Your Monthly Update
February 2021
Traffic Deaths Increase in 2020
Despite Drop in Traffic Volume
There are less people driving during the COVID-19 pandemic, but more people are dying in crashes than before the onset of a global pandemic, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found.

According to the NHTSA, traffic deaths were up 12% in the beginning of the pandemic (April to September 2020) compared to the same period in 2019.

The preliminary data found that during the first nine months of 2020, 28,190 people died in crashes, a 4.6% increase from the year before.

The troubling numbers were released in a report on Americans' driving habits, which shows that fewer passengers wore their seat belts, had drugs or alcohol in their system, and were speeding.

"Unsafe driving behaviors are senselessly killing people during a time of unimaginable loss," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "The same protections we are taking to mitigate the spread of a deadly, contagious virus should be extended to how we drive."

The report also found that average speeds increased on urban and rural roads throughout 2020. On average, speeds increased by 22% in select metropolitan areas.

In an open letter to drivers, NHTSA implored the public to fix poor driving choices that will "reverse 2020's terrible trend."

"Now, more than ever, we should practice safe driving and encouraging others to do the same," NHTSA said. "...Following the rules of the road makes it much more likely that you will get home safely."

"The vaccine for unsafe driving is available to every American right now – slow down, buckle up, stow your phone and never drive impaired," Governor Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement last month following the release of the NHTSA report. "If we don’t inoculate ourselves against these dangerous driving habits, a lasting impact of this pandemic will be even more traffic deaths – an unacceptable outcome."
Report: Nearly Half of Teen Driver and Passenger Deaths in California Are Related to Speed
We have a speeding problem, particularly among newly licensed teen drivers. That's what a new report from GHSA found.

From 2015 to 2019, 979 teen drivers and passengers in California died in crashes. Of those, 453 - or a startling 46% - were related to speeding, the report notes.

California's numbers are similar to those of other states across the country, in which teen drivers and passengers between the ages of 16 and 19 accounted for 43% of speed-related roadway deaths from 2015 to 2019.

The report was released Jan. 26, and conducted in partnership with the Ford Motor Company Fund. Titled "Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle," the report is the first look in recent years at how speeding contributes significantly to the deaths of teen drivers. Teen drivers are usually male, involved in a crash off the road or rolling the vehicle, and not wearing a seat belt, GHSA said.

Despite fewer drivers on the road, traffic deaths are increasing during the pandemic, up 13.1% in the third quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

“Our country has a speeding problem that has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “Thousands of people die needlessly on our roads because some drivers mistakenly think less traffic means they can speed and nothing bad will happen."

"Driving is the most dangerous activity teens will be involved in," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "It's no secret we need to change that, as well as the habits of all drivers to stop the temptation to speed."

The GHSA report also identifies tools that parents can use to help stop teens from driving too fast, including in-vehicle technology and phone apps that track driving behaviors such as speeding, hard braking, or rapid acceleration. Other tools include increased driver education and training, parent-teen driving agreements and parent involvement in the learning-to-drive process.

"Parents who are models for safe behavior have a strong influence on a teen's driving habits," Director Rooney said. "Other drivers on the road who are speeding are not good examples for how to behave."

“Speed management continues to be a key component of our training and this report reaffirms its importance,” said Jim Graham, Ford Motor Company Fund Manager. “Teens don’t see speeding as a serious problem and parents likely don’t recognize how rampant it is for novice drivers, so teaching them about the impact is critical.”

GHSA will host a webinar Feb. 4 to share the report findings and discuss ways to address the troubling problem of speeding teens.
Study: Limited Speed Increases Have Significant Consequences in Crashes
The more drivers speed, the more at risk they put themselves in for serious injury or death in the event of a crash, new crash tests found.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Humanetics, a safety testing manufacturer, conducted crashes at three different speeds - 40, 50 and 56 miles an hour. They found only slightly higher speeds significantly increased the driver's chances for severe injury or death.

As the crash speed increased, researchers found more structural damage and greater forces on the test dummy’s body.

“Cars are safer than they’ve ever been, but nobody’s figured out how to make them defy the laws of physics,” IIHS President Dr. David Harkey said in a release.

At the 40 mph impact speed, there was minimal intrusion into the driver’s space. But at 56 mph, the inside of the vehicle was "significantly compromised," with sensors on the test dummy triggering severe neck injuries and leg fractures, the tests found. At both 50 and 56 mph, "the steering wheel’s upward movement caused the dummy’s head to go through the deployed airbag," which shows a risk for facial fractures and brain injuries.

"Drivers are addicted to speed," GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. "...During the pandemic, this problem has only worsened and our roadways have turned into speedways."

The IIHS recommends not raising speed limits and strictly enforcing the limits already in place. AAA went even further, suggesting infrastructure changes that force drivers to slow down.

The study is the second looking at the effect of posted speed limit changes on safety. The AAA Foundation's first study asked traffic engineers how posted speed limits are set and what they evaluate when deciding whether to change them.

Speeding continues to be a significant traffic safety problem, but also one that is, to a degree, socially accepted.

Last year, about 31% of all deadly crashes in California were attributed to speeding. But nearly half of those who responded to a survey by the OTS and California State University, Fresno believed speeding was okay as long as it was not more than 10 miles an hour.

"The temptation to speed is getting the best of drivers," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "It might save a few minutes off the trip, but is costing us dearly in lives lost."
Report: Pandemic Results in Decline in Traffic Congestion Worldwide
Traffic congestion dropped worldwide for the first time in at least a decade, a report released last month by location technology company TomTom found.

Congestion declined last year in crowded cities like Los Angeles and Mexico City, according to TomTom's Annual Traffic Index, a report that details the traffic situation in 416 cities spanning 57 countries.

The report is in stark contrast to previous years, and shows how COVID-19 related stay-at-home orders contributed to the decline in traffic, disrupting long-held traffic patterns like the morning and evening commute.

“We’re going to see continued restrictions through the first half of the year, and I think we’re going to see a lot of ups and downs before we’re really getting back to any normal driving patterns and traffic activity levels,” TomTom senior traffic engineer Nick Cohn told Reuters.

In the U.S., Los Angeles, New York and Miami are the most congested cities, but traffic in each city last year dropped by 36%, 30% and 26% respectively, compared to 2019 levels.

Out of the 416 cities, 387 saw a significant decrease (average of 21%) in congestion, and 28% average decline in congestion during rush hours. All 80 U.S. cities analyzed saw declines in congestion.
OTS Remembers Transportation Innovator During Black History Month
February is Black History Month, a federally recognized dedication to the significant roles African-Americans have played in shaping our country's history.

One of those innovative individuals in the transportation field, Garrett Morgan, left his mark at intersections across the country: the traffic signal.

The son of slaves with only an elementary school education, we have Garrett Morgan to thank for the invention of the three-position traffic light.

After witnessing a young girl killed in a crash between a car and a horse-drawn carriage, Morgan made a T-shaped pole that featured three positions: "Stop," "Go" and a three-way stop sign that halted traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross the street.

Prior to Morgan's invention, most signals only had two positions: stop and go.

Morgan first tested his traffic light in Cleveland in 1922. The device was patented in 1923 and the traffic management device stayed in use until the evolution of signals with automatic red, yellow and green-light signals we see today.

Morgan was also noted for inventing the first chemical hair straightener and a safety hood that protected miners and firefighters from smoke and gas.

The original prototype of Morgan's three-position traffic signal is on display at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.
Gov. Newsom Awards Medal of Valor To Public Safety Personnel
Seven officers, a lifeguard and seven members of the California National Guard were awarded the Medal of Valor for going above and beyond the call of duty to protect others.

Officers with the California Highway Patrol, Hawthorne Police Department, Gilroy Police Department and an Ocean Lifeguard Specialist with the Los Angeles County Fire Department were honored by Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra last month for acts of selflessness.

“Today’s Medal of Valor honorees demonstrated unparalleled heroism in service to their communities, risking their own safety to save lives,” said Gov. Newsom in a statement. “Their actions are an inspiration to all of us and we offer our deep reverence and gratitude to these extraordinary individuals for the sacrifices they make every day to protect their fellow Californians.”

The Public Safety Medal of Valor is awarded by the Governor and recognized by the Attorney General for extraordinary efforts by public safety personnel to help others.

Among those awarded was CHP Officer Michael Panlilio, who in June of 2019 left an armored car to recover fallen Sacramento Police Officer Tara O'Sullivan.

"Despite the extreme danger, Officer Panlilio made the decision to leave his position of safety and join the effort to rescue Officer O’Sullivan," Gov. Newsom's office said. "He entered an armored vehicle, which came under fire as it breached the backyard fence and was positioned between the gunman and Officer O’Sullivan."

