Transforming the Safety Culture of State Departments of Transportation to Achieve Toward Zero Deaths Vision

The Center for Health and Safety Culture (CHSC) at the Western Transportation Institute is offering an opportunity to join a select cohort of state departments of transportation in a multi-year project to grow a strong and innovative organizational safety culture which encourages new resources and novel strategies to significantly reduce fatal and serious injury crashes. A cohort approach distributes costs and leverages shared learning so the project is more cost-effective for participating agencies.
A strong safety culture has been shown to be important for the success of organizations responsible for public safety. For example, a strong safety culture amongst public health organizations is a significant determinant of patient satisfaction with services provided by those organizations and patient safety resulting from those services. A similar relationship is expected for state agencies (e.g., DOT, DPS) responsible for the safety of road users. Indeed, a strong safety culture within traffic safety agencies is identified as a key factor for the success of the National Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) strategy: “From a professional or organizational perspective, changing the safety culture would ensure safety impacts are considered during decision making that affects any portion of the roadway transportation network and its operation.”1 The creation of a strong safety culture within state transportation agencies is necessary to motivate the resources and planning needed to support the full range of innovative strategies that can sustain the TZD vision. However, there are currently no existing “tools” applicable to state transportation agencies to help them transform their safety cultures to align with the TZD vision.
The goal of this project is to grow a strong safety culture among a cohort of state transportation agencies by providing tools and guidance to assess and transform the agency’s safety culture to support their safety plans and achieve their Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) vision. 
CHSC has unique expertise in this domain to ensure success. CHSC has participated in the recent domestic scan to identify key success factors for transforming safety culture in transportation organizations2 and is leading an ongoing research project to develop guidance for the transformation of the national traffic safety culture.3 In addition, the CHSC faculty has expertise in transforming organizational culture, developing transformational leaders, and managing change in organizational settings.
Next Steps
If you are interested in learning more or joining the cohort, please contact: Nicholas Ward (Director, Center for Health and Safety Culture) at or 406-994-5942. Each cohort will be limited to four agencies. Potential funding sources include State Planning and Research (SP&R) funds, possibly NHTSA 402 funding (administered through the State Highway Safety Offices), or state funds. Another potential option is NHTSA’s Road to Zero program.
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Growing Safety Culture

Growing safety culture has been identified as a core strategy by United States Department of Transportation Safety Council, FHWA’s Joint Safety Strategic Plan, The National Towards Zero Deaths (TZD) Safety Initiative, and the Road to Zero Coalition. Growing a positive traffic safety culture would not only support traffic safety goals by reducing risky behaviors and increasing protective behaviors, it would also increase public acceptance of other effective traffic safety programs. 

Only through the growth of a positive safety culture can significant and sustainable reductions in crash fatalities and serious injuries be achieved. Towards that end, the Center for Health and Safety Culture continues to partner with Montana Department of Transportation for a next phase of a pooled fund program focused on understanding traffic safety culture:

  1. conduct research to identify solutions to specific culture-based traffic safety problems, taking advantage of the implementation opportunities to improve traffic safety;
  2. develop resources to enhance understanding and application of traffic safety culture strategies; and
  3. provide technology transfer of best practices in traffic safety culture strategies.

Learn more at

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