Barbara Harsha led the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) headquarters office for 25 years, from 1988 until her retirement in 2013. During her time as GHSA Executive Director, she worked tirelessly to support state highway safety directors and their staffs to ensure that states had the tools, resources and data needed to develop their lifesaving programs. Her steady guidance in a field that is continually changing contributed greatly to the dramatic progress in highway safety that the U.S. has seen in recent decades, and she positioned GHSA to continue its role as a leader in highway safety.
Nominated for the 2015 Kathryn J.R. Swanson Public Service Award by a group of 20 State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs), Harsha was the unanimous choice due to her unparalleled commitment to and passion for highway safety. She developed close working relationships with her colleagues in the federal, state and private sector and became a trusted leader and mentor to hundreds of highway safety directors throughout her career.
Harsha worked with both Congress and federal agencies to help improve federal highway safety legislation and program administration. Her accomplishments include securing increased flexibility and funding for state highway safety grant programs; a partnership with NHTSA to design performance measures for highway safety and traffic records programs; working with NHTSA to improve the state highway safety grant program management and developing key tools and templates for states; developing, in conjunction with NHTSA, model guidance to improve the collection of state crash data; and moving state highway safety programs toward a more data-driven, research based approach.
When she began working at GHSA in 1988, the office was a staff of two. She grew the staff to include a communication department that established a strong public relations presence with the media and other organizations and promoted more interaction and idea sharing among the membership. She transitioned GHSA into an organization that focused on improving the skills and building the capacity of its membership. In doing so, she initiated numerous GHSA-developed tools and resources that were made possible through the relationships she cultivated with both public and private sector partners.
Harsha brought behavioral highway safety to forefront of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and served on AASHTO’s Standing Committee on Highway Traffic Safety. In addition to strong partnership with AASHTO, Barbara also fostered close relationships with other like-minded state-level national associations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). She was very involved with the Transportation Research Board (TRB), actively participating on TRB’s committees on Global Road Safety, Occupant Protection and Young Drivers. She contributed to several National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) projects, including the development of improved metrics for serious crash injuries and establishment of cost-benefit metrics for behavioral highway safety countermeasures. She also helped to develop the annual Lifesavers Conference of Highway Safety Priorities and was active with the Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP).
Never one to completely “retire,” Harsha continues to influence highway safety today, working on traffic records and other projects for both GHSA and Cambridge Systematics.