Thomas A. Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, this week will be honored by the White House as a Champion of Change, a group of Americans seen as making positive change. This year’s theme is Transportation Technology Solutions for the 21st century.

Dingus will travel to Washington, D.C., for a scheduled May 8 event at the White House that will highlight his research and that of others selected as Transportation Champions of Change. The White House says they plan to live stream the event.

“It’s a very high honor,” said Dingus, adding that the award also recognizes all researchers and staff at the institute. “One of a handful of large-scale transportation institutes worldwide, [the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute] is helping shape national and global change in public policies for driver, passenger, and pedestrian safety and is advancing the design of vehicles and infrastructure to improve safety.”

The institute was comprised of 15 faculty, staff, and students when Dingus was hired as its director in 1996. Under his leadership, the institute has grown to include more than 350 employees and is now the second-largest university-level transportation institute in the United States. Among its groundbreaking research efforts: Ongoing, in-depth analysis of naturalistic driving, distracted and impaired driving, active and passive safety system design, connected and automated vehicles, mobility improvement, and efficient infrastructure investment. 

Dingus also oversaw the opening of the Virginia Smart Road test track, located at the institute in Blacksburg, and a soon-to-open high-tech driving laboratory in northern Virginia.

“The students and colleagues that we picked up along the way made a significant contribution to this growth, and we have all now been together for many years,” said Dingus. “Each has been instrumental in developing tools and techniques to conduct innovative, and often seminal, driving safety research.” 

Dingus and his fellow Champion honorees were selected for their “exemplary leadership in developing or implementing transportation technology solutions to enhance performance, reduce congestion, improve safety, and facilitate communication across the transportation industry at the local, state or national level,” according to the White House website. He was nominated by staff at the institute.

At the May 8 event, Dingus will have the opportunity to talk about his research during a panel discussion, according to the White House. His family, including wife Melissa Hulse, a human factors engineer at the institute, will attend the ceremony.

An endowed Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, Dingus also is a Fellow of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society which honored him with the A.R. Lauer Award for outstanding career achievement in the field of safety. He also serves as director of the institute’s National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence.

Dingus’ colleagues at Virginia Tech are praising his research and collaborative efforts.

“The bottom line is that Dr. Dingus and the work that he does at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute saves lives,” said Robert W. Walters, vice president for research at Virginia Tech. “It’s commonplace to see a news report about the dangers of distracted driving, texting while driving, or other hazards, and then hear more about the Smart Road and the research done at Virginia Tech to help keep people safe behind the wheel. Many of these vital insights travel directly from Tom’s institute straight into public policy, and the White House has noticed.”

Dingus is a two-time Hokie graduate, earning master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering and operations research in 1985 and 1987, respectively. Dingus named Walt Wierwille, emeritus professor of industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech and a retired associate director at the institute, as a mentor in an autobiography he prepared for the Champions event.

“Walt had a stellar reputation for conducting groundbreaking research, for moving his students efficiently through the graduate programs, a big plus, and for giving them opportunities to work as graduate assistants to pay their way through school, which I admit was another big plus,” Dingus said.

Dingus credits Wierville’s research of automotive safety as game changer in his pursuit of studying safety and risk management.

“It quickly became apparent that this field was at the center of injury prevention and risk management. That is, the most injuries occur behind the wheel,” said Dingus, whose 1985 dissertation was the first on-road safety evaluation of a moving-map navigation system and focused on issues of distraction and attention.

The Champions of Change event come a week before National Transportation Week, to be held May 12 to 18, the White House said. 

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Share this story