Bella Dinh-Zarr joins Canada’s TIRF, in Vision Zero collaboration with FIA Foundation

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Tho (Bella) Dinh-Zarr, a former Vice Chair of the US National Transportation Safety Board, has joined the Canadian Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) as Senior Advisor, Public Health & Transportation, with the support and partnership of the FIA Foundation. TIRF is a charitable, independent road safety research institute and a world leader in research, safety programs, and policy development. Bella will work on Vision Zero and its Safe System principles. Her work at TIRF will include international transportation governance activities with the FIA Foundation.

Bella has 25 years of executive and technical experience in government, non-profit, corporate, philanthropic, and academic settings, most recently acting as an independent advisor on public health and transportation issues. From 2015 to 2019, she served as Vice Chairman, Acting Chairman, and Board Member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, an independent U.S. government safety agency which investigates transportation disasters (aviation, maritime, road, rail, and pipeline/hazardous materials) and makes safety recommendations.

Previously, she was the North American Director and United Nations NGO Representative for the FIA Foundation. Bella co-chaired the UN NGO Committee on Sustainable Development and worked on the first UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. She has held positions at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), American Automobile Association (AAA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she authored the U.S. Guide to Community Preventive Services Seatbelt Section. Bella worked on innovative safe mobility solutions for older people and conducted the first systematic reviews on seat belt use (The Community Guide) and on problem drinking interventions to prevent injuries (The Cochrane Collaboration). Bella has a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a PhD degree from the University of Texas School of Public Health, majoring in health policy/management and minoring in injury epidemiology and health economics.

Saul Billingsley, FIA Foundation Executive Director said: “We are delighted to partner with TIRF to help bring Bella’s expertise to bear on transportation safety issues in Canada, and internationally. With a career encompassing government, academia, philanthropy and civil society, Bella is one of the world’s most experienced, thoughtful and passionate campaigners for safer roads. For us at the FIA Foundation it is a privilege to have this opportunity to work with her again.”

Bella Dinh-Zarr commented on her new role:

“I am delighted to begin working at TIRF in Canada as the Senior Advisor, Public Health & Transportation, with the support of the FIA Foundation. One of my first tasks relates to a project to explore how different transportation and health frameworks can improve safety across different modes of travel around the world.

For many years, we have acknowledged the interdisciplinary nature of road safety research and countermeasures. As the first NTSB Board Member with a public health background, I found the public health perspective highly useful in making safety recommendations in all modes of transportation, including road safety. The fields of aviation, maritime, rail, and pipelines/hazardous materials have much to offer us, such as becoming agile and making substantive recommendations based on investigations into a single representative crash.

After completing my 4-year tenure as the Vice-Chair of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), my family and I fulfilled our long-held dream of traveling around the world to learn from new experiences and perspectives. During our travels, I was fortunate to spend time with people working in diverse areas of transportation and public health. Our travels ended with the COVID pandemic, but I was able to continue speaking virtually with students at several universities, and volunteer for international public health and safety projects. These experiences helped me to re-think transportation in a broader context, and its impact on our lives, our health, and our planet, and helped shape my own next steps.

My new role involves exploring ways concepts can be shared and applied, and where certain tools might be implemented with an emphasis on adapting good ideas to make them effective in diverse settings. I am fortunate to be able to devote my time to listening to and learning from -- experts from around the world, professionals across disciplines with a wealth of expertise, and those with diverse experiences and practical knowledge. My work encompasses safety, sustainability, ethics, good governance, accessibility, technology assessment, and other topics at the nexus of road safety and public health.

There is much we can learn from other modes of transportation and from seemingly unrelated fields such as medical ethics and planetary health. There is also much that other fields can learn from transportation, as I discovered when I served as the Co-Chair of the UN NGO Committee on Sustainable Development while at the FIA Foundation during the first Decade of Action 2011-2020. Through an open-minded, deliberate, and collaborative approach, we can foster an environment that connects like-minded individuals who share a vision for a safer and healthier planet.

Most of us want to do our part to improve the quality of life for people and other living things. I feel fortunate to be working with TIRF Canada and in partnership with the FIA Foundation to improve and strengthen transportation safety, in the broadest sense. TIRF Canada is an established leader in knowledge translation with respect to road safety, helping to bridge the gap between research and the real world through collaboration with diverse practitioners and disciplines. The FIA Foundation is well-known globally for its innovative efforts in transportation safety and sustainability. Members of both organizations have been involved in the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, Vision Zero, and other worldwide road safety efforts.

The reality is that safe access to and use of roadways is a priority for everyone of all ages, geographic locations, socio-economic status, and physical capabilities. Our choices for transportation vary from person to person, sometimes month to month depending on the weather. Sometimes our choice between walking, cycling, driving or public transport is also limited by not only the availability of transportation options, but also the safety of the infrastructure to ensure a safe road home.

To this end, the overarching goal of this new joint endeavor is to contribute to the betterment of transportation in the larger context of public health. I look forward to listening, connecting, and helping to pave a path to a safer and healthier planet.”