Student Essay Competition


IRF Student Essay Competition


The IRF Student Essay Competition is an annual contest held to recognize promising road research. This competition is open to all students attending an IRF Member university in good standing, as well as IRF Fellows currently enrolled as full time students. At the judges' discretion, a maximum of three winning essays will receive a US $500 cash award.

Additionally, the winning essays will be published in the IRF Examiner, a freely available periodical journal featuring peer-reviewed technical papers by leading industry professionals.

The categories and related topics for the competition are developed based on input from IRF Members regarding their research needs.

Participants may choose any topic within any category for their essays, or professors may wish to limit the topics based on their particular curriculum.


Essays will be evaluated by a panel of experts from the road industry according to the criteria and point system outlined below.

  • Comprehension: How well does the essay reflect a thorough understanding of the topic?
  • Organization: Does the essay follow a logical and easily understood progression?
  • Creativity: Were diverse resources and ideas used to develop the topic?
  • Applicability: Can the proposed solution(s) be applied feasibly?
  • Conclusions: Do the conclusions follow logically from the argument? Are the conclusions compelling?

5 Points – Essay met the criteria very well

4 Points – Essay mostly met the criteria

3 Points – Essay adequately met the criteria

2 Points – Essay only met the criteria a few times

1 Point –   Essay never met the criteria


All essays should be submitted in English using Times New Roman (size 12) font with double spacing. Essays must be a minimum of 1,500 words and a maximum of 2,000 words.  Essays that do not follow the above-mentioned specifications, WILL NOT be considered.


Road Safety

  • What steps need to be taken to give road safety at the same priority level that the environmentalists have?  No road projects can be started without an environmental study.  Why not require the same for a road safety audit?  Why is it that a "killer tree" that is located close to the road and has killed errant motorists cannot be removed because of environmentalist concerns?  Who is responsible the next time this "killer tree" kills another motorist causing a "needless death?"
  • Poor driver behavior can lead to increased safety risk (i.e., fatalities or serious injuries) for drivers, passengers, and other vulnerable road users, including motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. What improvements in driver training, education, or enforcement can be utilized to eliminate poor driving practices, such as driving without safety restraints, while under influence of drugs or alcohol, or while texting?
  • For decades, more single-vehicle, run-off-road fatal crashes have occurred into roadside trees than any other fixed object hazard. How can government agencies, road users, and residents work together to reduce the epidemic level of fatal vehicle-tree crashes within the next 5 years?


  • What developments or modifications to the highway infrastructure are needed to allow “smarter” vehicles meet their promise of safer and more efficient travel?

Funding/Maintenance Management

  • With long term improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, what options other than a gas tax must be considered to adequately provide for highway asset construction and maintenance?
  • What financially beneficial strategies should insurance companies take to advocate and financially support safety countermeasures to reduce the number and severity of road traffic injuries?


  • Building local road safety knowledge capacity is a critical element for long term success in any country.  How do road authorities and consulting engineers stay current regarding best practices and state of the are technology?

Pavement and Pavement Materials

  • How can the choice of paving materials impact a road network’s resilience to new weather patterns and ability to recover from major natural occurrences, such as flooding and earthquakes?


  • Traffic Police soliciting or accepting bribes in exchange for not pursuing a violation against drivers is a serious issue in many countries around the world.  What steps must be taken to reduce traffic police corruption?


For inquiries, please contact Dr. Les Mills at [email protected] / +1 703 535 1001.

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Previous Winners

Innovative Finance

Winner - Yijing Lu - University of Maryland, College Park
Implementing Marginal-Cost Vehicle Mileage Fees on the Maryland Statewide Road Network

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Winner - Chenfeng Xiong University of Maryland College Park Lei Zhang
On En-Route Diversion Behavior: Emerging Data Collection Techniques & Modeling Method

Sustainable Roads

Winner - Daniel Mogrovejo Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Dr Gerardo Flintsch
Effect of Air Temperature and Vehicle Speed on Tire / Pavement Noise Measured with On-Board Sound Intensity