Your Monthly Update
April 2021
GHSA Report: Pedestrian Deaths Remained High Despite COVID-19 Related Reductions in Travel
A drop in traffic volume during COVID-19 related restrictions and shutdowns did not result in a drop in pedestrian deaths, a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found.

GHSA's annual Spotlight on Highway Safety report projects that the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate rose 20% in the first six months of 2020, despite a 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

The report analyzed preliminary data provided by all State Highway Safety Offices and Washington, D.C. The report found that from January through June 2020, 2,957 pedestrians were killed, six more than the same period in 2019.

Factoring in the reduction in VMT, the rate of drivers who struck and killed pedestrians rose to 2.2 deaths per billion VMT, up from 1.8 deaths the year before. If this trend holds for the rest of 2020, it would be the largest ever annual increase in the pedestrian fatality rate.

“Walking should not be a life and death undertaking, yet many factors have combined to put pedestrians at historical levels of risk,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a press release.

“The traffic safety community should focus on a comprehensive approach that uses every tool available to save lives, including engineering, community outreach, emergency response and equitable enforcement that prioritizes the prevention of driving behaviors – like speeding, distraction and impairment – that pose the greatest threats to non-motorized road users.”

In California, adjusted preliminary numbers for the first half of 2020 indicate 485 pedestrians were killed, up 5% from 2019. The numbers are adjusted to reflect data released so far for 2020.

Pedestrians deaths have skyrocketed over the past decade, accounting for 17% of all traffic deaths in 2019. In 2019, the GHSA report found that 6,301 pedestrians died nationwide, up 46% from 2010.

The report also noted that people of color represent a disproportionate number of victims, and that three out of every four deaths occurred after dark, with most happening away from intersections.

However, 20 states and D.C. saw declines in pedestrians killed for the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, with nine states reporting double-digit declines.

"The report is alarming to say the least," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "Our roads are getting deadlier for pedestrians, and that is an unacceptable reality that the OTS is working tirelessly to change."
Smart Growth America Report Calls for Better Roadway Design to Improve Safety for People Walking
A new report by Smart Growth America found that pedestrian deaths grew by 45% over a 10-year period, calling for changes in the ways roads are designed to improve the safety of people walking.

In its biennial report called "Dangerous by Design," the advocacy group said the rising number of pedestrian deaths will not change unless roads are designed for the safety of all road users.

“Our current approach to safety should be judged on the merits; and by any measure, it has been a complete failure,” Beth Osborne, transportation director for Smart Growth America, said in a press release. “...We urgently need to change the way we design and build roads to prioritize safety, not speed, as we currently do. In fact, the obsession with keeping traffic moving and avoiding delay at all costs in hopes of saving drivers mere seconds creates the very dangers highlighted in this report."

The report highlights similar findings in the recently released Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Spotlight on Highway Safety report, including a disproportionate number of victims that are Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). From 2010-2019, Black people were struck and killed by drivers at an 82% higher rate than white, non-Hispanic Americans, the Smart Growth America report found.

"GHSA agrees with the need to invest more in highway safety and fund infrastructure that better accommodates all road users," GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in response to Smart Growth America's report. "All highway safety approaches – infrastructure improvements, traffic enforcement, community engagement and others – are needed to address the many highway safety threats that all road users face every day. No single approach will be completely effective."

Among the 20 most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians, two were in California: Bakersfield at No. 2 and Stockton-Lodi at No. 15. The report ranks the top 100 metro areas by population based on their "Pedestrian Danger Index," which factors differences in population and walking rates.

The report concluded with recommending a change in federal and state design standards that put the safety of vulnerable road users like pedestrians first, including more frequent crosswalks, narrower lanes, and shorter distances for pedestrians to cross.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proposed revisions to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) in December 2020.

The FHWA hosted a series of webinars last month seeking comment on changing the federal guidelines, which have not been updated in more than 10 years.

The MUTCD is a national standard for traffic lights, signals and markings from the location of red lights and stop signs to elements of road construction. The FHWA is seeking public comment until May 14, 2021.
National Safety Council Report:
Deaths Spike During Pandemic
A report from the non-profit National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that more than 42,000 people died in vehicle crashes last year, an 8% increase from 2019 and the first jump in four years.

The increase in both fatalities and the fatality rate comes after a year of pandemic-related shutdowns and stay-at-home orders that drastically reduced traffic volume.

The fatality rate per 100 million miles rose 24%, the highest annual percentage increase since the council began collecting data in 1923.

The NSC said the spike in deaths may be attributed to more open roads that invite more reckless drivers.

“It is tragic that in the U.S., we took cars off the roads and didn’t reap any safety benefits,” Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, said in a press release. “These data expose our lack of an effective roadway safety culture."

