|John Lacey receives the James J. Howard Highway Safety Trailblazer Award
GHSA Chairman Troy E. Costales, Jim Fell, John Lacey, and Bob Voas. Credit: Linda Johnson Photography
While most of Mr. Lacey’s research accomplishments have been in the evaluation of programs to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, he has also conducted pioneering studies in other areas of highway safety. His résumé includes some of the first studies of distracted driving. It also includes studies on aggressive driving; combined seat belt, speed, and alcohol enforcement strategies; fatal crashes involving older women; and underage drinking prevention. He led the nation’s first effort to assess the prevalence of drugged drivers on U.S. highways. He developed and implemented methods to obtain breath tests, saliva, and blood samples from drivers on the roads in 300 locations in the United States as part of the 2007 National Roadside Survey. In that survey, he persuaded close to 90% of 11,000 drivers stopped on the roadways on weekend nights to give a breath sample to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), more than 70% to give a saliva sample to test for the presence of drugs other than alcohol, and 40% to give a blood sample for further analyses of drugs. This pioneering effort showed that 12% of the drivers on our roads at night had alcohol present in their bodies, and 15% had drugs other than alcohol in their systems while driving. One out of five drivers with drugs in their system also had alcohol on board. This survey has opened up a renewed focus on the relationship of drugs other than alcohol to highway safety. Mr. Lacey has followed that pioneering effort with the nation’s first attempt to assess the relative risk of being in a crash as a function of the type and amount of drugs consumed by a driver. He also recently completed a study of the prevalence of cannabis-involved driving in California and that relationship with medical marijuana laws in that state.
Mr. Lacey is probably best known for his groundbreaking evaluation of the Checkpoint Tennessee program in 1995. That statewide checkpoint program produced a 20% reduction in impaired-driving fatal crashes and became the model for future programs sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Mr. Lacey has not only conducted excellent research studies over his career, but he also has developed and tested innovative countermeasures in the studies, disseminated the results to appropriate officials, and advocated for proven-effective strategies. He has authored or co-authored more than 150 articles to peer-reviewed journals and reports to federal government agencies, State Highway Safety Offices, and other traffic safety organizations, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Although there have been many, long-time, distinguished highway safety researchers over the past 40 to 50 years, what sets Mr. Lacey apart from most of them is his ability to get effective programs implemented. He does not stop his work when his research report is written. He presents the findings at Lifesavers conferences, Governors Highway Safety Association conferences, and numerous scientific conferences to “get the word out.” He was an early advocate of lowering the illegal BAC limit to .08 and combining seat-belt and impaired-driving enforcement. He has not merely stood on his laurels throughout his career, but also has exercised leadership in promoting “research to practice” in highway safety to get programs implemented and to save lives.
Because of Mr. Lacey’s research, many lives are being saved each year. His recent pioneering research has led to a new focus on drugs other than alcohol and their impairing effects on driving. In his 42 years of activity, Mr. Lacey has developed a network of practitioners in the field of impaired driving at the national, state, and local levels. His efforts have been realized in the substantial reduction in impaired driving that we have witnessed over the past 30 years.