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Gerry Forbes, B.Eng. '85, M.Eng. '93

(Civil Engineering), (Civil Engineering) | Engineering Safe Roads - and Safe Drivers

The laws of physics simply do not account for the unpredictability of human behaviour.

A well-engineered highway typically has banked curves, wide medians and good sight lines. But a well-designed road must also accommodate and influence the drivers who use it.

The bridge between engineering and psychology is where Gerry Forbes (B.Eng.’85, M.Eng. ‘93 Civil) has made his career.

“I specialize in human factors engineering for road systems, which goes beyond the physical properties of the highway, and considers how the built environment impacts on the decisions made by road users,” explains Forbes.

The key is to understand how drivers and pedestrians observe and react to a road’s design, signage and markings, and then use that understanding to build safer routes. In urban areas, for example, a road that appears narrow convinces drivers to slow down.

“You want to make the road safe but you want to make it look not safe, so users will travel cautiously,” says Forbes, President and Chief Engineer of Burlington-based Intus Road Safety Engineering Inc. “Largely what I do is try and influence people’s behaviour while on the road.”

"You don’t just engineer things for the sake of engineering them, particularly in transportation. You’re building roads for people to use. So you have to make sure they’re not only useful but that they can safely accommodate a range of users with vastly different capabilities and skill sets.”

A recognized expert in human factors engineering, Forbes has authored national guidelines for speed management and applied human factors for the Transportation Association of Canada.

In 2012, his leadership in the industry was recognized and he was named Transportation Person of the Year in Canada.

Career highlights include his role as lead road safety consultant during the preliminary design of the $1.4 billion Right Honourable Herb Gray Parkway project in the Windsor area.

Most recently, Forbes has been working in the field of forensic engineering, assisting the justice system, legal firms, and the insurance industry to determine the impact of road design in motor vehicle crashes, bicycles crashes, and pedestrian falls.