When the vehicle became disabled leaving the backyard, Officer Panlilio carried Officer O'Sullivan approximately 30 feet to a waiting police patrol vehicle, where she could be taken to the hospital, Newsom's office said.

Others awarded the Medal of Valor included two CHP Riverside officers who were shot at during an enforcement stop in August of 2019, three members of the Gilroy Police Department who apprehended a gunman at the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival, a Hawthorne Police officer responding to a domestic violence call at a hotel, and an Ocean Lifeguard Specialist who saved a swimmer trapped in a cove in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Seven California National Guard citizen soldiers were awarded the state Military Medal of Valor for rescuing people during the Creek Fire east of Fresno in September 2020.

“The recipients of the Medal of Valor selflessly answered the call of duty, exemplified exceptional heroism in the face of imminent and life-threatening peril, and displayed the inspirational attribute of a chief responder: courage,” said Attorney General Becerra.
DMV Resumes Behind-the-Wheel Driving Tests
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is lifting its pause on behind-the-wheel driving tests statewide.

The announcement follows the postponement of tests in Dec. 2020 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases across California.

The DMV will automatically reschedule behind-the-wheel tests for those who had them canceled between Dec. 14, 2020 and Feb. 1.

Rescheduling is anticipated to start in the next few weeks, the DMV said in a press release. New appointments will be available later this month once all previously postponed tests are rescheduled.

Behind-the-wheel driving tests are required for those obtaining a driver's license for the first time, and for commercial license applicants.

The DMV is also extending eligible permits that expire through May 31, 2021 for six months, or 24 months from the date of application, whichever is earlier.

"This automatic extension requires no paperwork and gives student drivers more time during the COVID-19 pandemic to complete the prerequisites needed for a provisional license," the DMV said.

The DMV has also extended expiring commercial driver's licenses, permits, certificates and endorsements through the end of the month. 

The DMV previously suspended drive tests for three months in March 2020, before resuming tests in June of 2020 with safety protocols in place, including a requirement to wear a face covering, temperature checks, cracked windows and seat covers. These protocols will still be required for drive tests and in-office visits to protect customers and employees.
OTS Employee Spotlight:
Roma Ksor Jr.
The OTS welcomes Roma Ksor Jr. as our new Budget Analyst.

Roma has 15 years of state service, and most recently worked for the California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS).

During his time at CCHCS, Roma worked in the Nursing Services unit on managing statewide data systems, including tools that helped streamline tasks and procedures for the distribution of medication, as well as a web-based scheduling program. Roma has held a variety of positions with the state of California since 2006, including Office Technician, Staff Services Analyst, and Associate Governmental Program Analyst.

At the OTS, Roma will work with our fiscal team and assist with managing claims.

Roma looks forward to facing new challenges and the smaller work environment at the OTS.

Roma grew up in the Los Angeles area, but has lived in the Sacramento area since 2000.

Roma is married to his wife of six years, who works as a Registered Nurse. They live in Elk Grove and have two young children and a dog.

Roma enjoys spending time with his family.

He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business from California State University, Sacramento.
Lifesavers Conference Plenary Session Speaker Line-up Announced
The 2021 Lifesavers Conference has revealed this year's panel of speakers, which includes California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Secretary David S. Kim.

Secretary Kim will discuss the state's efforts to increase roadway safety, strategies to reduce fatalities and injuries on our roads, as well as an update on the role of inclusion and equity in improving the quality of life for all Californians.

Other panel speakers include Lorraine Martin, President and CEO of the National Safety Council, Families for Safe Streets Co-Founder Amy Cohen, and Alexandria, Va. Police Chief Michael Brown.

The 2021 conference was originally scheduled to take place in Long Beach. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, will be held entirely online from April 26-28, 2021. There will be no on-site conference activities.

To register for the conference, visit the Lifesavers Conference website.

A listing of workshop titles and descriptions are also available on the Lifesavers Conference website.
#Trending: California Agencies Board the Bernie Meme Train
All it took were a pair of wooly mittens, a fold-out chair and crossed legs to spark endless memes across social media.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders took over the Internet on Inauguration Day, clad in mittens, a brown parka and a focused stare.

Many California agencies and OTS grantees joined in on the Bernie memes.

The U.S. Senator's mittens are also bringing in dough for a good cause: his office announced last month it helped raise $1.8 million in less than a week for charitable organizations in Vermont, Sanders' home state, with the sale of memorabilia sporting that now infamous image.

We shared a few of our favorites from our agency partners.
High-Speed Rail Authority
Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT)
CHP Modesto
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