Researcher spotlight: Frank Douma
As director of the State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Frank Douma specializes in projects that examine the role public policy, particularly law, plays in improving transportation safety. Douma also manages research projects related to several areas of transportation policy, including impacts of emerging transportation technologies.
Previous work with the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have given Douma broad experience in the legal aspects of transportation policy and in policymaking for multimodal urban and rural transportation systems. He holds a master’s degree in public affairs and a law degree from the University of Minnesota as well as a bachelor’s degree in political science from Grinnell College.
“In my research, I am often looking into questions of efficiency, equity, and effectiveness,” says Douma. “In terms of roadway safety, this work has manifested itself in evaluating the impacts of existing laws, such as mandatory seat belt laws and laws relating to the enforcement of speed limits.”
Douma has been involved in a number of projects related to transportation safety policy, including assessing the impacts of Minnesota's primary seat belt law and investigating the political and institutional barriers related to automated speed enforcement technologies.
“My work for the Roadway Safety Institute focuses primarily on the nature of the controversy surrounding automated speed enforcement,” says Douma. “A significant amount of research shows that this technology is effective at regulating driver speeds, but implementation has been slow at best. Through my research, I’ve learned how widely enforcement varies among states and investigated the relationship between the stringency of speed enforcement methods and the resulting safety impacts.”
According to Douma, a large component of roadway safety relates to the behavior of the individual driver. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that as many as 95 percent of all transportation fatalities are due, at least in part, to human error. Until technology becomes advanced enough to replace human drivers, Douma advocates for laws and policies that define the safest driving behaviors and ensure that they are followed.
“We face a conundrum: the human driver is currently the safest and most responsible way to operate a vehicle, yet statistics show we are also the most common cause of crashes, injuries, and fatalities,” says Douma. “This shows the terrific need for public discussion about the relationship between our desire to protect our individual independence in our driving behavior and our collective interest in maximizing public safety on our roads.”