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Road Safety Program

Boston MA and Washington DC June 6th – June 16th, 2008


The cities of Boston Massachusetts and Washington DC recently played host to a group of fourteen road safety professionals from Ireland and Northern Ireland who came to the United States to take part in a ten-day study visit examining issues such as road engineering, operator education and behavior, the establishment and enforcement of penalties, and the establishment of continuity in regulation (across different jurisdictions). The group included relevant leaders from law enforcement, roads authorities, safety authorities, and civic and community bodies on the island.  The visit was designed and delivered by the Irish Institute at Boston College and funded through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Irish Institute’s mission is to support the peace and reconciliation process on the island through the provision of educational seminars and programs for public officials, business leaders, and educators. This is the tenth year in which their programs have received funding from the U.S. Congress.


The Boston segment of the program began with two academic seminars. Professor Michael Knodler of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts spent an afternoon with the group in which he outlined “Current research and debates within the field of highway safety studies” here in the United States. Professor Dennis Hale of Boston College’s Political Science department subsequently gave the visitors an overview of “Massachusetts Government Structure, Legislative Process, and Public Administration” in which participants got a clear picture of the intersection between state and federal authority in questions of regulatory legislation and public administration. The group next engaged in a roundtable discussion with Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky and her colleagues at the Massachusetts Highway Department.  The visitors then enjoyed an exceptionally informative morning at Massachusetts State Police headquarters where they interacted with key personnel from the traffic and road safety division and where they got a demonstration of a vehicle rollover simulator used to educate high school students about the necessity of seat belt usage.  They heard firsthand about the latest in accident investigation practice from a specialist within the Collision Analysis & Reconstruction unit before the visit concluded with a tour of the force’s state-of-the-art Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) Mobile.  The participants got a unique insight into the complex traffic and accident monitoring system at the Massachusetts Turnpike Operations Control Center, the facility charged with ensuring the safety of the tunnel and highway system running through and underneath the city of Boston.  Several members of the group spent an afternoon at the District 14 headquarters of the Boston Police Department where they talked informally with the front-line officers who are charged with enforcing traffic legislation.  The next stop was a very informative meeting at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) office of the Silver Line, Boston’s brand new rapid transit bus system. Participants ended their stay in Boston with a meeting at the MA Registry of Motor Vehicles, where they heard about the drafting of the State’s tough new Junior Operators Law and about Melanie’s Law, a recent piece of legislation that has provided for enhanced penalties against OUI offenders.     


The second week of the program brought the participants to Washington, DCMs. Annette Sandberg, a noted transportation safety expert and former Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  The group later met with Ms. Judith Stone, President of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, with whom they discussed the role advocacy groups can play in pushing forward vehicle and highway safety legislation.  All of the participants had the opportunity to go on a night-time “ride-along” with the officers of the Montgomery County Police department in Bethesda Maryland. They spent a tremendously rich morning at the U.S. Department of Transportation where they benefited from presentations by the leading engineers and administrators with NHTSA, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  Mr. Peter Kissinger, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety,  Next, the visitors were warmly welcomed to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) by board Chair, Mr. Mark Rosenker. They subsequently had an exceptionally interesting session with Mr. Bruce Magladry and Ms. Barbara Czech of the board’s Office of Highway Safety. The participants capped off their week in the DC area with a visit to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Vehicle Research CenterWhile there they saw firsthand the vast improvement in auto safety that have come with airbags, vehicle stability systems, and other innovations.  A live crash test of a new vehicle was the highlight of the visit. where they were briefed on the federal public administration of highway safety by personally took the group through some of the organization’s many educational initiatives and public awareness campaigns.