned with TxDOT’s goal to end all traffic fatalities on Texas roadways by 2050. For more information on the zero deaths goal, read TxDOT’s press release here. Even with the conference moving online, there were more than 550 attendees viewing and participating in sessions.


“We really appreciate everyone coming together, at least virtually, to learn about traffic safety. This is our first rodeo [online], so please pack a little patience,” urged CTS Director Robert Wunderlich as he opened the conference. “This is the largest group we’ve ever had for a Traffic Safety Conference.”


National Transportation Safety Board Member Jennifer Homendy stressed the issue of speeding in her keynote address on June 11: “Roadways aren’t race tracks.… Speeding was a problem before the pandemic, and it’s something that needs to be addressed. I drive I-95 every day on the way to work, when not at home during the pandemic, and everyone is speeding around me.”


Wunderlich zoomed out to a systemic view of safety in two breakout sessions on the Safe System approach. He stressed, “We should be stewards of a safer environment. We also need to integrate the needs of all users, anybody using the system. The stewards of the system have a responsibility to recognize that users make mistakes and bad decisions.… What we want to do is to reduce the opportunity for those mistakes to happen in the first place and to mitigate the consequences.”


Other sessions over the three-day conference supported the goal to reduce traffic fatalities, with topics such as telemedicine technology, improved data collection and analysis methods, and tailored law enforcement training. TTI Center for Alcohol and Drug Education Studies Director Troy Walden presented on impaired driving technology, including the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. As Walden explained, “The main goal of this technology is to separate the driver from making the poor choice to drive impaired.”



Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan’s June 12 keynote address focused on meeting TxDOT’s zero deaths goal: “With all that has changed over the past few months, one thing is constant, and that’s keeping Texans safe on our roadways.” Ryan encouraged conference attendees to increase awareness about preventable traffic-related deaths on Texas roadways. She said, in closing, “I have a picture in my office of a saying, ‘One day or day one, you decide.’ I hope you will choose ‘day one.’”


A strong social media campaign advertising the event ahead of time, along with conveniences like online attendance (requiring no travel or the associated expenses) and access to webinars after the fact, helped recruit nearly twice last year’s number of participants. One respondent to the post-conference satisfaction survey said, “Great job TTI in being flexible and for all of the hard work you put into transitioning this into a virtual event — it was excellent and allowed more people the opportunity to attend (low registration fee) when they couldn’t travel before.” Attendee surveys are now being analyzed, but preliminary numbers support anecdotal accounts that the conference, now in its 11th year, was a resounding success. Some 92 percent of survey respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the conference.


TTI would like to thank everyone involved in setting up this conference, including Senior Administrative Coordinator II Christie Havemann, Assistant Research Scientist Stacey Schrank, and Research Scientist Eva Shipp; Associate Research Scientist Laura Higgins and Communications and Marketing Coordinator Olivia Thomas; the eShow team, whose platform presented the conference; the webinar hosts and moderators; and the presenters for their time and flexibility.


Respondents Sound Off on the 2020 Traffic Safety Conference*

*Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the 2020 Traffic Safety Conference was held virtually for the first time.

Stacey Schrank Retires

Stacey Schrank, assistant research scientist with the CTS's Crash Analytics Program, retired July 31, 2020. Schrank had 25 years of state service and worked on projects involving data management and emissions compliance. She was instrumental in assembling the Texas State Highway Safety Plan and played a key role in presenting the 2020 Traffic Safety Conference in June. This was the first time the conference was presented virtually, and Schrank operated behind the scenes to ensure the event went off without a hitch.


“Even after just a couple of days since she retired, everybody misses her,” says Eva Shipp, manager of the Crash Analytics Program. “We especially miss the way she effortlessly handled so many diverse tasks and the fun we had working together to get the work done.”


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Robert Wunderlich


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