Your Monthly Update
June 2022
Report: U.S. Traffic Deaths Reach Highest Level in 16 Years
An estimated 42,915 people died in car crashes throughout the country last year, including 4,258 deaths in California, the highest number since 2005.

New numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) project traffic deaths increased 10.5% from 2020, when 38,824 deaths were reported. The 10.5% spike from 2020 is the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. NHTSA first began collecting data in 1975.

“There is a crisis on our roadways, and our collective focus is on tackling it with urgency and taking a bolder, more innovative approach that will save lives," California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Secretary Toks Omishakin and California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) Director Barbara Rooney said in a joint statement. "California is doing everything possible to implement comprehensive traffic safety measures to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on our roadways..."

The dramatic uptick in traffic deaths started in 2020, which transportation experts attributed to the increase in reckless driving behavior during the pandemic.

"An increase in dangerous driving — speeding, distracted driving, drug- and alcohol-impaired driving, not buckling up — during the pandemic, combined with roads designed for speed instead of safety, has wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths," Russ Martin, senior director of policy and government relations for the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation released the National Roadway Safety Strategy aimed at providing guidance for states and local governments to lower speed limits and embrace the Safe System Approach. The Safe System Approach encompasses all road safety interventions, such as road designs that better protect bicyclists and pedestrians, that are needed to reach zero traffic deaths.

“We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers, and drivers – to join us," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff said in a statement. "All of our lives depend on it.” 

"We must create a more forgiving transportation system and add multiple layers of protection that together will reduce the number and seriousness of crashes," Secretary Omishakin and Director Rooney said. “We will work tirelessly to make it happen and won’t be satisfied until the annual number of traffic deaths in California stays at zero for good.”
Senate Confirms Steven Cliff
to Lead National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed Steven Cliff to run NHTSA, the first confirmed administrator for the agency since the end of 2016.

Cliff has been serving as NHTSA's deputy administrator, and previously was the deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board overseeing the organization's climate program.

Cliff takes over NHTSA after the agency estimated nearly 43,000 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years.

“I am committed to turning this around,” Cliff told the Senate Commerce Committee in December 2021, referring to reversing the growing trend of traffic deaths.
Report: Pedestrian Deaths in U.S. Spike to 40-Year High
Walking is getting more dangerous and deadly, with the number of people struck and killed by vehicles last year reaching historic levels, a new report by the Governors Highway Association (GHSA) found.

The report projects 7,485 people throughout the U.S., or an average of 20 people every day, were killed walking last year – an 11.5% increase from 2020 and a 40-year high.

“This is heartbreaking and unacceptable," GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. "The pandemic has caused so much death and damage, it’s frustrating to see even more lives needlessly taken due to dangerous driving."

The report notes the majority of people killed walking are due to speeding, impaired driving and distracted driving – driver behaviors that are also attributed to the rise in overall traffic deaths during the pandemic.

The number of pedestrians killed increased 54% from 2010 to 2020. More than 76% of pedestrian deaths in 2020 happened at night.

“We have an epidemic of people dying when they are walking, and we have drivers that are killing people that shouldn’t be killed,” GHSA Senior Director of Engagement Pam Schadel Fischer told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We need the public to join in and say, ‘Enough is enough.'" "We need to change and tell people this kind of behavior is unacceptable."
Report Calls for 'Culture Change' Around Distracted Driving
Texting while driving and other distractions are dangerous and require stiffer enforcement and a culture change, according to a new report by General Motors (GM) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

“Distraction is rampant on our roads,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. “Watch the passing cars the next time you’re waiting at a crosswalk or riding in a vehicle—odds are you’ll see someone not paying full attention to the road.”

The report looks at the extent of the distracted driving problem and provides 29 steps state highway safety offices and other transportation agencies can take to address distracted driving. Those steps include new education programs for youth and community members, stricter distracted driving laws, support for equitable enforcement strategies that prompt police to stop dangerous driving, and improvements to data collection to better understand the prevalence of distracted driving.

