H. Clay Gabler III was posthumously honored with the Kenneth A. Stonex Roadside Safety award at the 2022 Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the highest award offered by the Committee on Roadside Safety Design for outstanding contributions to improving highway and roadside safety.

Gabler, who passed away on Jan. 11, 2021, was a professor and chair of the undergraduate biomedical engineering program in biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He was also a leading researcher at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) affiliated Center for Injury Biomechanics and held the five-year Samuel Herrick Professorship, which recognizes excellence in teaching and research, from 2016 until his passing. 

The award was received by Gabler’s students, colleagues, and friends and was presented by John P. Donahue, chair of the Roadside Safety Design Committee one year to the day after Gabler’s passing. He is the only Virginia Tech researcher to have won this award.

“Clay’s work has had tremendous influence on roadside safety and recommendations for improvement and will continue to do so,” said Warren Hardy, director of the Center for Injury Biomechanics and a close friend of Gabler. “The crowded room of attendees [at the annual meeting] rose to their feet as Clay’s name was announced. Clay was more than deserving of this award for his remarkable contribution to roadside safety. He is sorely missed.”

“It was an honor for us to receive this award on Clay’s behalf,” said Luke Riexinger, postdoctoral associate research faculty at the center. “Clay would have been humbled and surprised to receive this lifetime achievement award from the roadside safety community.”

The Kenneth A. Stonex Roadside Safety Award was established in 1991 to recognize lifetime contributions to roadside safety. It was originally sponsored by General Motors and named for Ken Stonex, a GM employee who was a pioneer for roadside safety long before the seriousness of run-off-road crashes was recognized by most transportation agencies. 

“He was a wonderful faculty member and dear friend,” said Stefan Duma, the Harry C. Wyatt Professor of Engineering in the Virginia Tech Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. “Clay was a rare individual that was universally admired by colleagues around the world. He loved his students and was one of the best advisors. He was always so positive, sharp, and had a keen insight.”

“Clay had an amazing intellect and provided keen insight regarding how to identify and address motor vehicle safety problems,” said Tom Hollowell, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s former director of the Office of Applied Vehicle Safety Research. “Every Friday afternoon, Clay and I would close out the week by sitting in my office and discuss any and everything that we could be doing to improve vehicle safety. He provided particularly unique approaches toward analyzing real world crash data for identifying the safety issues and suggesting possible testing approaches that could be used to address these problems. These conversations often led to successful actions undertaken by the agency. This recognition is richly deserved.”

“Clay was a top-notch researcher, stellar mentor, and a friend to many. He will be greatly missed,” said Tom Dingus, VTTI Distinguished Technical Fellow and former director of VTTI.

The inscription on the plaque reads as follows: “Kenneth A. Stonex Roadside Safety Award Presented to Dr. Hampton Clay Gabler III in recognition of his 37 years of outstanding contributions to improving highway and roadside safety

"Clay was an active member of the Transportation Research Board's Roadside Safety Design Committee (AKD20) for over 10 years. After receiving his B.S. in nuclear engineering and earning his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, Clay joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1984. While working at NHTSA, Clay worked on crash compatibility of vehicles, head to A-pillar interactions and event data recorders. He moved to academia in 1998 becoming a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rowan University. Clay became more involved in roadside safety, applying his knowledge of occupant safety and his passion for data-based analysis to various roadside safety design issues like using EDR [event data recorder] data for crash data analysis, investigating the effectiveness of median barriers to reduce crossover crashes, auditing severe injury guardrail crashes, and assessing the feasibility of breakaway utility poles. He moved to Virginia Tech in 2005 where he continued his work in roadside safety characterizing guardrail damage that warrants repair, examining injury mechanisms in motorcycle-barrier crashes, collecting real-world crash data, and examining guardrail terminal performance. Clay tragically passed away in January 2021, at which time he was leading an effort evaluating occupant risk metrics and characterizing roadside and work zone encroachments. His impressive body of work includes more than 80 journal publications, 30 technical reports, and more than 150 conference proceedings; most of which focused on roadside safety. Clay was an excellent researcher, dedicated educator, committed mentor, and honorable man who will be greatly missed by his peers. 

"Presented by the Roadside safety Design Committee of the Transportation Research Board

"John P. Donahue, Chair

"Sponsored by Energy Absorption Inc., Gregory, Hill, and Smith, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, Transpo Industries, and Trinity Highway Products”

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