Your Monthly Update
April 2022
Report: Traffic Deaths in 2020 Reach Highest Number Since 2007
The death rate on our nation's roads increased by more than 20% in 2020, even as the total number of crashes and injuries declined, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increased 21% in 2020 from 2019, resulting in 38,824 deaths in traffic crashes throughout the country, the highest number since 2007.

While fatal crashes increased, the estimated number of police-reported crashes in 2020 declined by 22% compared to 2019. The estimated number of people injured declined by 17%.

“The tragic loss of life of people represented by these numbers confirms that we have a deadly crisis on our nation's roads," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff in a statement"We cannot allow this to become the status quo."

Nearly half of the deadly crashes were due to speeding, drunk driving or not wearing a seat belt.

"This sudden uptick of lives lost in preventable crashes is caused by a combination of factors," Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Senior Director of External Engagement Pam Shadel Fischer said in a statement. "The safety of all road users must be the top priority when it comes to roadway design. We continue to face an ongoing safety crisis threatening people walking, biking, scooting and rolling."

The NHTSA report also noted a 17% increase in speeding-related deaths and 14% increase in alcohol-impaired deaths. The reported 9.2% increase in bicyclist deaths is the highest number since 1987, and 3.9% increase in pedestrian deaths is the highest number since 1989.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg released the National Roadway Safety Strategy in January, which advocates for a Safe System approach to traffic safety, including road and vehicle safety as well as a system designed to protect bicyclists and pedestrians.

"Deaths and serious injuries should never be the cost of traveling," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "We must leverage all strategies available to change the course of how we treat and view traffic safety."
AAA: Higher-Risk Drivers Among People Who Drove More
During COVID-19 Pandemic
While most people drove less throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a small proportion of drivers actually drove more, with those who were on roads more likely to be younger and take the most risks, according to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study.

The study examined why traffic deaths increased even though vehicle travel decreased at least 20% during most of 2020. During that time, crashes involving impairment, speeding, red-light running, and lack of seat belt use spiked.

“Our research finds that higher-risk motorists accounted for a greater share of drivers during the pandemic than before it,” Dr. David Yang, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety executive director said in a news release. “Safety-minded individuals drove less, while many who increased their driving tended to engage in riskier behaviors behind the wheel.”

In 2020, 38,824 people died in crashes throughout the country, the highest since 2007.

Four percent of drivers actually drove more than before the pandemic, researchers said. That group was disproportionately male with an average age of 39, a group that has a higher risk of involvement in deadly crashes. After accounting for age, gender and how much they drove, the more frequent drivers were also more likely to exhibit dangerous driving behaviors like speeding, impairment and not wearing seat belts.

Drivers who reduced their travel were generally middle age and disproportionately female, the study said.

Researchers said more active and social lifestyles, or less fear of the pandemic, could be factors for drivers who took more risks. The lack of traffic enforcement during the onset of the pandemic could have also played a role, the study said.

“Despite safer roads, safer vehicles and stronger traffic safety laws on the books, the U.S. has witnessed more, not less death, on our roadways even at a time when other nations saw dramatic drops,” AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research Jake Nelson said in a news release. “What is absolutely clear to AAA is that it will take new action to get us closer to zero traffic deaths.”
Study: Alcohol-Related Deaths Increased By More than 25% During First Year of Pandemic
Deaths related to alcohol use spiked by more than 25% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.

Deaths involving alcohol jumped 25.5% between 2019 and 2020, a sharp increase over prior years, which averaged 2.2% increases in deaths involving alcohol between 1999 and 2017.

In 2020, there were 99,017 alcohol-related deaths throughout the country, up from 78,927 in 2019. These deaths include car crashes that were a result of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The study looked at death certificates provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and researchers identified all deaths where alcohol was listed as a cause.

"Deaths involving alcohol reflect hidden tolls of the pandemic," researchers said. "Increased drinking to cope with pandemic-related stressors, shifting alcohol policies, and disrupted treatment access are all possible contributing factors."

