Per Gårder has taught civil engineering at the University of Maine since 1992. He recently edited the 2021 edition of “Transportation Safety and Security,” which is one of several installments in the International Encyclopedia of Transportation. This is a fundamental text in the field of civil engineering.
Gårder was the safety and security volume editor and he wrote the introduction to this volume, as well as a few of the articles featured in this publication. This text is a primary reference tool for researchers in the field.
There are a lot of ways to study safety and transportation. It can be viewed through a sociological lense, an engineering perspective or through a combination of both.
Gårder grounds his research in the four types of transportation safety. The first type is subject safety, which relates to how safe people feel using modes of transportation.
“We are often really bad at assessing objective safety by being drivers or passengers in cars or airplanes, etc. But subjective safety is of some interest. We want people to feel safe, but not too safe. By being a bit worried, we become more careful,” explained Gårder.
The second type of transportation safety is nominal safety. This means that basic guidelines are met to ensure safety. These guidelines must be followed to avoid any lawsuits against the engineers.
The third type is theoretical safety. This is when engineers use physics or hypothetical ideas to improve transportation safety.
Gårder shared that this type is often overlooked. “There is often not much relationship between what theoretically should happen and what actually happens if such changes are made.”
Gårder claimed the last type of transportation safety is the most important. Actual safety, sometimes called objective safety or substantive safety, is the amount of crashes per injury severity. This gives a lot of concrete data about the amount of crashes.
We should not believe that things got 50% more safe if we go from four crashes in one year to two the following year. There is obviously random variation around ‘expected numbers’ which is the average number of crashes that would have occurred in, for example, 2021 if we could repeat 2021 many times over without changing background factors,” said Gårder.
He felt that the U.S. has extremely safe air travel and good train safety, but motioned that there are improvements to be made on road safety. To improve safety in the Orono area, Gårder proposed that there be better bike access to Bangor from Orono. He believes that a separate bike lane between the two towns could reduce accidents.