Washington State Award Winners Lead the Way On Improving Driver Licensing and Testing Standards

OLYMPIA – On Monday, March 27, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) honored two Washington State citizen advocates with the NHTSA Public Service Award at the 2017 Lifesavers Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Citizen advocates Mi Ae Lipe of Bothell, WA, and Mark Butcher of Sammamish, WA each received the NHTSA Public Service Award for high standards of achievements in the field of highway safety and contributions to the quality of life in the country.

Specifically, Lipe and Butcher have volunteered multitudes of hours over the past five years to push the state towards strengthening driver license testing and training. They have asked government officials to take a closer look at how other countries with lower traffic death rates train and test drivers, in part because of the high rate of young driver involvement in deadly and serious crashes. For example, in Washington State from 2012–14, 16–25-year-old drivers made up only 14 percent of licensed drivers, yet they were involved in crashes resulting in 34 percent of all traffic deaths.  As a result of their work, Washington’s Target Zero® plan now includes a strategy of learning about other countries’ approaches to driver testing and training.

In September 2016, Lipe and Butcher led a group of six Washingtonians on a fact-finding tour of the traffic safety ecosystem in the UK, which has one of the world’s lowest traffic death rates and a vastly different driver training and testing environment than the US.

As the group explored the driver training system they noted that the training and testing of instructors, examiners, and students is more vigorous and detailed than US systems. The UK system emphasizes training in situational awareness, decision making skills, risk management, and behavioral attitudes. Their client-centered driver training approach encourages students to set their own pace for learning. The group also participated in training rides for examiners, instructors and students.

The tour also included a visit to an advanced street driver training organization. In the UK, drivers choose to take this advanced training to keep honing their skills in the years after they receive their license, regardless of age.

The group learned about the UK’s long-term approaches to road safety media campaigns with a visit to the Think! campaign headquarters.

“There is no way to quantify the contributions that Mi Ae and Mark have made to traffic safety in our state,” said Washington Traffic Safety Commission Director, Darrin Grondel. “While we know we could never adopt these other countries’ driver testing and training systems wholesale, we do think there are ways we can learn from them and Mark and Mi Ae are facilitating that work. I congratulate them on this well-deserved national recognition. We are honored that they are on our team to help carry out the strategies that will drive us to zero fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways.”

This year, NHTSA presented their top public service award to 13 individuals and organizations from around the country.

The Lifesavers Conference is the nation’s largest assembly of highway safety professionals. The conference highlights and shares emerging traffic safety data, and issues, and exposes participants to proven life-saving programs and best practices that they can use in their individual jurisdictions. This year’s conference is being held March 26-28 in Charlotte, NC and has drawn well over 2,000 participants and 90 exhibitors.

The NHTSA Public Service Awards recognize and honor individuals or organizations, who exemplify high standards of achievement in the field of traffic safety; and through his/her or the group’s accomplishments, have contributed to the quality of life in the community, state or nation. Nominations were limited to individuals and organizations who conduct these activities as volunteers or in a civic capacity. Award winners were nominated by NHTSA staff members and selected by senior NHTSA leadership.

“The Department of Transportation is dedicated to safety, but we can’t do it alone,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. “The NHTSA Public Service Award recipients help us improve safety each and every day across the country. We thank them for their service, for the difference they have made, and the example they are setting for others.”