Systems spotlight: New multimedia materials highlight six years of CSCRS Safe System work and accomplishments

CSCRS has reached its sixth-year anniversary as a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT)-funded University Transportation Center! To commemorate the occasion, we are excited to release new multimedia materials to tell the CSCRS story and highlight the breadth of our research and outreach activities that are helping shape a Safe System for U.S. roadways:

Thanks to USDOT, the CSCRS team, our Advisory Board, and our extended network of partners for a great six years of shared accomplishments! We look forward to continuing to work together to advance transportation safety through a multidisciplinary, systems-based approach.

September CSCRS online seminar to explore role of land development in street safety

The September 28, 2022, Research to Practice Bytes session is “Bringing development review into Safe Systems.” The presenters will be Tab Combs, Research Associate, Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP), UNC Chapel Hill, and Jesse Saginor, Chair and Professor, Department of Urban & Regional Planning, Florida Atlantic University (FAU). They will examine the assumption that congestion mitigation “takes care of” road user safety, identify how to rethink land development’s impact on safety, and look at centering road user safety in development review.

Recordings and slide decks from previous webinars are available on the series website. The following session, “Case studies from across the US on using systems thinking tools to inform Safe System partnership, strategic planning, and research,” will be held on October 26, 2022. More details will be announced.

CSCRS researchers host second annual NC Vision Zero Leadership Team Institute

With support from CSCRS and the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the North Carolina Vision Zero Support Team (comprised of CSCRS researchers from UNC’s Injury Prevention Research Center [IPRC], Highway Safety Research Center [HSRC], and Gillings School of Global Public Health) hosted the second annual NC Vision Zero Leadership Team Institute in June 2022.


The Institute is a training resource for North Carolina communities with Vision Zero initiatives, or those who are considering the adoption of a Vision Zero initiative. The two-day institute provides multi-sector Vision Zero teams with best practice tools and approaches to help them move toward effective Vision Zero planning and implementation. This year’s institute included 10 teams from across the state with more than 13 different sectors represented across teams (e.g., advocates, emergency responders, engineers, planners, and local elected officials). Teams learned about different approaches to speed management and traffic calming, as well as tools for developing a diverse and sustainable coalition.

Focus on CSCRS education and professional development

CSCRS continues to provide and participate in a variety of learning activities including:

  • Katie Harmon, HSRC, will co-present during the webinar “2 Perspectives, 1 Mission: Intersecting Injury Prevention Practice & Research Webinar” on October 6, 2022, co-hosted by the Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury Research and the Safe States Alliance.
  • On September 20, 2022, Harmon participated in the panel discussion “Transforming Transportation: Why You Should Care About Micromobility” at the Governors Highway Safety Association 2022 Annual Meeting.
  • Susan Shaheen, University of California, Berkeley (UCB), participated in the virtual panel discussion “Creating a more Equitable Transportation System Through Mobility on Demand (MOD)” on September 14, 2022, as part of ITS America’s UTC Guest Speaker Series.
  • At the Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals Traffic Records Forum in early August 2022, CSCRS Director Laura Sandt participated as a panelist in the opening plenary session discussing the role of traffic records in a Safe System. Advisory Board member Nadia Anderson, INRIX, also delivered a morning plenary address at the event.
  • On July 20, 2022, Wes Kumfer, HSRC, co-presented on the Road to Zero Coalition webinar “The Role of Traffic Safety Culture in Addressing Roadway Fatalities.”

    Flipping the Script bike ride

  • On April 28, 2022, Offer Grembek, UCB, presented on the principles of the Safe System approach to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • On April 22 and 23, 2022, DCRP, led by Tab Combs, hosted the Flipping the Script on Traffic Violence workshop. The event featured a guided bike ride and walk, a facilitated discussion about marketing/storytelling by Tom Flood of Rovélo Creative, and training to develop marketing content.


Condolences for Pravin Varaiya, a pioneer in smart transportation and a UCB colleague and friend

Pravin Varaiya, a renowned expert in smart transportation systems and the Nortel Networks Distinguished Professor emeritus in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UCB, died on June 10, 2022, at the age of 81.

