A Day in the Life of a Michigan Department of Transportation Engineer

Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake follows different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.

Between January 1 and May 1, 2018, 258 people died and 88 were seriously injured in traffic crashes on Michigan roadways. Compared to this time last year, there have been 58 fewer fatalities and 182 fewer serious injuries.  

While it’s great that the numbers have decreased through this point in 2018, for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), it’s not good enough. As the name of the statewide safety campaign Toward Zero Deaths suggests, this is MDOT’s goal – for there to be no deaths on Michigan roadways.

Kimberly Zimmer, P.E., MDOT Bay Region Traffic, Safety, and Operations Engineer, said that’s her favorite part of her job – reaching out to the community to raise awareness and help prevent traffic crashes. While zero traffic deaths may seem like a lofty goal, Zimmer said if, for each high school or community meeting she speaks at, she prevents one person from recklessly or distracted driving, then it was worth it.

“I remember when I responded to my first fatal crash. The person didn’t have her seatbelt on and she rolled her vehicle and was ejected. You think to yourself, if she had her seatbelt on, she probably would still be alive.” she said.

“Ninety-three percent of fatal crashes are a result of human factors – they chose to drive drunk or impaired, didn’t wear a seatbelt, drove while tired or distracted, etc. It wasn’t an issue with the road or the vehicle. Our goal is to reach out to different groups of people to bring awareness, promote safe driving behaviors, and try to change the culture.”

Recently, Zimmer went to H.H. Dow High School in Midland, along with Michigan State Police Trooper Mark Burch and Program Coordinator Tony Surman of Strive for a Safer Drive, Ford Driving Skills for Life and the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning’s teen driving initiative. There, they demonstrated the dangers of reckless driving by having students use an MSP distracted driving simulation and wear impairment goggles.

“It raises awareness. Students aren’t aware of how many people die in traffic crashes and, at this age, some may think they’re invincible,” said Zimmer.

Emma Meitler, a member of the Dow High School Student Leadership class, coordinated with Strive for a Safer Drive to bring this program to the school.

Meitler, a junior at the school, said, “These demonstrations show up-and-coming drivers how much even the smallest impairments can affect their driving ability. A lot of times, as teenagers, we get distracted when driving, especially when we have our friends in the car. We need to remember what’s really important – concentrating on the road and knowing that, if we don’t, other people’s lives are in danger.”

Trooper Burch said, “We’re educating the kids on making safe decisions. We want the public to know that car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers. It shouldn’t be that way.”

In addition to outreach, MDOT Traffic and Safety engineers also study patterns in traffic crashes that can be corrected through different safety mitigation efforts.

Mitigation efforts that have been deployed by MDOT include constructing roundabouts in place of intersections – which reduce fatal and incapacitating crashes by 88 percent; adding rumble strips to the centerline and/or the edge line  of the road – which has reduced lane departure by 55 percent; increasing visual cues when a driver is approaching a curve – which has reduced crashes by 20 perfect; installing speed warning systems – which has reduced crashes by almost 50 percent; and applying high friction surface treatments at potentially high crash areas – which has reduced wet roadway crashes by 35 percent.

“In our region, we have deployed new innovative technology at signalized intersections in an effort to reduce crashes that are a result of red light running” said Zimmer, who oversees all traffic signal operations.

Zimmer said one misconception many citizens have about MDOT employees is that they all live in downtown Lansing and work near the Capitol. That’s not true. Zimmer works in MDOT’s Bay Region Office in Saginaw and lives in Midland. The Bay Region is one of seven MDOT regions across the state and is responsible for Clare, Isabella, Gratiot, Midland, Gladwin, Arenac, Bay, Saginaw, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac, and St. Clair counties.

“Most MDOT employees live within the areas they serve. We shop, eat, and play here. We’re in tune to what’s going on in the community because it’s our community too,” she said.   

Zimmer, who has worked at MDOT for 19 years, said she loves her job. “At MDOT, we make a difference in the quality of life for Michigan citizens,” she said.