Transportation Researcher Receives National Award for Safety Engineering

Myra Blanco, director of the Center for Public Policy, Partnerships, and Outreach and an advanced-vehicle researcher at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, has been named the recipient of the 2017 U.S. Government Award for Safety Engineering Excellence.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation nominated Blanco for the award, which is conferred biennially to recognize exceptional scientific contributions and service to the field of motor vehicle safety engineering. Blanco formally received the award during the International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles in Detroit, Michigan, on June 5th.

“I am deeply honored to have been nominated for this national distinction,” said Blanco. “As newer technology, such as automation, becomes more advanced, I look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation and other stakeholders to study driver-vehicle interactions and determine how that information can be used to optimize transportation and safety and inform public policy.”

Formally trained in human factors engineering, Blanco’s areas of expertise include automation, in-vehicle devices, distraction, driver behavior, training, work/rest cycles for truck drivers, fatigue, and active safety systems for light and heavy vehicles. She was the principal investigator of a 2016 project sponsored by Google comparing the Google Self-Driving Car’s crash rate to the national crash rate.

“Myra has long been committed to enhancing the safety of the transportation community, from her earlier work into truck driver safety, which helped inform public policy and regulations within that sector, to actively conducting large-scale studies that will help shape the efficient and safe deployment of advanced-vehicle technologies,” said Tom Dingus, director of the transportation institute. “Today, Myra also leads our public policy, partnerships, and outreach initiatives, which maximize her unique experience and ability to forge paths for the common good.”

Blanco is the principal investigator of four current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projects. These involve in-depth evaluations of semi-automated-vehicle functions, heavy-vehicle crash warning interfaces, vehicle electronic systems safety, and vehicle-to-vehicle and driver-vehicle interface characteristics. She also recently performed the first study of human factors relative to semi-automated-vehicle concepts sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Blanco’s public policy work includes coordinating efforts between the automotive industry and Commonwealth of Virginia agencies to develop the 2015 Governor’s Proclamation, which declared Virginia “open for business” for automated-vehicle use and testing. She also served as chair of the International Organization for Standardization’s Automated Vehicle Terms and Definitions Initiative and participated in the unveiling of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s federal automated-vehicle guidelines.

Blanco’s research into advanced vehicles aligns with Virginia Tech’s recently announced Intelligent Infrastructure for Human-centered Communities Destination Area. With support from large-scale partnerships with industry, government, and communities, this interdisciplinary initiative strives to build research and teaching capacity by leveraging Virginia Tech’s nationally leading programs in smart construction, autonomous vehicles, ubiquitous mobility, and energy systems through an infrastructure-related destination area.

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