Dr. Robert B. Voas is one of the most well-respected and influential traffic safety researchers in the country.2007 GHSA James J. Howard Highway Safety Trailblazer Award
Dr. Robert Voas’s 50-year plus career in the highway safety field began in 1968 at the National Highway Safety Bureau, the forerunner to the current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when he was hired as director of the Office of Evaluation for Traffic Safety Programs. At NHTSA, Dr. Voas developed a plan for the implementation of the Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP), which established 35 community alcohol safety demonstration projects in localities across the nation. These programs provided an opportunity to test new enforcement techniques: the use of sobriety checkpoints, using passive alcohol sensors, hand-held preliminary breath testers (PBTs), and field sobriety tests. Dr. Voas had a role in the development of each of these program elements, conducting the first evaluations of sobriety checkpoints in Virginia and California. He brought the first fuel cell hand-held PBT unit to the United States from Britain and managed the effort to get it qualified by the U.S. Bureau of Standards. Dr. Voas also imported the first passive breath sensor for police use from Japan and conducted the first U.S. tests with the District of Columbia police.
While at NHTSA, he established the first contract for a National Roadside Breath Test Survey, and after leaving NHTSA in 1982, he conducted the second survey under contract to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 1992, Dr. Voas became a Senior Research Scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), where he pursued a number of large research studies in college drinking, underage drinking, minimum drinking age laws, cross-border binge drinking, vehicle-based sanctions, the effect of the .08 BAC law, and alcohol-related fatal crashes. Dr. Voas produced the first research paper on vehicle alcohol interlocks in 1970, “Cars That Drunks Can’t Drive.” Together with fellow PIRE senior research scientist Dr. Paul Marques, he produced the first draft of the national standard for alcohol interlocks for NHTSA. Subsequently, he conducted numerous significant evaluation studies on the application of state interlocks laws; one such study in Florida showed a 1/3 reduction in post-interlock recidivism for interlock users who were not performing well and completed an additional treatment requirement.
Dr. Voas has received numerous awards for his work in traffic safety:
- NHTSA, Public Service Award
- NIAAA, Senior Scientist Career Award
- RSA, Lifetime Achievement Award
- ICADTS, Widmark Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Borkenstein Award
- GHSA, James J. Howard Traffic Safety Trail Blazer Award
- MADD, Forest Lowery Award and the Ralph Hingson Research in Practice Award
Prior to his long career focused on reducing impaired driving, Dr. Voas served as an astronaut training and selection officer for NASA, Mercury Seven Mission.