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SafeTREC's Vayalamkuzhi Earns 2019 Postdoc Achievement Award

Congratulations to UC Berkeley SafeTREC postdoctoral scholar Praveen Vayalamkuzhi, who was recently honored as the co-recipient of the Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs Program (VSPA) 2019 Postdoc Achievement Award.

Vice Chancellor of Research, Dr. Randy Katz presented the award on Sept. 18, 2019 as part of the UC Berkeley National Postdoc Appreciation Week Postdoc Fest Reception. Praveen was selected from an accomplished group of UC Berkeley postdocs for his outstanding contributions to scholarship, fellowship and service as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley.

Read more about Praveen:

Praveen Vayalamkuzhi is from the southern part of India. He received his Master of Technology (M.Tech) in Traffic & Transportation Engineering at Kerala University in 2009, and completed his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Civil Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) in 2017. Before joining SafeTREC as a postdoctoral researcher in Fall 2017, Praveen taught and conducted research at IITM and the College of Engineering, Trivandrum, India, and also worked as an engineer on various projects for the Government of India.

What sparked your interest in transportation safety research?
After completing my diploma in civil engineering I took a two-year break to go into the field to practice what I learned before going for further studies. I had the chance to work on several government projects, including one that dealt with developing the rural network. I realized that theories are not always applied to the field, that there was often a gap between theory and practice. These experiences motivated me for further studies in civil engineering and later to complete my masters in transportation engineering in Kerala. Next, I got a job as a research associate at IITM and began a project in road safety, something that was totally different from what I learned in my master’s degree courses. This was my first stepping stone to the safety field.

I worked on different phases of this project with state agencies where they had just built a new highway and wanted to investigate the road safety aspects of the project. This experience really motivated me to do my research in the road safety area. I felt that, if I’m doing this work, I’m saving lives, I’m contributing to society.

Then the challenging issue was how are we going to get the crash data? We didn’t have a dedicated database for the system or a proper method for investigating the highway network safety of developing countries with mixed traffic conditions. This was also when the first edition of the Highway Safety Manual (HSM) was published and becoming widespread. It motivated me further to investigate and take up the challenge of developing safety performance functions for the country.

This research project allowed me to investigate road safety on the network at different times under different conditions, and to think about what factors contribute to safety and what types of safety countermeasures would be effective in reducing crashes so that we can save lives.

What current projects are you working on at SafeTREC?
The main project I’ve been working on is the development of a network screening tool for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). We are developing safety performance functions that will be incorporated into the tool for network screening purposes to identify HCCLs or high crash concentration locations. Caltrans investigators cannot go and visit all the locations along the state highways to see where crashes have occurred. So, this tool will help in identifying locations (HCCLs) they need to investigate and what to prioritize in terms of countermeasures. We are developing safety performance functions based on the recent highway crash data from the database to help them to investigate and ultimately save lives. In addition to this, I work on couple of other safety related projects for Caltrans. Working as a group for these projects with graduate student researchers and student assistants is really amazing!

What issues are you particularly interested or passionate about?
Safety is an important part, but I’m also passionate about the issue of transportation resilience. For instance, in the case of a national disaster and the resulting impacts on infrastructure and traffic conditions, how can we be prepared for these things from a safety perspective? Sustainability issues are also interesting to me. For instance, when we implement modes like walking, biking, and using scooters, how are we thinking about the sustainability of these modes and how are we considering the safety aspects from a highway design perspective?

What do you like to do outside of work?
During my PhD dissertation in India, I’d go out volunteering, mostly within the school. I was in a student organization that was involved in reaching out to students in the community to give them exposure to research activities in civil engineering through workshop trainings at the IITM. Here at UC Berkeley I have been involved with Beyond Academia, where I started as a volunteer in 2018 and in 2019 became a committee member, and am now a co-director. It is a great way to reach out to graduate students and postdocs about career options. I’m also involved with Berkeley Postdoctoral Association (BPA), a volunteering organization of postdocs working to advocate for the postdoc and visiting scholar community at UC Berkeley. I also like to travel – anywhere, especially beaches. I recently went to Newport Beach and loved it. Cooking – of course – is my favorite! Mostly Indian dishes.