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Hesham Rakha and Mohammed Almannaa

April 3, 2019

Mohammed Almannaa, a third-year doctoral student in civil engineering, was named a 2019 Traffic Safety Scholar and awarded a $1,000 scholarship to attend the 37th annual Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities in Louisville, Ky. last weekend. Keeley Greene, a double major in sociology and communication, also received the award.

During the conference, Almannaa, Greene, and the other Scholars met with state and national traffic safety leaders, explored career opportunities with professionals in the public and private sectors, and participated in plenary sessions and workshops. In its fourth year, the Traffic Safety Scholars program aims to showcase the diversity of career opportunities in traffic safety to students.

“When I read about the conference and also about the people who have applied for this scholarship in the past, I found that they all seemed so excited that they had this opportunity to attend–to interact with professionals and engineers. I felt very encouraged to apply,” said Almannaa, who found out about the scholarship program on social media.

Almannaa presented research he conducted at VTTI about drivers with arthritis for a statistical methodology course, later published by the Transportation Research Board. Using video and other sensor data from the Second Strategic Highway Research Program naturalistic driving study, the largest light-vehicle study of its kind ever conducted, he and his classmates conducted statistical modeling to analyze driving differences between individuals with and without arthritis and to compare their crash risk.

 “We found that the individuals who had arthritis were 72 percent more likely to be involved in a crash,” he explained. “In our paper, we are suggesting that automakers should have special assistance systems available. It is very important given that there are around 54 million people in the United States who have arthritis.”

Almannaa’s statistical methodology for epidemiology and observational studies class was taught by Feng Guo, lead data scientist at VTTI and associate professor in the statistics department. Almannaa is also a recent graduate of the Urban Computing certificate program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and led by Virginia Tech’s Discovery Analytics Center. His advisor is Hesham Rakha, director of VTTI’s Center for Sustainable Mobility and the Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering.

“I would not have received this opportunity without the outstanding supervision and excellent mentoring from my adviser, Dr. Rakha, since I joined VTTI in 2014. I have been fortunate to be under his guidance over the past six years during which I learned how to find a research question, then approach my question, use the best scientific tools to investigate, analyze the results, and finally present my work at a conference,” said Almannaa.

As a student whose transportation interests have ranged from driver safety to traffic mobility to bike sharing systems throughout his academic career, Almannaa appreciated the breadth of educational and professional development opportunities that Lifesavers provided.

“Our issue here in academia is that we are so focused on our own research. We tend fall short on interacting with others who are not specializing in our field. I liked the fact that the conference was multidisciplinary and allowed me to meet and learn from different people outside of my area,” said Almannaa. “It’s all about exploring.”

The Lifesavers Conference, the nation’s largest gathering of traffic safety professionals, showcases the latest research, strategies, countermeasures, and new approaches for addressing the nation’s most pressing traffic safety problems.

Learn about the Traffic Safety Scholars program:
Learn about the Lifesavers Conference:
37th annual Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities