Your Monthly Update

April 2023

IIHS Study: Need for Comprehensive Approach to Combat Distracted Driving

It will take a combination of strong hands-free cell phone laws, enforcement and public awareness to stop the prevalence of distracted driving, a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study found.

The study recommends that State Highway Safety Offices seek new ways to increase the perceived threat of distracted driving and offer solutions to help drivers overcome barriers to putting down the phone, including navigation needs and time-sensitive/urgent communications. The study provides evidence that appeals from friends and family can be powerful motivators to encourage safer driving, underscoring the value of changing the culture around distraction to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to use a cellphone while behind the wheel.

Distracted drivers killed at least 3,000 people in 2020, accounting for 8% of all traffic deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

An IIHS survey of more than 2,000 U.S. drivers found that approximately half reported using an electronic device most or every time they drove over the previous month. Most drivers agreed that distracted driving increases the chances of a crash and that being reminded they might hurt or kill someone motivates them to stop. However, drivers who most often use a hand-held phone perceived less severe threats of distracted driving and greater barriers to addressing their distraction.

Vehicle manufacturers and operating system designers are addressing hands-free phone functions through voice-activated artificial intelligence (Siri and Google Assistant), integrated controls (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and “Do Not Disturb” features. Both the “Focus” feature on iPhones and the Do Not Disturb feature on Android phones can be set to activate automatically when the user is driving, for example.

Along with vehicle technology, strengthening laws and more enforcement of hands-free cell phone laws, the focus should also be on using friends and family to inspire change, making drivers more aware of how serious a threat distraction represents and offering options that prevent them from simply ignoring their phones.

This Month, Let's Focus on What Really Matters: Distracted Driving Awareness

Although most drivers who filled out a public opinion survey last year listed distracted driving as their biggest safety concern, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) issued nearly 59,000 citations for distracted driving in 2022.

To highlight the importance of drivers committing to distraction-free driving, the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and CHP are making a statewide traffic safety push this month as part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month to encourage drivers to Get Off Your Apps and think about what drives them to focus on the road and reach their destination safely.

“Whether you are driving to visit friends or family, or to your dog waiting to greet you at home, we want people to think about what drives them to get to their destination safely,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “There are lots of distractions in our life, but we encourage all drivers to focus on what they can do to make it home safely.”

“Distracted driving puts everyone at risk,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares. “We are doing everything that we can to meet our goal of zero lives lost on our roadways and in our work zones, but we can’t do it alone. We ask motorists to eliminate distractions and focus on their driving to make roadways safer for all users.”

While CHP officers enforce distracted driving and other violations daily, they will pay close attention this month to citing drivers in violation of California’s hands-free cell phone law as part of statewide enforcement campaigns.

“Reducing the number of people killed and injured on our roadways continues to be our number one priority,” said Commissioner Sean Duryee. “The CHP remains committed to public education and community engagement as core strategies in making California’s highways safer. Additionally, CHP officers throughout the state will be patrolling our roadways, taking appropriate enforcement action, when necessary, to deter unsafe driving behavior. The CHP will continue to partner with our traffic safety stakeholders and the media to ensure our public awareness programs and enforcement campaigns are effective in educating the public on the dangers of not just distracted driving, but speeding, impaired driving, and other unsafe driving behaviors.”

The media campaign will run through April 23, and feature a series of English and Spanish safety messages on video, digital billboards, digital platforms including social media and streaming services, and audio messages on the radio. The OTS partners will also be joining this traffic safety push in their communities throughout the month.

To learn about the ‘Get Off Your Apps’ campaign and download informational materials, visit

Equity Corner: CHP Native-Tribal Traffic Education Program

The CHP is bringing traffic safety education to the Native American population with the Native Tribal Traffic Education Program (TTEP) grant with initial efforts focused in CHP Northern, Valley, and Golden Gate Divisions. The CHP officers and other non-uniformed personnel involved in the program will serve as resources to Native American communities and tribes.

Funded by the OTS, the CHP Native-TTEP grant is the first safety grant program focused on reaching the Native American communities in California, which is home to the nation’s largest American Indian/Alaska Native population.

