International Women Engineering Day: Reflecting on Safety and Equity

It’s June 23, International Women in Engineering Day, and this worthy occasion provides us at Transoft two significant opportunities.

The first is to celebrate the achievements of women engineers around the world, including colleagues here at Transoft, and the women engineers working at the organizations and companies that comprise our customers and partners.

The second opportunity is to reflect on the theme of this year’s event: Make Safety Seen.

Providing solutions that make transportation safe is foremost in our minds at Transoft. And as Transoft’s Vice President of US Business Development and Head of Traffic Safety Karen Giese notes, safe transportation is inextricably linked with equity.

“Healthcare, education, work, recreation, and shopping—when we talk about equity, these are the things we talk about,” she says. “And transportation is the way we do it. We all have to transport ourselves somewhere. We all need access to these basic life services, to these activities that are critical to our daily lives.”

Karen’s comments were part of her thought-provoking presentation at the 2023 annual conference of WTS International, a member organization dedicated to creating a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable transportation industry through global advancement of women.

“If we provide [transportation] in a way that’s not safe, is it really accessible?” asks Karen. “And if it’s not accessible, is it equitable? A safe system is an equitable system.”

She advocates for the Safe System approach, a holistic framework that aims to make places safer and eliminate fatalities and serious injuries for all road users through engineered elements of our systems that account for both the human capacity for error and human vulnerability.

Karen acknowledges the importance of funding initiatives. In the US, for example, the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program is allocating $5 billion over five years to fund regional, local, and Tribal initiatives to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries with the goal of achieving zero deaths and injuries. In 2022, the US Department of Transportation awarded $800 million to more than 500 communities in the program’s first round of funding. Applications for the second round of funding are open until July 10, 2023.

She also encourages transportation professionals to apply creative thinking in developing solutions that extend beyond the local to the global. Around the world there are 1.35 million deaths on the road annually, and 50 million serious injuries. The most vulnerable road users—motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians—comprise 50 percent of those fatalities. A staggering 93 percent of the fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries.

“A lot of times when we talk about equity, we talk about it on a localized level…in our cities, our states, our countries.” She adds that there seems to be an assumption that if equity is achieved in one area it will ‘percolate’ to other areas of the world.

“We need to take a step back. We have to think about how we can help those countries that don’t have the same resources.”

She points to nine ideas, put forward by the World Economic Forum, about how to improve safety in low- and middle-income countries. These include developing sustainable urban mobility plans, inclusively designing streets to protect the most vulnerable, and improving data.

Karen says that new technology, such as using computer visioning and AI to obtain and analyze high quality data, provides much promise in identifying safety measures. However, when looking to leverage technology, people often promote its use in places that are already at the forefront.

“The issue with continuing to do it that way is we’re still leaving behind the countries that aren’t deemed advanced enough to be able to benefit from the technology and solutions that we’re pushing forward.”

Rather, she suggests, the places with the most vulnerable and those at the lowest income levels would be the ones to most benefit from technology.

“We need to shift the mindset…Let’s shift away from asking ourselves, ‘how should the technology be applied?’ and look instead at how technology could be applied to achieve global equity on our transportation systems.”


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