In a state traffic safety survey last year conducted by the OTS and University of California, Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC), nearly three out of every four California drivers surveyed (74.3%) identified distracted driving because of texting as their biggest safety concern.

While widely considered a top safety concern among drivers, many continue to use their phone while driving. During April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the California Highway Patrol issued nearly 8,800 citations to drivers who violated the state's handsfree cell phone law. CHP officers have issued more than 21,000 distracted driving citations during the first four months of this year.

In 2020, 3,142 people were killed and 400,000 were injured in distracted driving related crashes on U.S. roads, NHTSA reported. The numbers from NHTSA are likely underreported because officers may not always be able to tell that distraction was a factor in a crash, GHSA said.

GHSA is offering competitive grants to states to test and carry out the report recommendations. GHSA will present the report's findings at a webinar on June 16.

"Everyone must do their part to help make distracted driving socially unacceptable or inattentive drivers will continue to kill people on U.S. roads," Adkins said.

Caltrans, OTS Launch Wrong-Way Driver Prevention Campaign
in San Diego County
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the OTS piloted a new wrong-way driver prevention campaign in San Diego County to reduce incidents of drivers entering the freeway in the wrong direction.

“This campaign addresses impaired driving as the common cause of wrong-way collisions, and we hope to significantly reduce crashes involving wrong-way drivers and other impaired drivers by enhancing public awareness,” Caltrans District 11 Director Gustavo Dallarda said in a news release.

On average, 37 people are killed each year in wrong-way crashes on California roads. In 2019, there were 248 wrong-way crashes on state highways. Almost half involved drivers who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Wrong-way crashes are often deadly and tragic,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “Our goal is to familiarize the public with important prevention measures in place on our highways to reduce these horrific incidents.”

The campaign features the tagline “DON’T MISTAKE A LIFE” as a somber reminder that errantly entering the freeway in the wrong direction can be deadly. The campaign, which includes advertisements on billboards, social media, print publications, and on buses and transit shelters, also features messages such as “RED REFLECTORS MEAN WRONG WAY” and “IMPAIRED DRIVERS MAKE WRONG WAY DRIVERS.”

“The often-violent aftermath from crashes with wrong-way drivers underscores the need for motorists to focus on driving defensively and distraction-free every time they get behind the wheel,” said CHP Border Division Chief Scott Parker.

In 2018, Caltrans started pilot programs in San Diego and Sacramento that added specialized reflectors, sensors and illuminated signs. Since then, the number of wrong-way drivers decreased by 44% in San Diego, and 60% in Sacramento.

Due to the effectiveness of the pilots, Caltrans has installed specialized reflectors on hundreds of miles of highways throughout the state. In Caltrans District 11, which covers San Diego County, the department has also dedicated nearly $9 million toward wrong-way driver prevention upgrades like red pavement reflectors and larger wrong-way warning signs on 74 highway ramps throughout the county.

Caltrans and the OTS will release a series of educational videos as part of a statewide wrong-way driving prevention campaign in the summer.
Rulemaking Proposed for Speed Limiters on Large Trucks
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is looking at requiring systems in large trucks that limit a truck's speed.

Under the proposed rule, the so-called speed limiters would be required for trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds. The maximum speed would be set in the final rule.

Talks of the FMCSA proposed rule began more than a decade ago, and the notice of proposed rulemaking was announced in 2016.

The National Transportation Safety Board added the speed limiters to its most-wanted list of safety improvements in 2019.

"The National Roadway Safety Strategy identified speed as a significant factor in fatal crashes and speed management as a primary tool to reduce serious injuries and fatalities," FMCSA said. "The number of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes in which speed is listed as a contributing factor is unacceptable."

The speed limiter requirement for large trucks is also being proposed in legislation. A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced last year would require NHTSA to mandate speed limiters on large trucks that would set the speed limit at 65 mph, or 70 mph if the trucks have adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency brakes.