The goal of the CHP Native-TTEP grant is to educate drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to help reduce the number of fatal and injury crashes involving all users of roads on and near tribal lands in California. It also serves to improve service and strengthen relationships with tribal communities by providing community outreach and traffic safety education programs. Last month, the CHP attended the first annual Marin Pow Wow in San Rafael.

The topics of the program that will benefit California’s driving public include seat belts, the proper use of child safety seats, the dangers of driving under the influence, pedestrian and bicycle education, defensive driving techniques, distracted driving, teen/parent driving safety, driver’s license requirements, and other educational subjects.

Traffic safety presentations will be conducted at schools, public health fairs, tribal events, traffic safety conferences, bicycle trainings, Indian education and Native youth programs, tribal elder programs, passenger safety seat check-up events, and school bus safety training.

Empowering a New Generation of Change Makers in Traffic Safety

On March 17, OTS Director Barbara Rooney delivered opening remarks and participated in a panel discussion in Torrance for the Impact Teen Drivers “Be the Change” Student Leadership Fellowship.

Impact Teen Drivers is empowering a new generation of change-makers in traffic safety to lead the drive toward safer roads.

College and college-bound students attended the one-day training for an opportunity to collaborate, plan and complete a teen traffic safety education project with solutions to help stop reckless and distracted driving. The training highlighted the importance of youth involvement in traffic safety issues.

New Resource Alert: SCAG's How To Implement a Traffic Safety Demonstration in 5 Steps

Curious how communities can temporarily redesign streets and advocate for safety improvements? Learn how to bring a temporary traffic safety demonstration to your community using the Go Human Activations Playbook, a five-step guide to implement pop-up improvements from the Southern California Association of Governments’ (SCAG) Kit of Parts Lending Library.

SCAG’s Go Human Kit of Parts Lending Library provides pop-up materials to temporarily demonstrate potential and planned street design improvements and safety infrastructure, including parklets, curb extensions (bulb – outs), median refuge islands, artistic crosswalks, and separated bike lanes. By showcasing these different improvements, community members get to experience and test out more complete streets that are redesigned for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in live traffic settings.

The playbook serves as a step-by-step guide to implement temporary, pop-up improvements using the Kit of Parts.

Funded through a grant with the OTS, SCAG’s Go Human community engagement program encourages safe walking and biking.

OTS Community Engagement

Ramps Up

The OTS is excited to ramp up its community engagement efforts at local events throughout the state. Outreach and engagement help us positively impact communities by educating the public on ways they can stay safe on our roads. In March, the OTS attended events hosted by local community groups in Southern California and joined Caltrans to “Spring into Action” in keeping California clean.

On March 4, the OTS attended the Watts Vacant Lot Rally and the Florence-Firestone Community Resource Fair in South Los Angeles. The OTS partnered with East Side Riders Bike Club, a volunteer organization in Watts, to talk with community members and provide education and information about bicycle and pedestrian safety.

The OTS also attended the Clean California Family Education Fair at the Jose P. Rizal Community Center in Sacramento on March 25. The event was part of Clean California Community Days, a volunteer service event and celebration part of Clean California, Governor Gavin Newsom’s $1.2 billion, multiyear cleanup effort led by Caltrans to remove trash, create thousands of jobs and engage communities to transform public spaces. The OTS had the opportunity to connect with community members of all ages and share tips about how to Go Safely.

Do you have an upcoming community event you’d like the OTS to know about? Email us at

Grantee Highlight: California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

On March 11, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) announced in a press release that agents from the ABC and officers from 44 local police and sheriff’s departments cited more than 130 individuals during ABC’s statewide Shoulder Tap operation.

This enforcement operation is designed to create awareness about the dangers of underage drinking throughout California and keep communities safe.

The local operations were funded by ABC’s Alcohol Policing Partnership program and the OTS through an alcohol enforcement and education program grant.

