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Traveler safety top concern for highway engineer

Traveler safety top concern for highway engineer

January 20th, 2019 by Danisha Hogue in Local News
Sally Ince/ News Tribune State highway safety and traffic engineer Nicole Hood stands near the rock ledge Thursday January 17, 2019 outside MODOT headquarters. Hood has worked as the highway safety and traffic engineer since 2017 and has worked at MODOT for more than 22 years.

A strong advocate for driver safety and critical thinking, Nicole Hood found her passion at Missouri Department of Transportation.

Born and raised in Jefferson City, she grew up close to the construction arena. The child of a construction worker, she said she has enjoyed math and science as long as she can remember. After graduating from the University of Missouri with a civil engineering degree, she began working as a traffic engineer in the field.

"I have a strong passion for highway safety and traffic, and it didn't happen overnight," Hood said. "I spent a lot of time as a new engineer with the department reading crash reports and conducting crash reviews at locations where drivers had crashed. Seeing those sights it's hard to get your arms around."

Hood has been with the state department for 23 years; she became a state highway safety and traffic engineer in 2017.

In this position, she provides leadership in programs and new initiatives. She also coordinates for traffic management activities throughout Missouri. Her wide net of responsibilities touches many aspects of public safety and policies.

"On the highway safety side, I oversee MoDOT's efforts to work with safety advocates across the state," Hood said.

She is a leader in Buckle Up Phone Down challenge and Missouri's Blueprint: A Partnership Toward Zero Deaths, among others. Both projects have goals to increase safety and decrease the number of fatal and serious injury crashes.

Since 2016, Buckle Up Phone Down has been a statewide challenge supported by Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, colleges, organizations and individuals throughout the state. Gov. Mike Parson declared Oct. 19, 2018, Buckle Up Phone Down day.

Hood said educational programs like this make an impact with motorists. The 2018 seat belt survey showed an 87.1 percent usage of seat belts across the state, which is up from recent years.

She added one of the challenges of the job comes from the alarming number of yearly fatalities. Statistics from the last three years show more than 900 people killed on the road in the state.

"The difficult part and the real challenge is the fact that over 90 percent of those crashes are the result of human error," Hood said. "People choose not to wear seat belts or drive impaired. People are choosing to speed; those are all choices that people make when they get behind the wheel of a car."

Nevertheless, she is satisfied with the work she has done and said she is fulfilled to know her career is serving the public.

She has worked to get J-turns included in projects to limit the turning movement to improve the safety on four-lane, divided highways.

About 10 years ago, a project she worked on Missouri 5 between Camdenton and Lake of the Ozarks took a windy stretch of the longest highway in the state to a new way of travel at the time.

"We were able to build a new route with alternating passing lanes, and it improved the safety and the traffic flow for that stretch of roadway," Hood said.

Looking forward, she said smart and autonomous vehicles could lower the risk of many accidents. Until then, she said, we have to strive for self-improvement and lead by example.

"We have to make sure what we're currently doing and our current systems are working well," Hood said. "My goal is that everyone gets home safe at the end of every day."