Pravin Varaiya

Pravin Varaiya

According to a tribute on the Berkeley Engineering site, Varaiya spent 50 years on the faculty of UCB’s College of Engineering, where he was known for his work on transportation systems and urban environments. His research on urban environments spoke to the significance of location as it influences gentrification, labor markets, and zoning. From 1994–97, Varaiya served as director of California PATH, a multi-university research program dedicated to the solution of California’s transportation problems. He was also a leader at the Institute of Transportation Studies, where he pioneered the concept of “vehicle platooning” to reduce inter-vehicle spacing and increase roadway utilization.

“He was undoubtedly one of the transportation systems giants of our time,” said Offer Grembek, UCB, “and on top of that, probably one of the most approachable geniuses I’ve ever met.” Learn more about Varaiya’s impressive life and career.

CSCRS Director Laura Sandt named APBP 2022 Research Professional of the Year

CSCRS Director Laura Sandt was chosen as the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) 2022 Research Professional of the Year. According to APBP’s announcement, “Laura encourages the uptake of research to practice by leading opportunities for knowledge exchange, as well as interfacing directly with leaders in multidisciplinary fields and informing adoption and implementation of ideas.”

In a recorded message shared with awards ceremony attendees in August 2022, Sandt said, “It means a lot to me that APBP has an award that celebrates research, because I believe that the curiosity and creative inquiry that go into research help to spark many of the advancements that we’re seeing in making walking and biking more safe, enjoyable, and inclusive.”

Becky Naumann

Becky Naumann

Collaborator profile: Becky Naumann

We are excited to profile researcher Becky Naumann in this newsletter. Naumann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, as well as a member of the core faculty of IPRC. Her main area of research is injury prevention, with a particular focus on road traffic injury. She was also the CSCRS Student of the Year for 2017.

CSCRS: How did you get involved in road safety research?

Naumann: I was first introduced to road safety research during an undergraduate summer internship with the Indian Health Service in Dillingham, Alaska. While there, I was primarily responsible for updating their injury surveillance system using hospital records. I learned so much about using data to assess burden and tailor interventions and was inspired by the impact their work had on tribal communities through their injury prevention programming. After that, I sought out other opportunities to gain additional experience in road safety research and interned on the Transportation Safety Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while pursuing my master’s degree.

CSCRS: Why do you believe it is important to create a new approach to researching road safety?

Naumann: Unfortunately, the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to road safety. At a time when most other countries have seen declines in transportation-related death rates, the U.S. has continued to see increases. Given successes in other countries implementing a Safe System approach, I do think there is tremendous opportunity for the U.S., but it will take a considerable paradigm shift in the way we work together, the policies that shape our transportation systems, and the way funding is distributed to target the root causes of our safety problems.

CSCRS: What does a systems approach to road safety mean to you?

Naumann: A systems approach to road safety means we are working together to understand the “whole” or the “larger picture” of how critical factors interact to generate the road traffic injury and death trends we observe.  A systems approach calls for us to leverage the assets of diverse disciplines to understand pieces of this puzzle and develop a shared understanding of the system, so that together we can inform more effective action.

CSCRS: What can your discipline bring to road safety research?

Naumann: Public health has several important roles to play in road safety research and practice. Public health data sources (e.g., emergency department, hospital records) are critical to gaining a complete understanding of road traffic injury burden and informing effective interventions and collaborative programming between transportation and public health partners. Additionally, public health has several important lessons and successful intervention approaches to lend from other public health initiatives (e.g., tobacco control, infectious disease prevention) that could help accelerate road safety progress (e.g., through successful coalition building practices). Finally, public health partners have done tremendous work using systems science approaches and centering equity in their work, both of which can meaningfully support Safe System implementation in the U.S.

CSCRS: How have you integrated perspectives from other fields into your own work?

