Throughout the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD), the term “Engineering Judgment” is used for the application of traffic control devices.  “The decision to use a particular device at a particular location should be made on the basis of either an engineering study or the application of engineering judgment…”

Day to day decisions and problems that road safety professionals face involve the engineering decision-making process, and most of us are not engineers. So what defines this engineering decision making process? What makes it different from other decision making processes?

The engineering method is a systematic approach used to reach the desired solution to a problem. Some problems may have no clear solution. Engineering judgment must be based on the best evidence that can be practically achieved. But engineering judgment isn’t a mechanical method. It folds in “critical thinking”. Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions.

Engineering judgment also includes “deliberate thinking”. Deliberate thinking means setting aside some time to think with a clearly defined focus, and you direct your attention according to the framework you are using. The effect of deliberate thinking comes through in discussions, decisions, suggestions, ideas and data. It’s the personal enrichment that counts.

Finally, all of these practices involve “wisdom”. In researching this connection to engineering judgment here are great ideas to put wisdom into practice. Be humble in new situations. As Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Think before acting. Take as much time as you need to deliberate on a problem before making a decision. Act on your values. Learn from your mistakes. Share your wisdom with others.

The MUTCD further states “…Documentation of engineering judgment is not required.” I suggest that sharing the thought process of decisions made with those around you is the very best form of documentation. Not only have you demonstrated the engineering judgment method, but also elevated the experience to one of teaching – spreading the word, so to speak.

Lastly, engineering judgment includes holding public safety above profit or personal gain. Keep up the good work out there!


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