Your Monthly Update
October 2021
NHTSA: Deadliest Start to Year on Roads in More Than a Decade
The first quarter of this year was the deadliest start on the nation's roads since at least 2009, according to estimates released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last month.

From January to March of this year, an estimated 8,730 people were killed in car crashes nationwide, a 10.5% increase over the same period last year despite a decrease in miles driven. The death rate per 100 million miles driven also rose to 1.26, up from 1.12 over the first three months of 2020.

Seven of the nine NHTSA regions saw an increase in fatalities during the first three months of this year compared to the previous year. NHTSA Region 9, which includes Arizona, California, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands, saw a 7% increase in traffic fatalities.

“We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety. Everyone – including those who design, operate, build and use the road system – shares responsibility for road safety,” Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator. said in a press release.

NHTSA attributes the higher death rate to drivers continuing to take risks by speeding, getting behind the wheel when they are impaired, and not wearing seat belts.

"These new statistics are another troubling result of the dangerous driving that has plagued U.S. roads since the start of the pandemic," Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of external engagement at the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), said in a statement.

In addition to the new fatality estimates, NHTSA released an updated version of the Countermeasures That Work guide that provides proven strategies for communities to consider to improve highway safety. The 641-page guide largely focuses on encouraging safe road behaviors and deterring risk-taking actions, but also supports efforts to address the safety of other road users such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

"The numbers are troubling and unacceptable," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "We will use every available tool to address the soaring number of deaths on our roads and bring the numbers down."
IIHS Study: In-Vehicle Technology Provides Significant Safety Benefits for Teen Drivers
A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that the use of crash avoidance features and new vehicle technologies targeting teens could prevent more than 75% of teen driver deaths.

Research has long shown that teen drivers are much more likely to be involved in crashes compared to other age groups due to inexperience and risk-seeking behavior like speeding and not wearing a seat belt.

From 2015 to 2019, speeding was a factor in 43% of all teen driver and passenger fatalities, compared to approximately 30% of all traffic deaths among adults 20 and older, IIHS found.

But IIHS researchers found that many of these issues can be resolved through crash avoidance and teen-specific vehicle technology, such as parent-controlled speed limiters, real-time driving alerts, blind spot detection, automatic emergency braking, and front crash and lane departure warnings.

If universally adopted for all teen drivers, IIHS researchers estimated that crash avoidance technologies could prevent more than 120,000 teen driver crashes each year. Researchers reached this estimate after looking at all crashes involving teen drivers from 2016 to 2019 where crash avoidance or teen-specific technologies could have prevented the crash.

The study found that if all these technologies are in place and working as intended, they could prevent or reduce the severity of 41% of all crashes involving teen drivers, 47% of teen driver injuries and 78% of teen driver deaths.

Ford’s MyKey and GM’s Teen Driver allow parents to set speed limits for their teen drivers and prevents teens from shifting into the "drive" gear until the driver and front seat passenger puts on their seat belt. Other mobile apps provide parents with teen driver "report cards" and alerts when their teen is speeding or driving past a set curfew, IIHS said.

“We know these technologies don’t stop 100 percent of the crashes they’re designed to address, but our analysis shows that the potential benefits for teen drivers could be pretty stunning if they were widely used,” IIHS Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller said in a press release.
Poll: More Than Half of California Residents Believe Distracted
Driving is Getting Worse
Nearly two-thirds of California residents believe distracted driving is getting worse, a poll by Root Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found.

64% of the 602 Californians surveyed said that distracted driving is a threat to their safety.

“Californians are clearly looking for innovative ways to tackle the distracted driving crisis,” said Kathy Mitchell, Director of Government Affairs for Root Inc. 

"Now that we have the technology to better understand who’s likely to text and drive, we should use it to incentivize drivers to make safer decisions," SADD President and CEO Rick Burt said. "This is a matter of life and death, and we can’t waste any more time.”

The poll also found that 90% of those surveyed believed texting while driving is distracting, with 66% who believed that checking social media is distracting. Despite a strong belief that distracted driving is an issue on roads, half of respondents admitted to using their phone while driving.

A report released earlier this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that crashes involving a distracted driver increased by nearly 10% in 2019 from the previous year.

The poll findings are similar to what respondents said in an online traffic safety survey administered by the OTS. In that survey, nearly 75% of respondents listed texting and driving as their biggest traffic safety concern.

The Root Insurance and SADD poll was conducted Sept. 3-4, and included 100 Californians age 16- to 19 and 111 parents of kids 17 and younger. The poll's margin of error is +/- 4.1%.
Employee Spotlight
OTS Welcomes Ernie Sanchez as New Law Enforcement Liaison
Ernie Sanchez (third from right) with his wife, three adult children, in-laws and grandchildren. Ernie brings nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience to the OTS.
The OTS is thrilled to welcome a new Law Enforcement Liaison (LEL) to the team.

Ernie Sanchez is a retired California Highway Patrol (CHP) chief and brings nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience to the OTS.

Ernie spent his entire law enforcement career with the CHP, holding a variety of positions and roles throughout the state.

A Calexico, Calif. native and graduate of Brigham Young University, Ernie joined the CHP straight out of college.

"I realized not all summers had to be 120 degrees," he said.