Naumann: I have benefited enormously from partnering with CSCRS-affiliated researchers with expertise in other fields, such as planning, engineering, leadership development, and policy. Several CSCRS projects I have led or been involved with have leveraged this expertise. For example, we’ve used systems thinking tools to integrate expertise across disciplines to understand the dynamic factors creating problematic transportation injury trends, like increasing pedestrian death rates. We’ve also leveraged a diverse team of CSCRS experts to create Safe System trainings and Vision Zero Leadership Institutes for practitioners spanning a wide range of fields. These projects would not have been possible without a range of perspectives and expertise from other fields.

CSCRS: How can the work you’re doing now (OR through CSCRS) help move the profession out of the status quo into something different?

Naumann: I really believe that systems thinking tools can provide simple yet powerful frameworks to change the conversations we are having in road safety, and I’m optimistic that they can serve as critical supports for more collaborative action. If we are going to be successful in implementation of a Safe System approach, we need to find tangible ways and tools to help us move out of our siloes, align goals and objectives, and involve voices that have historically been excluded. We have a CSCRS project designed to test a variety of systems thinking tools with diverse stakeholders and have observed the effect they can have in supporting collaborative and impactful strategic planning and alignment work across road safety partners.

CSCRS: What ideas do you have for practical applications of road safety research?

Naumann: I would love to see more integration of research and practice throughout road safety research. For example, development of simulation models (like system dynamics models) that policymakers and practitioners can use to learn about the potential ripple effects of transportation policies and answer questions in real time, with researchers assisting to ensure that the models are designed to support practitioner needs, is one way that I think we can and should be creating research models that directly link to practice. There are several excellent examples of using simulation models in this way in other areas of public health research and other fields, and I think it’s an exciting potential area for direct linkage between road safety research and practice.

CSCRS: Where would you like to see the field of transportation safety in five years?

Naumann: My hope is that our transportation injury and death trends will be on a downward path, supported by less siloed transportation work, notable investments in safety, and more and more educational programs set up to cross-train the future leaders of our field across critical disciplines (e.g., across public health, planning, AI, engineering, policy).

CSCRS: What’s the most rewarding thing that’s happened during your research career?

Naumann: Seeing my research used to inform evidence-based policy. Research I conducted both at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at UNC have been cited in legislative discussions to inform policy around motorcycle helmet laws. Watching research inform specific policy discussions and support injury prevention in action is extremely rewarding.

CSCRS: What advice would you give to up-and-coming researchers in your field?

To move outside of your disciplinary comfort zone and seek out opportunities to engage with scientists in other fields, community members, and practitioners. Listen to their perspectives, needs, and ideas for creating safer and equitable transportation systems. These types of conversations will help you ask better questions, open up opportunities for collaboration, and ultimately make you a more informed and impactful scientist.

Other CSCRS highlights

A quick rundown of additional recent CSCRS activities:

Cover of AutonoramaCSCRS bookshelf

“Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving,” Peter Norton, Island Press, 2021

By Naqiy Mcmullen

Mcmullen is pursuing a Master of Urban and Regional Planning at FAU. He is a graduate research assistant focusing on road safety for vulnerable users, Vision Zero, and the Safe System approach. In his spare time he advocates for biking, transit, and walking.

Peter Norton’s perceptive and timely “Autonorama” is an essential read for professional planners, planning students, and elected officials at risk of falling for the hype of autonomous vehicles (AVs). This book provides an incisive look at how a consortium of motor industry interests have falsely sold car dependency as freedom for over a century, AVs being the latest example.

The book is meticulously researched and written, offering ample insight into the past conditions leading to the contemporary status quo of overwhelming car dependency for most of our country. Norton describes past examples of technology failing to solve the inherent spatial and safety issues of cars in cities despite utopian promises from automakers. The author is not against automated driving or anti-technology but shows how focusing on transportation policy and spending on AVs reinforces car dependency, which has proven negative effects on our wellbeing and our communities. 

He ultimately advocates for a people-focused approach to planning using New Urbanism principles espoused by famous figures such as Jane Jacob, and a transportation system that prioritizes biking, walking, and transit over single-occupancy vehicles. This book is an entertaining, educational, and important read that provides a well-rounded look at the AV hype train.


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