The FMCSA will accept comments on the advance notice of supplemental proposed rulemaking until July 18.
New PSAs from Orange County DA Features Paul Walker's Brother
Cody Walker, the brother of late actor Paul Walker, appeared in new public service announcements (PSA) for the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) warning the public of the dangers of street racing and street takeovers.

Street takeovers involve a group of cars doing dangerous stunts such as donuts in an intersection, while blocking traffic with often hundreds of people watching from the street.

"Guys, let's be responsible," Cody Walker said in the PSA. "Let's be responsible. "There's someone waiting for you at home."

Paul Walker, who starred in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, died in 2013 at age 40 after the car he was riding in crashed into a power pole. The driver, Roger Rodas, was speeding and also died.

“Like many of you, I too have lost somebody due to reckless driving,” said Cody Walker. "I think a lot of the time when those of us that want to go fast, or we have something to prove, we don’t take into consideration the lives of those around us."

The PSAs also feature actor Sung Kang, who appeared in multiple Fast and Furious movies with Paul Walker.

In a news release announcing the PSAs, the OCDA said it has joined 10 other Orange County law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, to form the Strategic Traffic Enforcement Against Racing & Reckless Driving, or STEARRD, to crack down on street racing and street takeovers.

The task force has conducted dozens of operations that have resulted in citations, vehicle impounds and arrests.

“No one – and I mean no one – gets to kill an innocent bystander in pursuit of a high-speed adrenaline rush and get away with it in Orange County," District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a news release. "If you refuse to keep it on the track, we will find you, we will arrest you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
Study: More Crashes Occur on Streets That Act More Like Highways
Streets that are like highways increase the risk of serious crashes, new research from Ohio State University (OSU) found.

OSU researchers looked at more than 240,000 images of roads in Columbus, Ohio, taken from Google Street View. Stretches of roads that were classified as "open roads" – photos that showed more roadway, signs and the sky – had 48% more injury and deadly crashes than those classified as "open residential."

The open road classification included almost all of the highways in Columbus, but also more than half of the busier, multi-lane roads through the city, researchers said.

“There are a lot of roads in urban areas that aren’t highways but look like high-speed highways from the driver’s point of view,” then OSU postdoctoral researcher Jonathan Stiles, who is now at Florida Atlantic University, said in a news release. “That’s a problem because drivers behave as if those streets are highways, even though there may be a lot of pedestrians and human activity nearby.”

The open roads generally have multiple lanes of traffic, many road signs and few trees, and are lined with strip malls, gas stations and restaurants, researchers said.

Researchers used computer software to detect different objects in the photos such as the sky, road, signs, buildings and trees. The software identified four types of streets. "Leafy residential" had more tree-lined streets and narrower roads, while "open residential" had more sky and road alongside houses. "Built-up urban" described downtown areas with more buildings, sidewalks and cars. "Open road" had more sky, roads and signage compared to the other road types. Researchers then compared crash data to each type of street from 2018 and 2019.

“To drivers, the road appears safe for driving at high speeds. We’re combining a lot of complexity and human activity with the desire to move cars as quickly as possible. It is a dangerous combination,” said Harvey Miller, director of OSU's Center for Urban and Regional Analysis.

The findings support the theory of self-explaining roads, which suggests a driver's expectation and behavior are shaped by road design, Miller said.

Miller emphasized that this association between serious crashes and road type was found even after considering a variety of other factors that can affect the number of crashes, including official state road designations.

“Our results suggest that many urban roads tell people it is safe to drive fast when it really is not – and the result is more serious and fatal crashes,” he said.
OTS Hosts Traffic Safety Law Enforcement Forum
The OTS Law Enforcement Forum last month in Newport Beach brought together more than 200 law enforcement leaders to share best practices and develop effective strategies for addressing impaired driving, speeding and all other dangerous driver behaviors.

Watch highlights from the forum here: 2022 LE Forum Highlight Video
Deadline for OTS and Caltrans
‘Get Off Your Apps’ Video Contest Extended to July 4

The OTS and Caltrans have extended the deadline for the 'Get Off Your Apps' distracted driving video contest to July 4.