The sharp increase in alcohol-related deaths in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic were seen across all age groups, with people between the ages of 35 and 44 seeing the sharpest increase at nearly 40%.

Researchers noted some limitations to the study. Alcohol is not always shown as a cause in a death certificate, including its role in traffic deaths.
Federal Government Outlines Efforts to Adopt "Complete Streets" Model to Roadway Design, Funding
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHWA) will aim to prioritize the safety of all road users, adopting "Complete Streets" as the main approach for funding and designing our nation's roadways.

In a report submitted to Congress last month, projects such as bike paths, roundabouts, pedestrian pathways to transit hubs and other road enhancements for people traveling outside of vehicles will be prioritized for funding.

“A Complete Street is safe, and feels safe, for everyone using the street,” said Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack in a news release. “We can’t keep people safe on our roads if we don’t have safer roads and roads that slow down drivers to safe speeds."

According to the FHWA, the Complete Streets design model aims to address five areas: improve data collection and analysis; support safety assessments for all types of projects; adopt standards and guidance that promote accessibility for all road users; reinforce the safety for all users in design standards and make Complete Streets the default approach.

In December 2021, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a new policy on road safety, with a similar commitment to prioritizing the safety of people first in highway planning.

The FHWA report comes as traffic deaths among people outside vehicles continues to increase. New data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that 38,824 people were killed in all traffic crashes in 2020. The NHTSA data reported a 9.2% increase in bicyclist deaths and 3.9% increase in pedestrian deaths, increases not seen since the 1980s. About one-third of all traffic deaths are people killed outside of vehicles.
Study: SUVs, Large Vehicles More Likely to Be Involved in Deadly Crash With Pedestrians While Making Turn
Larger vehicles are much more likely than smaller cars to hit pedestrians when making turns, a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found.

When making a right turn, the odds of a deadly pedestrian crash were 89% higher for pickups and 63% higher for SUVs than cars. Right-turn crashes accounted for nearly 20% of pedestrian crashes at or near U.S. intersections from 2014 to 2018.

At intersections, the odds that a crash killed a pedestrian when a vehicle made a left turn were about twice as high for SUVs, nearly three times as high for vans, and nearly four times as high for pickup trucks as they were for cars, researchers said.

Researchers suggest that the larger vehicles may not provide drivers a clear view of people crossing the street.

“We already know that larger vehicles cause more severe injuries when they strike pedestrians,” IIHS Vice President of Research Jessica Cicchino and one of the study's authors said in a news release. “The link between these vehicle types and certain common pedestrian crashes points to another way that the increase in SUVs on the roads might be changing the crash picture.”

Researchers studied the most common types of crashes involving pedestrians at or near intersections and at other locations. They then looked at what types of larger vehicles were involved compared with smaller cars.

Pedestrian deaths have increased almost every year since since 2009, spiking by 59% in 2020 when pedestrian deaths topped 6,500.

Previous research has shown that SUVs and pickups – which overwhelmingly make up new vehicle sales – are more deadly to pedestrians.

“It’s possible that the size, shape or location of the A-pillars that support the roof on either side of the windshield could make it harder for drivers of these larger vehicles to see crossing pedestrians when they are turning,” IIHS Senior Transportation Engineer Wen Hu said in a news release. "Improving vehicle design, along with addressing road infrastructure and vehicle speeds, can play an important part in reducing pedestrian crashes and fatalities."
NHTSA Proposes Updates to
Five-Star Car Safety Ratings
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed last month to incorporate driver-assistance systems into its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).

Under the proposed changes, lane-keeping assistance, pedestrian automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection and blind spot intervention would be factored into the Five-Star Safety Ratings for new cars.

“NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings system helps consumers learn more about the safety of new and used vehicles and select the one that’s right for them," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff said in a news release. "The proposed improvements will not only make the program more useful and informative but also keep up with the pace of innovation in vehicle safety."

NHTSA has issued ratings measuring the safety of vehicles on a five-star scale since 1993. The NCAP tests vehicle performance in various crash scenarios and provides a five-star scale rating to help consumers make an informed choice based on a vehicle's safety performance.