As traffic inches closer to pre-pandemic levels, the bad behavior continues to be a problem.

“It’s kind of terrifying what we're seeing on our roads,” Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Public Safety Department’s Office of Traffic Safety, told the Associated Press. “We’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of risk-taking behavior.”

In California, preliminary numbers indicate a 5% increase in traffic deaths in 2020 (3,723) compared to 2019 (3,540).

For context, the NSC counts vehicle crash deaths using more open criteria, including all traffic deaths and "non-traffic" deaths (e.g. parking lots, private roads and driveways) that occur within one year of a crash. The NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) counts traffic deaths that occur within 30 days of a crash, which makes the NSC counts higher. The NSC estimates this omits about 800-1,000 deaths each year.

But early data from NHTSA shows speed to be one of the top factors in crashes, as well as not wearing seat belts and driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
IIHS Study: More Drivers Speed When Using Adaptive Cruise Control
More drivers are speeding when they are utilizing adaptive cruise control (ACC) technology, putting them at higher risk for crashes, a study released last month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found.

Cars with the ACC technology were 95% more likely to drive over the speed limit, compared to 77% more likely for cars with manual cruise control, the IIHS study found.

While speeding, drivers using AAC traveled seven miles per hour over the speed limit, compared to 6 miles per hour with manual cruise control.

The 40-person study used drivers from the Boston metro area and a formula for "calculating probable crash outcomes." The study did not look at actual crashes involving the use of ACC technology.

However, an analysis of insurance claims data by the IIHS-affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute found that ACC may lower crash risk. This may be due to the AAC technology maintaining a greater following distance than human drivers, reducing passing and lane changes.

“ACC does have some safety benefits, but it’s important to consider how drivers might cancel out these benefits by misusing the system,” IIHS Statistician Sam Monfort and the lead author of the study said in a press release. “Speed at impact is among the most important factors in whether or not a crash turns out to be fatal.”

The AAC technology is different from conventional cruise control by adjusting a car's speed to match the pace of a leading car, the study said. It does not require the driver to regularly brake and reset the speed. The AAC technology also allows drivers to bump their speed up or down in 5 mph increments, and do not restrict drivers from setting speeds above the limit.
Report: Congestion Fell Nearly 50% Across Major U.S. Cities
Traffic congestion was almost cut in half across major U.S. cities last year compared to 2019, a report by transportation analytics company INRIX found.

As a nation, drivers saved nearly 3.5 billion hours in 2020 compared to 2019. On average, drivers across the U.S. lost just 26 hours last year, compared to 99 hours in 2019, accounting for nearly $1,000 in savings.

Downtown areas also saw big decreases in traffic volume, dropping an average of 44% during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, driver speeds increased by up to 42%, according to the report.

Downtown traffic volumes also saw dramatic decreases, dropping an average of 44% amid the pandemic. However, drivers increased their speeds in downtown areas by up to 42%, according to the report.

“COVID-19 has completely transformed when, where and how people move. Government restrictions and the continued spread of the virus led to shifts in travel behavior seemingly overnight,” Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a press release. “Morning commutes in cities across the world went without delay as people reduced auto and transit travel to offices, schools, shopping centers and other public spaces.”

The two California cities that topped the "most congested" list, Los Angeles and San Francisco, also saw 21% and 30% declines in daily vehicle miles traveled, respectively.

While traffic volumes are picking back up, auto, bus and rail transport saw large declines, and in most areas, have yet to recover to pre-COVID levels.

According to INRIX, questions remain about the future of congestion and public transit ridership as more people telecommute and continue to reduce trips to downtown areas and office parks.
New California Assembly Bill Would Pilot Automated Speed Enforcement
A newly introduced bill (AB 550) would authorize the use of speed cameras in highway work zones and streets that are identified as dangerous.

Introduced by Asm. David Chiu (D-San Francisco), the bill would allow California cities to set up automated speed enforcement, where cameras measure the speeds of passing cars and take photos of those traveling a certain speed over the limit, then mail a ticket to the owner.

Unlike speed feedback signs that encourage drivers to slow down, the cameras do not typically display a driver's speed in real time.

Supporters say the cameras can help reduce the number of deaths on California's roads, where more than 1,000 people are killed each year in speed-related crashes.

But the cameras are not particularly popular with drivers, who view them as an invasion of privacy and revenue stream for cities.

Chiu introduced a similar bill in 2017 that would have allowed San Jose and San Francisco to launch speed camera programs, but it did not pass.

“This fixes the problem we are seeing on our streets, which is that speeding is killing people who are biking, walking and driving,” said Janice Li, advocacy director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition, a sponsor of Chiu’s bill.