A Shoulder Tap operation focuses on adults who purchase alcohol for people under the age of 21. Under the program, a minor under the direct supervision of law enforcement stands outside of a liquor or convenience store and asks customers to buy them alcohol. The minor indicates they are underage and cannot purchase the alcohol. If an adult agrees to purchase alcohol for the underage person, they can be arrested and cited for furnishing alcohol to a minor.

The operation resulted in citations for 132 individuals who allegedly furnished alcoholic beverages to minors. At least nine other individuals were cited for open containers, public intoxication, DUI, or other crimes. The operation demonstrates the serious consequences for adults who buy alcohol for minors. The penalty for furnishing alcohol to a minor is a minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service.

Statistics have shown that young people under the age of 21 have a much higher risk of being involved in a crash than older drivers. About 25 percent of fatal crashes involve underage drinking according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Caltrans Awards $225 Million for Local Roadway Safety Projects

Caltrans announced in a news release that it is awarding more than $225 million for local projects designed to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries on city and county roads. Funding is provided through the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP).

A total of 282 projects from 155 local agencies will receive HSIP funds for safety enhancements that include pedestrian crossing upgrades, bike safety improvements and new traffic signals, roundabouts, turn lanes, rumble strips and guardrails. Caltrans awards these grants every other year to cities, counties and tribal governments.

As part of Caltrans’ commitment to reaching zero deaths and serious injuries on state highways by 2050, all transportation projects the department funds or oversees now must include “complete street” features that provide safe and accessible options for people walking, biking and taking transit.

More information on the program is available at Caltrans’ HSIP page, including a full list of approved projects.

CalSTA Celebrates Women's

History Month

Each March, people around the world celebrate the contributions of women past and present. In recognition of Women’s History Month, the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) created an inspirational video highlighting the women who are breaking down barriers and working to improve our state’s transportation system for all Californians.

Watch the video Celebrating Women’s History Month 2023 on YouTube.

New Study: Lowering Speed Limits Makes Streets Safer

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows crashes on Seattle streets were less likely to cause injuries after the city lowered speed limits.

In downtown Seattle, lowering default speed limits reduced the likelihood that a crash would involve an injury by 20% on main, high traffic volume roads, IIHS researchers found. Outside of the city center, where the new limits were less consistently implemented and publicized, there were smaller injury reductions, but these were not statistically significant.

An earlier IIHS study showed that lowering speed limits in Boston resulted in less speeding, but it didn’t look into the impact on crash or injury rates. The new study of Seattle’s program is one of the first to examine the effect of lower limits on injury rates in a large U.S. city.

Asleep At the Wheel: Drivers Unaware of How Drowsy They Really Are

Tired, sleepy drivers who try to power through their trip play a more than expected role in traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths, new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found.

Drivers may underestimate their drowsiness, leading them to stay behind the wheel instead of stopping for a much-needed break, AAA said.

Previous research by AAA estimated that 16% to 21% of all police-reported deadly vehicle crashes likely involve drowsy driving. In California in 2019 and 2020, drowsy drivers caused more than 11,000 crashes, resulting in 6,411 injuries and 73 deaths, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Drowsiness refers to a state of increased tendency to fall asleep. Beyond the danger of falling asleep at the wheel, drowsiness also impairs drivers by reducing their alertness. Crashes caused by drowsy driving tend to be severe because the driver may not attempt to brake or swerve to avoid a crash, so the resulting impact occurs at a high rate of speed. A drowsy driver may also be startled and lose control of the vehicle.

Levels of drowsiness generally increased throughout a simulated highway driving experiment. Participants were usually aware that they were drowsy, but their perceptions of the extent of their sleepiness were not always accurate and affected decision-making. Other key findings include:

  • When drivers rated their level of drowsiness as low, 75% of them were, in fact, moderately or severely drowsy.
  • Even when drivers’ eyes were closed for 15 seconds or longer over a one-minute window— indicative of severe drowsiness—one in four still rated their drowsiness as low.
  • Drivers very rarely took breaks unless they perceived that they were very drowsy.
  • Even when drivers recognized they were extremely drowsy, they still declined 75% of their opportunities to take breaks and kept driving.

The results demonstrate a need to help drivers recognize how drowsy they are. Knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel.

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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).
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