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Profiles in Rural Safety: Alabama’s Daniel Turner works to make roads safer and more efficient

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Daniel Turner

Alabama roadways pose a unique set of problems for transportation experts, but for Daniel Turner, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Alabama and past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, making rural roads in his state safer has become a life mission.

For more than 30 years, Turner has tackled challenges of funding, maintaining, and researching rural roadways. His motivation: “My commitment is to use my life to help others,” he said.

Turner helped produce the 2004 Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan for Alabama (CHSP), a report that outlined five main points to improve rural roadway safety: emergency medical services (EMS), older/restricted drivers, safety legislation, high-risk driving groups, and run-off-the-road (ROR) crashes. A summary of the report is also available in the case studies section of the recently published CERS research summary Rural Transportation Safety and the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (CTS 08-02).

The CHSP report set several ambitious goals for the future of transportation in Alabama. Those goals include decreasing the fatality rate in the state from 1.8 to 1.5 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and reducing ROR fatalities from 416 to 357 per year by 2008.

The plan addresses several problematic areas, including emergency medical service response (the death rate on rural road systems is three times greater than that of the Interstate System), bringing more attention to DWI-related crashes (for instance, using “whiskey plates”—color-coded vehicle tags—to identify those with DWI convictions), and strengthening legislation on booster seats, cell phones, seat belts, and graduated driving licenses.

Aside from developing the CHSP, the College of Engineering at the University of Alabama created Critical Analysis Reporting Environment (CARE) software, data analysis software that focuses on highway safety, Homeland Security, judicial management, and law enforcement.

One of CARE’s most prominent creations is the eCitation, a software program that scans a driver’s license and provides driver history information through a secure Web portal while pinpointing each location on its GPS. Through eCitation, transportation experts hope to identify crash locations, communicate with safety personnel, and coordinate emergency responses more efficiently. The Web portal was developed within CARE’s laboratory and is used by more than 10,000 police officers.

The laboratory is also pioneering other initiatives such as the “Buckle Up in Your Truck” campaign, a project that works in conjunction with the “Click It or Ticket” program. The Buckle Up campaign focuses on increasing seatbelt use with truck drivers, as they have the lowest state and national recorded safety belt usage.

Also unique is the laboratory’s Model Integrated Defendant Access System (MIDAS), a three-year project that follows impaired drivers from their first offense, through adjudication, treatment, and beyond. The first-of-its-kind program now has over 47,000 clients and has performed more than 101,000 drug screens.

“I am excited about some of the safety activities of Alabama counties,” Turner said.

Along with leading the way in research for rural roadways, Turner said he has helped lead two workshops for county engineers in the past 18 months and trained several managers in current safety techniques, resources, and funding so they may continue the work of improving Alabama transportation safety.

Related resources

Center for Excellence in Rural Safety | University of Minnesota | Minneapolis, MN 55455 | Location & Contact Information