But for the first time, the proposed updates to the NCAP include safety ratings for road users outside of vehicles, like pedestrians, NHTSA said. The proposal also considers the potential addition of emerging vehicle technology to the NCAP that reduces driver behaviors that contribute to crashes, such as alcohol detection, seat belt interlocks, intelligent speed assist, driver monitoring systems and rear seat child reminders.

Providing a crash avoidance rating on window stickers of new and used vehicles is also in the proposed changes, NHTSA said.

The proposed changes to the NCAP are one of many provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the new law also stipulates a rulemaking to require automatic emergency braking on heavy vehicles, and a study on adding automatic emergency braking to all other vehicles.

The proposed changes to the ratings system are subject to public comment until May 9.

“There’s a crisis on America’s roadways,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “These important changes will help save lives on our roadways by ensuring that consumers have the information they need about the latest safety technologies when they buy a new vehicle.” 
Study: Nearly 20% of Short Trips Could Be Replaced With Micromobility Modes
Micromobility modes – in this case e-bikes – could replace 18% of car trips of three miles or less during peak travel times, a study by Carnegie Mellon University found.

Researchers used a household travel survey and weather data from Seattle to estimate the number of private vehicle trips that could be replaced. They considered many factors, including age, trip purpose, time of day and weather.

Researchers found that Seattle could increase the number of replaced short trips by up to 29% by deploying e-bikes with storage bins.

Micromobility modes are designed as single passenger vehicles that weigh less than 1,100 pounds, do not go faster than 28 mph, and do not have an internal combustion engine. This includes self-propelled or electrically-powered vehicles like bikes, e-bikes, scooters and e-scooters.

While micromobility modes can reduce congestion in crowded, urban corridors, the reduction in emissions is minimal due to the fact that long-distance trips are not being replaced.

"Replacing short trips is good for public health and congestion, but micromobility can only decrease emissions by 2-3%," said Corey Harper, Carnegie Mellon University Assistant Professor and lead author of the study. "We need things like vehicle electrification, commuter buses and charging infrastructure."

Trips of less than three miles make up 50% of all private vehicle trips in most urban areas, the study said.
Caltrans, OTS to Launch New Media Campaign During April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month
The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and Caltrans will run a new education campaign encouraging drivers to "get off your apps" and focus on the task of driving.

From April 11-24, a series of video public service announcements will air on social media and video streaming services, audio versions on radio and digital streaming, as well as website banners on the Waze app.

The message is simple during April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month: stay off the phone and refrain from other distractions when you are driving.

“Silence your phone and focus on the road while driving,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “It is a simple, yet significant action that keeps yourself and others on the road safe.”
OTS, Los Angeles Chargers Participate in Long Beach Youth Symposium
The Los Angeles Chargers and the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) visited California State University, Long Beach on March 12 for Sigma Ghamma Rho's Youth Symposium. More than 100 students from the Long Beach area participated in a variety of skill-building workshops, including budget management, best practices on social media and advancing their academic careers. The OTS and Chargers raffled nearly three dozen new bikes and helmets to youth, and discussed bike and walking safety.

Check out a photo slideshow recap of the event on the Chargers website.
OTS Grantee Spotlight
San Jose DOT Provides Helmets, Bicycle Safety Lessons to Youth
Children in Campbell were treated to free bikes, with San Jose's Department of Transportation providing helmets and safety lessons for their new ride.

Children and their families participated in a trash pickup last month, and 50 bikes were distributed to youth.

The children were fitted for the bikes by volunteers from Community Cycles of California, which provided the bicycles.
SCAG Accepting Applications for Traffic Safety Mini-Grants
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is accepting applications for community-driven traffic safety and engagement projects. The Mini-Grants program provides up to $15,000 for community-based organizations, non-profits and other traffic safety advocacy groups.

Information sessions will be held April 5 and 12. The application deadline is April 29.

To apply, visit SCAG's Mini-Grants web page.
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, 916-708-5128