By T. Bella Dinh-Zarr
¡Bienvenidos a todos!
Our country observes National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 every year. During that time, we celebrate the cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America.
Hispanic Americans have played a key role in our country’s proud heritage and the building of our nation. After all, the United States has the second largest population of Hispanics in the world.
Our nation’s diversity has always been one of our strongest assets. And the Hispanic American community is a valuable component of our multicultural society.
One such valuable contributor to our society is Dr. Miguel Perez, director of the Center for Data Reduction and Analysis Support at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, we invited him to speak to us about his efforts related to “naturalistic” driving study design and analysis, data standardization, data preparation, and data mining.
Naturalistic studies involve monitoring individuals in their natural driving environment as they do the things they normally do while driving. This work is critically important because data yielded from such studies help researchers and folks in the transportation safety business like the NTSB better understand how people operate their vehicles in real-world situations.
Dr. Perez’s primary focus is on driver distraction and how drivers respond to distractions—both on the road and in the vehicle. This is also a significant interest area for the NTSB. In fact, “Disconnect from Deady Distractions” is on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.
Dr. Perez showed NTSB staff several videos from his studies, showing distracted drivers and drivers involved in unexpected situations. Although these drivers know they are being monitored on video, it is still amazing the kind of risks they take. It reminds us again of the dangers associated with distracted driving and the potential impact that technology could make to mitigate or prevent crashes caused by distraction—another area he and his institute is studying.
One of the virtues of the Hispanic community, said Dr. Perez, is their unity. The transportation safety community, of which he is a part, is also unified in one mission: to apply all our unique skills to understand driver behavior and save lives. We will—and must—continue to work together with experts like Dr. Perez to better understand driver behavior so we can recommend solutions that make a difference.
For his contribution to our observance of Hispanic Heritage Month and his efforts to promote diversity and collaboration in transportation, the NTSB awarded Dr. Perez with a special plaque.
Without a doubt, Hispanics are making a difference and shaping our world—just as this community helped to shape my world from early on.
I remember dancing at Cinco de Mayo celebrations in elementary school and celebrating the quinceañera of a friend in high school in Texas. As a newly arrived immigrant myself at that time – albeit from a different part of the world – I remember being impressed that my new country welcomed and celebrated our many diverse heritages.
As a college and graduate student, I spent time in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Paraguay. And today, my husband and I are raising our young son in a multilingual household and often speak and read together in Spanish.
These diverse cultural influences have made my own life richer and I am confident that they have also made our country stronger by helping us understand each other better.
Dr. Perez said his work and life were inspired by a famous Hispanic, ballplayer Roberto Clemente. I think we can all heed the advice of Clemente, who said: ”Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH, is Vice Chairman of the NTSB.