The contest asks drivers to create a video showing what they think is the best solution to end reckless and distracted driving, and what they do to not drive distracted.

Winners will receive two tickets to the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, $2,500 for trip expenses and a role in a new television public service announcement being filmed this summer. Prizes are provided courtesy of iHeartMedia.

Mobile devices remain the biggest distraction for drivers, whether it is texting, talking, taking pictures, emailing, or using apps. A 2021 OTS Public Opinion Survey found 74.3% percent of Californians identified distracted driving (texting or talking) as their biggest traffic safety concern on California roadways.
"Most distracted driving related crashes are the result of preventable behaviors, and the goal behind this contest is to keep those dangerous behaviors top of mind for Californians,” said OTS Director Barbara Rooney.

“Nearly a million crashes occur each year nationwide as a result of distracted driving,” said Caltrans Acting Director Steven Keck. “This contest is a great opportunity for Californians to share their outlook on distracted driving and how it can be prevented.”

For additional details about the contest, visit
OTS Employee Spotlight:
Sladjana Oulad Daoud
The OTS is excited to introduce our new Chief Traffic Records Officer.
Sladjana (SUH-LAHD-JENNA) Oulad Daoud brings nearly 20 years of experience to the OTS team.
As the Chief Traffic Records Officer, Sladjana will lead California's efforts to enhance and maintain the state's traffic records system.
Prior to the OTS, Sladjana worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the agency's Research and Development Branch, where she was involved in research studies related to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. She was the prime author of the Annual Report on the California DUI Management Information System (MIS). The DUI-MIS report is a legislatively-mandated report that tracks the processing of DUI offenders from arrest through adjudication and sanctioning, and provides current and comprehensive statistics on DUI arrests, convictions, post-conviction sanctions, drivers in alcohol- or drug-involved crashes, as well as on driver license suspension/revocation actions. Since 2006, Sladjana has also served on the Traffic Records Coordinating Committee representing the DMV’s driver and vehicle data systems.
"As a researcher, I was using traffic records data for my work and recognized the importance of high-quality data for analytical and research purposes," she said. "I also believe high-quality data is crucial for effective decision-making and strategic planning to improve traffic safety in California. We need to have an accurate, complete, timely, uniform, accessible, and integrated traffic records system to be able to know more about crashes, contributing factors and circumstances, where crashes occur, and how to best prevent them from happening to reduce fatalities and injuries."
A native of Croatia, Sladjana, her husband, 7-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son at the time, came to the United States 25 years ago through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. The program makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually that are awarded via a lottery.
After arriving in the United States, Sladjana finished graduate school and started at the DMV.
"I never knew I would end up working in the traffic safety area," she said. 
However, Sladjana learned several years later about her family’s local, albeit tragic roots in Sacramento, connecting her work and family life story to a vehicle crash that happened in Sacramento 80 years before she started as a traffic safety researcher at the DMV.
"Traffic safety is close to my heart," she said.
She learned that her great-grandfather lived in Sacramento and died in a car crash in 1925. She found his grave, by chance, while on a lunch walk with a friend, at the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, which was located next to her DMV’s office building. A researcher by trade, she searched for information about the incident and found articles about the crash in daily newspapers from that time. The articles mentioned that the car was struck by a train, and that her great-grandfather and three other people were killed in the crash.
"They were all buried next to each other," she said. 
Sladjana's passion for traffic safety only grew, especially when it came to appreciating the importance of high-quality, reliable traffic data.

"No matter how advanced the research techniques you may have and use as a researcher, you need good data to get the results that are meaningful and useful," she said.
In her spare time, Sladjana enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her husband and three kids, the youngest of which recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.
Sladjana is also a proud grandma. Her grandson turns 3 years old in July, with her daughter expecting a second child.
As far as her favorite place to visit? Croatia, of course.
"I love going back to Croatia," she said. "I am in close contact with family and friends who are there."
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