Career Choices

Matthew A. Wolfe, Highway Safety Specialist

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Exhibit Engineer
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Welding Engineer
Crash Scene
Alexia Fountain
Mechanical Engineering Student
Ed Conkel
Emergency Medical Technician
Trooper Fred J. Cook
Crash Scene Reconstruction
Matthew A. Wolfe
Highway Safety Specialist
Kim Bigelow
Engineering Professor
Hip Surgery
Wilma Gillis
Chief Clinical Anesthetist
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Professor of Orthopedic Surgery
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Medical Assistant
Shawn Knock
Surgical Technician
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R.N. Team Leader, Orthopedics
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Orthopedic Surgeon
Carolyn Steinhorst
Nurse Clinician
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Unit Coordinator, Orthopedics
Szymon Wozniczka
Physical Therapist
Knee Surgery
Leanne Turner
Orthopedic Prosthetic Engineer
Dr. Joel Politi
Orthopedic Surgeon
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Physician Assistant
Ed Lafollette
Registered Nurse
Jeremy Daughtery
Clinical Manager Neurosurgery and Orthopedics
Sickle Cell DNA
Andre Palmer
Chemical Engineer
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Genetic Counselor
Rick Toracinta
Research Associate
Ben Gelber
On-Air Meteorologist
Matthew A. Wolfe, Highway Safety Specialist


B.S. in Education - Liberty University
Basic at Scene Accident Investigation – Colorado State University
Advanced Technical Accident Investigation – Colorado State University

Career Description

In 2005, the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes totaled 43,443. That is a devastating five people every hour. In fact, from the ages of 4-34, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death! During that same year of 2005, another 2,699,000 people sustained injuries in motor vehicle crashes, just a part of the damage inflicted by the annual total of 6,159,000 crashes.

Recent data research indicates that crashes cost society an estimated $7,300 persecond. From these sobering statistics come my organization's mission – to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce the number of crashes.

When I finished college in 1996, I had no plan to enter the battle of saving lives on the highways. In fact, I had finished an internship and was rather uninspired by my course in life. I was searching through job postings and ran across a position for an entry level crash researcher; I was instantly intrigued and followed through with the interview process. contact points in the vehicle are marked for potential injury sourcing – to show what may have caused occupant injuriesAs it turned out, the interview also included an aptitude and skills test. Talk about a pop-quiz! I quickly found myself grateful for heeding my physics teacher's admonishment to "study hard, even if you're not sure how you might use it some day." I passed the test, accepted the position and subsequently attended training at the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) in Oklahoma City, OK. While still in training, a new career path became very evident to me. In fact, by the conclusion of my formal training, I also had a new career goal – to work my way toward a position at our training center. After all, such a place would serve perfectly to merge my educational background with my new-found passion. In 2001, I received that very chance and accepted a federal appointment at TSI. The moral of my career: search out and make the most of every learning opportunity. You never know when they will return and provide you with the opportunity of a lifetime.

Most often, people associate crash reconstruction with law enforcement. While accountability to the law is essential to the safety of the motoring public, the scope of our study is directed strictly through the lens of safety research. Our researchers and investigators do work in close cooperation with police agencies across the country, but maintain a deliberate separation from culpability, or "who's at fault." Vehicle data, environmental data, and human data are the essential focal points of our work. Vehicle research centers around crashworthiness (how a vehicle performs in a crash) and crash avoidance (technology that helps avoid a crash). Environmental issues include roadway design, traffic volume, and similar concerns. Human data is the most elusive – it focuses on the one subject that is hardest to "redesign". Numerous variables come in to play when we discuss people, each a unique being. Driving habits, health, experience, personality – these and so many other factors each play a role in the overall circumstances leading to a crash.

A number of statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were quoted earlier, none of them very good news. However, we are seeing some wonderful results in the big picture. While the number of fatalities and injuries are very high, the rate of injury is actually declining. In other words, there are more drivers than ever driving more miles than ever. However, the percentage of those drivers being injured in crashes is going down. Alcohol related crashes are also on a steady decline. The percent of alcohol-related fatalities has declined from 60 percent in 1982 to 39 percent in 2005. While we draw encouragement and motivation from these results, there is still much work to do. A glimpse into the single issue of speeding highlights the point. Again using 2005, speeding was a contributing factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes – the toll, 13,113 lives lost in speeding-related crashes.

I can think of few things in life as satisfying as watching our everyday efforts resulting in the saving of lives. I am so fortunate to be involved with those on the front lines in automotive safety research. However, that very same element translates into the most difficult part of our work as well. The nature of our research takes us into people's lives at a time of great distress. At best, they have experienced damage to their property; at worst, they have lost someone in a sudden and tragic event.

The evolution of the modern automobile is a technological marvel to behold. While the youngest drivers among us may not appreciate the advanced safety systems in the current fleets, it was not all that long ago that safety features were not a selling point to the American public, and were, therefore, not the priority that they are today. Try getting out of a showroom today without a sales pitch for safety. Safety sells, and that is exciting!

When I began my career, less than half of the vehicles in the cases that I researched were equipped with air bags – and that was in the mid 90's! Air bag technology has developed so rapidly that several of the current vehicle models have as many as 8 or more air bags. Frontal protection, side impact, and side curtain air bags provide a formidable defense when used properly in conjunction with safety belt use.

As crashworthiness features such as air bags and safety belts become more refined, focus is also shifting toward crash avoidance systems. Electronic stability control is a recent technology emergence with vast potential. Lane departure warning systems, collision warning systems, and numerous other breakthroughs all point to a bright future for automotive safety as more industry professionals are asking, "What can we do to help avoid the crash in the first place?"

One final thought: in the five minutes it took you to read this document, there were between 58 and 60 crashes in the United States with an estimated cost to society of $2,190,000.

(Statistics from 2005 Motor Vehicle Crash Data, and Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA)