Your Monthly Update

February 2023

OTS, Caltrans Announce Partnership with NASCAR Driver Ross Chastain to Encourage People to "Protect Your Melon" and Practice Safe Driving

The OTS and Caltrans have teamed up with NASCAR Cup Series Driver Ross Chastain to encourage safe driving on California roadways.

The new partnership will raise awareness about the importance of slowing down, not driving under the influence, being work zone alert and staying safe on rural roads. Chastain, an eighth-generation watermelon farmer and long-time advocate for seat belt use, will use his large social media following to share messages promoting safe driving habits and be on hand at safety initiative events asking people to “Protect Your Melon” and go safely.

Chastain is a rising star in the NASCAR Cup Series, earning two wins and finishing second in points last year in only his second full-time season. Despite his tendency to push the limits on the track, he has been an outspoken advocate for highway safety working with campaigns in New York, Delaware, Kentucky and Georgia. Chastain’s blue-collar background and aggressive driving style has been lauded by fans and competitors alike, including his viral “Hail Melon” wall-ride to make the Championship race last year.

“We’re excited to work with Ross Chastain and bring the message to everyone that safe driving habits save lives,” said OTS Director Barbara Rooney. “‘Protect Your Melon’ reiterates the importance of practicing safe road behaviors to help make sure all road users get to and from their destinations safely.”

“Improving safety on our roadways will take everyone doing their part, starting with each individual driver,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares. “Don’t drive distracted or under the influence and leave the high-speed driving to NASCAR.”

“I am excited to work with the California Office of Traffic Safety and Caltrans to encourage safe driving habits across the state,” said Chastain.

“I am fortunate to get to race in California at three unique venues: short track racing at the LA Coliseum, high speeds at Auto Club Speedway and even left and right turns at Sonoma Raceway. But when I am not competing on the track, I know the importance of slowing down, along with simple and safe decisions such as wearing your seat belt and being focused on the road. Our ‘Protect Your Melon’ program encourages drivers to leave the racing to the professionals and practice safe driving habits any time they climb behind the wheel.”

Traffic fatalities continue to be a significant problem in the state accounting for nearly 10% of all deaths in the U.S. Nearly half of all fatal crashes occur on rural roads. In 2020, the risk of dying in a crash was 62% higher on a rural road compared to an urban road for the same trip length.

Stay tuned to learn more about the “Protect Your Melon” program and highway safety events featuring Ross Chastain throughout the year.

Watch this special message from Ross Chastain and Caltrans Director Tony Tavares.

Caltrans, OTS Introduce New Work Zone Safety Mascot

The orange traffic cone is the cautionary, recognizable symbol for drivers to slow down and move over a lane for highway workers. Thanks to the help of students statewide, the Caltrans new safety cone mascot now has a name and face.

Meet Safety Sam, a character that will educate Californians on the importance of moving over a lane or slowing down when you see his orange friends and highway workers.

Huntington Christian School (Huntington Beach) student Miller Ruiz’s winning name was selected from nearly 2,000 entries submitted by K-12 students across the state. In recognition of his winning suggestion, Miller will receive a laptop, a $500 gift card, a $500 gift card for his teacher’s classroom, T-shirts, and a visit from Safety Sam (all contest prizes provided courtesy of iHeart Media).

“Caltrans makes safety priority number one, and safety cones are critical to let drivers know when and where highway workers are on the road,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares. “Including young people in our safety awareness campaigns helps us raise the awareness of both the next generation and current drivers, and we’re excited to make Safety Sam the face of the important work being done to keep our highway workers and the traveling public safe.”

"Educating the public on safe driving behaviors is key to helping save lives on our roadways," said OTS Director Barbara Rooney. “Safety Sam engages the public in a fun and interactive way while serving as an important reminder to be attentive when approaching work zones.”

In 2020, nearly 7,000 work-zone crashes occurred on California roadways, resulting in more than 3,000 injuries and nearly 100 fatalities. Nationally, drivers and passengers account for 85% of people killed in work zones.

The statewide contest ran from Nov. 21, 2022, through Jan. 20, 2023. Safety Sam will be used by Caltrans districts for community outreach and engagement efforts. The mascot’s image will also be used in materials aiming to inform the public about the importance of the “Move Over” law and work zone safety.

With safety as its top priority, Caltrans is using the Safe System approach to achieve its goal of reducing to zero the number of fatalities and serious injuries on state highways by 2050. This approach builds on its ongoing work to improve safety throughout its network and on all transportation projects the department funds or oversees, which includes “complete street” features that provide safe and accessible options for people walking, biking and taking transit.

Gov. Gavin Newsom Appoints Sean Duryee as New CHP Commissioner

Sean Duryee is the California Highway Patrol’s new leader.

“A veteran of the CHP, Commissioner Duryee has dedicated his career to serving the people of California, starting as a Cadet decades ago,” Gov. Newsom said in a statement announcing Duryee’s appointment. “His leadership, extensive experience and dedication will continue to serve California well and I thank him for taking on this new role.”

