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David Noyce
David Noyce
Civil and Environmental Engineering

E ach year, 42,000 people across the United States die as a result of traffic accidents, which are the leading external cause of deaths in the country. Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor David Noyce would prefer that number of deaths to be zero.

Director of the UW–Madison Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory, Noyce is committed to solving transportation–safety problems via multidisciplinary research, teaching and public service. In particular, he has become a national leader in an effort to develop and implement flashing yellow left–turn arrows. While drivers who intend to turn left comprehend a circular green light to mean “go,” flashing yellow arrows command driver attention and signal them to proceed with caution. To determine the best deterrent of often–serious left–turn crashes on a green light, Noyce used human factors as the primary means to identify the safety and effectiveness of various traffic signal displays. He also used dynamic animation as a key element in the research and ultimately included two life–sized driver simulators that helped him document driver understanding of traffic signals.

With project manager Kent Kacir, Noyce began this research 16 years ago as a PhD student at Texas A&M University. Recently, as a result of Noyce’s research, the Federal Highway Administration incorporated the flashing yellow arrow into the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which defines national traffic–control device standards. Now, hundreds of communities in 30 states have implemented this fundamental change in driver permissive indications.

“Noyce’s commitment to this important topic over a period of 15 years was instrumental to the success of the research and the acceptance it has gained in the practitioner community,” says W. Scott Wainwright, highway engineer for the Federal Highway Administration. “The increasing use of the flashing yellow arrow for permissive turn movements at signalized intersections nationwide is anticipated to make very significant reductions in left–turn crashes and concomitant improvements in traffic flow efficiency.”

To enhance public understanding of transportation safety, Noyce actively participates in a variety of outreach and service initiatives. He has taught professional–education courses through the UW–Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development and Rutgers University National Transit Institute. He has served on boards that include the Wisconsin Traffic Records Coordinating Committee, the Safety Belt Coalition, and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Council, among others. He has been a guest on Wisconsin Public Radio and a speaker both nationally and internationally about transportation issues. He also has given multiple presentations and demonstrations at venues ranging from high schools to campus family outreach events.