Ernie started with the CHP in November 1990, first with the CHP's Ventura office before moving to a supervisor role with the South Los Angeles office. Ernie then moved to the CHP's Southern Division overseeing community relations. The CHP saw his value as a bilingual speaker, and talking with the community and media became part of his duties for the rest of his career.

"I would go out on patrol and come off the freeway and find a suitable public phone…and I would call in and either be a guest for interviews or call in traffic reports," Sanchez said. 

Ernie said his most memorable time with the CHP was serving as the film liaison officer, coordinating film shoots across the Los Angeles area, where he also got to participate in parades and other big events at Pasadena's Rose Bowl.

Ernie also spent many years overseeing training at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento, which he says was one of his busiest assignments. He also ran the now defunct "Academy South" satellite academy in Riverside, eventually settling in the San Francisco Bay Area before retiring as a chief in December 2019.

But when a retired CHP Commissioner mentioned the new LEL position, it was an offer he could not turn down.

"Traffic safety has always been a passion of mine," he said. "It kind of has me back in the fold of what I do best and has got me connected again with law enforcement professionals."

As an LEL, Sanchez acts as a bridge between the OTS and law enforcement agencies, helping coordinate enforcement activities, as well as promote collaborative efforts and trainings among agencies.

Ernie looks forward to bringing his knowledge about traffic safety and experience being on the receiving end of OTS grants.

"To be able to take that institutional knowledge and share with (law enforcement) to make their communities safer...I feel a little bit like Santa Claus," he said.

An avid bicyclist, Ernie competes in state competitions with law enforcement, as well as triathlons.

"I enjoy the scenery on a bike, which is completely different than in a car," he said. "It keeps me healthy and keeps me energized and feeling young."

Ernie is also the proud grandfather of three grandkids. He lives with his wife of 31 years in Murrieta, Calif.

While in Murrieta, Ernie managed security at a local casino, but wasn't quite ready to leave law enforcement behind.

"It wasn't fulfilling my passion of what I do best...saving lives and reducing the number of people injured in traffic collisions," he said.
Office of Traffic Safety, Safety Center Hosts “Superheroes” Day
Full of Biking, Walking Safety Activities

As part of California’s Pedestrian Safety Month, children of all ages spent “Superheroes” day at Sacramento's Safetyville USA learning how to “share the road” through a variety of bicycle and pedestrian safety activities.

The OTS and Safety Center Incorporated partnered to provide bicycle and pedestrian safety lessons for children that put their skills to the test.

Participants also learned how to use the correct signs and signals while on a bike and walking, the “ABCs” of bike repair (air, brakes, and chain), decorated helmets, and stopped by the tip card coloring station and “go safely” photo booth.

“Instilling safe biking and walking behaviors at a young age is critical to keeping children safe when they are outside with friends or walking to and from school,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said.

“Empowering children to be safety superheroes is more than just telling them what to do or what not to do,” said Jenny Mensch, Safety Center Community Programs Manager. “Children need the opportunity to practice putting their safety knowledge and skills into action and develop confidence in their ability to make safe choices.”

Check out a recap video of the event on the OTS Facebook page.

The event coincided with the launch of a new OTS education campaign encouraging everyone – bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians – to “share the road, share the responsibility” by looking out for one another.

As part of the campaign, the OTS introduced a series of safety messages last month at transit stops, shopping centers, bus wraps, on social media, audio messages on radio including station DJ reads, and through website banners and the Waze app.

The goal is to raise awareness about the dangers bicyclists and pedestrians face on the road, and the actions required to keep everyone on the road safe.
Support National Walk to
School Day October 6th
October 6th is National Walk to School Day! The OTS encourages all of our grantees to join school-goers from around the country to make the trek to class tomorrow.
“Walk to School Day” is celebrated annually to highlight the benefits of exercise and practice pedestrian and road safety with classmates, families, and caregivers.

Learn more about the national celebration and register your event at as a way of tracking participation and showing support for active, healthy, and safe transportation. 

Be sure to use our Walk to School Day press release template and share your walk with the kids on social media using the hashtag #WalkToSchoolDay.
In Case You Missed It: GHSA Annual Meeting Webinars
Unable to make it to Denver for last month's GHSA Annual Meeting? You can still watch several General Sessions on the GHSA website. Below are a few we recommend!

Grantee Highlights
Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) Receives Peter K. O'Rourke Special Achievement Award
SCAG received national recognition for their "Go Human" bicycle and pedestrian safety program at the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Annual Meeting in Denver last month.

SCAG was one of four recipients of the Peter K. O'Rourke Special Achievement Award. Named after the late GHSA Chair and former CHP officer and OTS Director, the award recognizes notable achievements in the field of highway safety.

Funded through a grant with the OTS, the "Go Human" program began in 2019 as a positive encouragement campaign advocating for active transportation safety. The program has expanded to include dozens of partners and "mini-grantees" to help support community-driven projects that improve the safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as generate support for infrastructure improvements.
Los Angeles County Public Health Department, Bicycle Coalition Partner on Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Video Series
Watch the new video series from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department and Los Angeles County Bike Coalition addressing bicyclist, pedestrian and e-scooter safety:

UC Berkeley Introduces "VLOG" Series
UC Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) produced a series of "vlogs" through their Data Analysis, Technical Assistance, Education and Outreach program. Watch them at the links below!

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