“I am humbled and honored Governor Newsom has trusted me with the opportunity to lead this incredible organization with vision and purpose, and to serve the people of California,” Duryee said in a social media post.

Duryee has served as acting commissioner since January following the retirement of Amanda Ray in December 2022. Ray was the first woman and second Black person to lead the agency.

Duryee has been with the CHP since 1998, holding a variety of positions, including deputy commissioner, commander of the department’s Commercial Vehicle Section, academy Instructor and cadet. Duryee, who lives in Galt, also coaches the Liberty Ranch High School girls varsity basketball team. 

“I’m beyond thrilled for you and value our strong partnership in saving lives on California roadways,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney posted on social media congratulating Duryee’s appointment.

The CHP employees about 11,000 people, and is currently looking to hire another 1,000 new officers as part of their “Join the CHP 1,000” hiring campaign.

As Part of Major Push to Bring Down Traffic Deaths, USDOT Launches Roadway Safety Call to Action

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg launched the Department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy Call to Action campaign, asking stakeholders to commit to specific actions in 2023 to reduce serious injuries and deaths on our roadways, which have reached crisis levels. The USDOT received nearly 50 voluntary commitments to action to kick off the campaign, including health and safety advocates, the private sector, and municipal and law enforcement organizations.

The Call to Action comes alongside the first anniversary of the Department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS), a document that outlines a concrete set of actions the USDOT has committed to. The NRSS adopts the Safe System Approach to help reduce roadway fatalities: safer people, safer vehicles, safer speeds, safer roads, and post-crash care, which all work in concert towards a goal of zero fatalities.

Traffic fatalities surged during the start of the pandemic in 2020, and reached a 16-year high in 2021, when nearly 43,000 people were killed on our nation’s roads.

The call is open – share your organization’s commitment to action. See who’s committed to taking action and what they’re doing to improve safety on our roadways by visiting the Allies in Action webpage.

GHSA Forms Equity Committee to Reduce Racial and Social Disparities in Traffic Safety

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) announced in a press release the formation of a new Equity and Engagement Committee to address key barriers to advancing equity in highway safety programs, promote greater outreach and engagement in underserved communities and guide GHSA efforts to prioritize equity in all the association’s initiatives. The committee co-chairs – Shelly Baldwin, Director, Washington Traffic Safety Commission; and Licet Gaveau, Executive Director, New York Governor's Traffic Safety Committee – will also serve on the GHSA Executive Board. Committee members will be selected through an open solicitation to all State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs).

Systemic and historic racism in this country has led to different safety outcomes for different populations, which is unacceptable. GHSA is firmly committed – through leadership, culture change, training and accountability – to advance reforms that help achieve equitable outcomes and a safer transportation system for all road users, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, nationality, age or ability.

“Equity and traffic safety are inexorably linked. We can’t make meaningful progress in reducing the number of crashes, deaths and injuries on our roads if any people and communities are left behind,” said Barbara Rooney, GHSA Chair and Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. “We must institutionalize equity, in all its forms, across the entire traffic safety community, including in traffic enforcement. I’m proud of the work GHSA and the SHSOs are doing to advance equity and look forward to accelerating that effort with this new committee’s guidance.”

The committee is the latest step GHSA is taking to champion equity in highway safety programs and their outcomes. In 2020, amid a national discussion on race and the role of law enforcement, GHSA issued recommendations to SHSOs and their partners on how to advance equity in traffic enforcement. The following year, GHSA released an analysis of Fatality Analysis Reporting (FARS) data – the first national analysis in more than a decade – confirming that traffic crash fatalities disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and People of Color. That study was followed by GHSA’s release of independent recommendations from consulting firm Kimley-Horn outlining actions that SHSOs and their partners can take to improve equity for all road users.

OTS Attends 2023 Transportation Research Board 102nd Annual Meeting

OTS Director and Governors Highway Safety Association Chair Barbara Rooney was in Washington, D.C., Jan. 8-12, for the Transportation Research Board: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (TRB) Annual Meeting. The TRB Meeting brought together thousands of transportation professionals to discuss topics that impact traffic safety and transportation.

Director Rooney met with national partners throughout the week, including National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson, National Safety Council President and CEO Lorraine Martin, and Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) President and CEO April Rai. She had the opportunity to discuss working through the Road to Zero coalition to make meaningful progress in traffic safety and save lives on our roads, as well as how to advance equity and engagement in traffic safety.

Listen Up: OTS Talks Roadway Safety with 'The Infrastructors'

The OTS joined host Scott Stanford for an episode of The Infrastuctors podcast. Stanford drives the conversation toward the upward trend of roadway fatalities and traffic incidents. Timothy Weisberg, the Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Affairs at the OTS, discusses the work of OTS and collaboration with partners across the state on programs to increase roadway safety in California.

The 15-minute episode focuses on significant safety issues such as impaired driving and speeding, and how OTS is taking a more holistic view of our transportation through the Safe System approach.

The Infrastructors engages conversations with influential thought leaders in AI, tech, government policy, and smart city innovation.

You can listen to the podcast on the Rekor website.

Grantee Highlight:

What's Your Street Story

Last month the OTS launched its Street Story campaign in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC). SafeTREC’s Street Story is a community engagement tool that allows residents, community groups and agencies to collect information about transportation crashes, near-misses, general hazards and safe locations to travel.

The platform allows users to search publicly accessible maps and tables that can be downloaded. Community organizations, agencies and members of the public can use this information to better understand local safety issues and to engage community members.

The campaign includes posters located at transit shelters in Berkeley, Sacramento and Chico/Redding that have a QR code to directly link the public to the Street Story platform. The campaign is also being run on the Go Safely social media accounts encouraging people to share their travel experiences.

California State Transportation Agency Leadership Summit

The OTS attended the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Leadership Summit at the CHP Headquarters in Sacramento on Feb. 1. All eight CalSTA departments gathered to highlight the important work being done in CalSTA’s Core Four priorities of safety, equity, climate action and economic prosperity.


In a social media video message, CalSTA Secretary Toks Omishakin looks back on some achievements from 2022 and provides a sneak peek at what’s to come for this year: Video - CalSTA 2022 Year-in-Review.

NHTSA Releases Latest Projections for Traffic Fatalities in 2022

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced in a press release its early estimates for the first nine months of 2022 that suggest roadway fatalities are beginning to level off after two years of dramatic increases. NHTSA estimates that 31,785 people died in traffic crashes in the first nine months of the year. This is a 0.2% decrease as compared to the 31,850 estimated fatalities during the same time in 2021.

Americans continue to drive more than during the height of the pandemic, with preliminary Federal Highway Administration data showing a 1.6% increase in vehicle miles traveled, or about 39 billion miles. As a result, the estimated fatality rate for the first nine months of 2022 decreased to 1.30 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the projected rate of 1.32 fatalities during the same time in 2021. 

NHTSA projects that fatalities declined slightly in the third quarter of 2022, making this the second straight quarterly decline in fatalities after seven consecutive quarters of year-to-year increases in fatalities. Those increases began in the third quarter of 2020.

While fatalities overall declined, fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians continued to rise. 

NHTSA estimates that for the first three quarters of 2022, fatalities increased in 25 states and stayed unchanged in one state. Projections for California show a 2.2% decrease in fatalities. Twenty-three other states, the district of Columbia and Puerto Rico, also showed varying decreases in fatalities.


NHTSA also released a new report, “Early Estimates of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities and Fatality Rate by Sub-Categories Through June 2022.” The report shows a mixture of increases and decreases across different categories.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Historic $800 Million for More than 500 Projects to Improve Roads at the Local Level and Tackle National Traffic Fatalities

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced in a press release a historic $800 million in grant awards for 510 projects through the new Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program, a record amount of competitive grant funding to improve roads and address traffic fatalities.

The competitive grant program, established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides $5 billion over five years for regional, local, and Tribal initiatives — from redesigned roads to better sidewalks and crosswalks — to prevent deaths and serious injuries on the nation’s roadways. The U.S. Department of Transportation also launched a data visualization tool that shows crash hotspots that can help target needed resources.

This investment comes at a critical juncture as traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2021 and preliminary data indicates fatalities are increasing for people walking, biking, or rolling. In addition, traffic crashes are costly to American society. A new NHTSA report shows the economic impact of traffic crashes was $340 billion in 2019 alone.

The USDOT is awarding 473 action plan grants and 37 grants for implementation projects in this first round of the program.

The full list of awards can be viewed on the USDOT website. The next funding opportunity of $1.1 billion is expected to be released in April.

NTSB Report: Alcohol, Other Drug, and Multiple Drug Use Among Drivers

Actions from federal and state agencies are needed to address the continuing problem of impaired driving, including from alcohol, cannabis and multiple drug use, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a new report.

In the report, the agency looked at crash risk associated with different drugs — including alcohol, cannabis, prescription, over-the-counter and other drugs — and the prevalence of their use among drivers. The report also makes safety recommendations to reduce impaired driving.

Researchers found alcohol remains the most often detected drug in impaired driving crashes, followed by cannabis. They also found that while alcohol is most often detected alone, cannabis was most often detected in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

The report also notes that current testing practices and protocols need to be improved to both better detect a driver’s drug use and accurately report the prevalence of drug-impaired driving. For example, many jurisdictions halt testing when a driver’s blood alcohol concentration is over a certain threshold, which does not consider other drugs the driver may have used. Additionally, a lack of standardized drug testing and reporting makes it challenging to understand the prevalence, as well as treatment options for those with substance abuse disorders.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • A requirement that cannabis products have a warning label about driving impairment.
  • Enhancements to state drug-impaired driving laws.
  • Standardization of toxicology testing for the detection of drug use.
  • Research on how to improve compliance with driving-related warnings on potentially impairing prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

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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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