Supporters say the cameras could be an effective deterrent, making drivers less likely to speed through an area they know has cameras and where they could be cited.

Cameras to catch people who run red lights are in many cities, but current California law does not allow automated cameras to enforce speed limits.

If passed, the bill would require the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Secretary to develop and adopt guidelines that allow the use of speed enforcement cameras as part of a pilot program. Once the guidelines are adopted, it would then authorize Caltrans, in collaboration with the CHP, to establish a highway work zone automated speed enforcement pilot program. Local transportation departments would be able to start a pilot program on local streets.

The bill also makes citations significantly less than traditional speeding tickets, which are often hundreds of dollars and depending on the speed, can add "points" to a driver's record.

“This has never been about revenue generation, this has been about changing driver behavior,” Chiu told the San Jose Mercury News. “This is about saving lives and improving safety.”
The OTS Kicks off Distracted Driving Awareness Month
The OTS is rolling out a series of activities and media campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving during April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The month kicked off with a virtual panel discussion April 1 about distracted driving with Impact Teen Drivers (ITD), the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Education Superintendent Tony Thurmond. The OTS Director discussed actions teen drivers and parents can take to make safer choices on the road. The ITD also unveiled a new "virtual locker" of resources with lesson plans, student activities and graduated driver license law information that teachers are able to incorporate into school curriculum.

“Distracted driving is a serious issue that is100% preventable,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “That text, phone call or social post is never more important than the task of driving.”

Targeted billboards, digital, and video messages will run from April 5-April 18, encouraging drivers to put down the phone and drive distraction-free.

As part of our partnership with the Sacramento Kings, we will hold a drawing starting April 5 for a chance to win a virtual shopping spree at the Kings team store. Prizes are provided courtesy of the Sacramento Kings. Those who enter will be asked what they believe are the best traffic safety solutions to improve the safety of all road users.

The OTS will also display distracted driving safety messages during Sacramento Kings games that appear on NBC Sports California broadcasts, as well as outside the Golden 1 Center to raise awareness about distracted driving.
Caltrans Receives $2.15 Million Federal Grant to Study Road User Charge in Rural Communities
Caltrans is expanding its California Road Charge Program study to rural communities, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The $2.15 million grant will help Caltrans examine possible alternatives to the state gas tax to fund road and highway maintenance. Under this system, drivers could be charged based on how many miles they travel rather than how much gas they buy.

With the grant, Caltrans will study the possible benefits of a statewide road charge program in rural and tribal communities – the department's third road charge study.

A key area of the grant-supported research will focus on GPS technology that is able to distinguish between public and private roads. Caltrans expects to complete the project in mid-2023.

“As the state looks toward a zero-emission future, California needs to study alternatives to the gas tax to fund our transportation infrastructure," Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin said in a press release announcing the grant award. "It is critical that we fully understand how a road charge program may uniquely impact rural communities and work together to find solutions.”

The initial California Road Charge pilot program started in 2016, with more than 5,000 vehicles using six different reporting and recording methods, from manual reporting to optional location-based services to track mileage.

The second program launched in January 2021 to focus on four technologies: pay at the pump, usage-based insurance, ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles.
Lifesavers Conference:
There's Still Time To Register!
Join us for the annual Lifesavers Conference April 26-28!

Registration is still open. To sign up, visit the Lifesavers Conference website.

The 2021 conference will be held virtually. There will be no on-site conference activities.

A listing of workshop titles and descriptions are also available on the Lifesavers Conference website.
#Trending Stories
Thank You For Your Service Walk
An 11-year-old boy from Ventura County is inspiring his friends in uniform.

Jordan Ramirez is not even a teenager and already holds a world record: he is the youngest person to complete marathons on all seven continents.

When he's not running for miles, he's walking them to thank police officers, firefighters and members of the military.

Last month, Ramirez walked to the Oxnard Police Department carrying an American flag, then walked to the Ventura County Sheriff's Office in Ventura, the agency said on Facebook.

"Jordan presented (Ventura County) Sheriff Bill Ayub with a plaque thanking the members of the Sheriff's Office for our service to the community," the agency said. "...When he's not running marathons, Jordan walks to police stations, fire stations and military facilities to thank members of the military and first responders for their service."

For his next stop at the Ventura Police Department, the Sheriff's Office provided Ramirez with a police escort.

To get to know Jordan, follow him on Instagram at thankyouforyourservicewalk.

Well done, Jordan! Thank you for being an inspiration to all of us, one step at a time.
The OTS administers traffic safety grants that deliver innovative programs and strives to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries on California roadways. The OTS is a department under the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA).
Contact the OTS Marketing & Public Affairs Team 916-509-3030