2003 Winner: Dr. James Nichols

James J. Howard Highway Safety Trailblazer Award
Dr. James Nichols

Dr. James Nichols is one of those rare individuals who has devoted his life to highway safety. He has established and implemented numerous highway safety programs and is responsible for advancements in technology and research throughout his career with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These contributions have allowed the federal and state governments to dramatically improve highway safety. He continues to contribute to the field of highway safety post-retirement. His outstanding leadership and dedication to highway safety has been instrumental in saving lives and reducing injuries, allowing for safer travel on our nations highways.

Over the course of his career with NHSTA, Dr. Nichols played a central role in developing a knowledge base about what problems we face in highway safety, what safety programs work and what performance measures are valuable. While at NHTSA, he worked on impaired driving, occupant protection and evaluation. He was responsible for the behavioral research program for alcohol-impaired driving, occupant protection, pedestrian and bicyclists, motorcyclists, fatigue, elderly driving, driver records and driver licensing. His focus on evaluation and replication of programs helped establish sound guidelines for the programs that states have implemented-especially those that address a combination of enforcement and education strategies.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Nichols began his evaluation of impaired driving programs with his work on NHTSA's Alcohol Safety Action Projects (ASAP) as Deputy Director for the office of Alcohol and State Programs. Through his leadership and dedication, important research was conducted on impaired driving. He also directed the implementation and evaluation of a variety of national, state and local impaired driving programs.

During the mid 1980s, Dr. Nichols became Director of the Office of Occupant Protection. His insight and innovative ideas brought prominence and scientific grounding to occupant protection. Recognizing that enforcement of seat belt laws saves lives, Dr. Nichols insisted that a secondary law be enforced.

Dr. Nichols was also involved in evaluations that identified successful safety programs that have become such an integral part of state traffic safety programs. His belief in statewide, periodic special traffic enforcement programs (STEPS) based on insightful research was adopted quickly by states.

Dr. Nichols, now retired, provides guidance to states in Region V on evaluation and performance measurement and serves on the Centers for Disease Control's review committee ensuring traffic safety issues are addressed.

Dr. Nichols has dedicated his life to saving lives and preventing injury on our nation's roadways. His method of taking complex realities and distilling them into simple wisdom that opens eyes and opens doors to progress is remarkable. He has provided a great deal to the field of highway safety, and states have benefited from Dr. Nichols' comprehensive solutions for complex traffic safety problems. His leadership and dedication while at NHTSA serves as a model for others dedicated to increasing safety on our nations highways.