Your Monthly Update

September 2022

Report: Traffic Deaths Continue

to Rise Nationwide

An estimated 9,560 people were killed in car crashes during the first three months of this year, up about 7% compared to the same period last year, new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed.

The number of people killed on the nation's roads is up about 42% from the first three months of 2011, and is the highest during the first-quarter of the year in 20 years.

In California, 944 people were killed in traffic crashes between January and March of this year, or about 10 deaths every day, NHTSA said.

“There is no doubt we are experiencing a crisis on our roads," Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) Director Barbara Rooney said. "We are addressing this crisis with the urgency it warrants and doing everything possible to deliver new approaches that will reverse this terrible trend."

Traffic deaths have increased since the start of the pandemic, and that trend continued even as people returned to work and started traveling more. 

“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff said in a statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety.”

The new estimates come after nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years.

Traffic safety experts attribute speeding and other reckless driving behavior, such as impaired driving and not wearing seat belts.

"Tragically, the U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths," Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. "Another new report of an increase in lives lost may feel a bit like Groundhog Day, but we must not become desensitized to the tragedy of roadway deaths."

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation released the National Roadway Safety Strategy, which outlines the "safe system" approach to reducing serious injuries and deaths through safer street designs, safer vehicles and safer people, emphasizing multiple layers of protection that make crashes, when they do happen, less severe.

"The goal is zero deaths, and we will not stop working toward that goal until we reach a point where zero deaths are a permanent way of life,” Director Rooney said.

Newer Cars Reduce Risk of Deadly Crash for Women, Study Finds

Newer cars are becoming safer for women drivers, an updated report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found.

Strengthened safety standards for seat belts and air bags along with newer generation cars equipped with newer technology have decreased the disparity in fatality risk between men and women, NHTSA said. 

The updated report, first published in 2013, revealed the difference in fatality risk for female versus male front seat occupants is 6.3% for car models from 2010-2020. Vehicles made before 2009 have a disparity almost three times that at 18.3%. The disparity was even less for model years 2015-2020, at 2.9%, the report said. 

Newer cars are equipped with dual air bags, which significantly reduces the fatality risk for women in crashes, as do advanced seat belts, the agency said.

NHTSA is looking to make car crashes safer for women. While men represent more than 70% of drivers involved in deadly crashes, the fatality risk is still higher for women compared to men of the same age.

“While NHTSA’s new report shows significant declines in differences in crash outcomes between women and men, there is more work required to eliminate any disparities that remain," NHTSA Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff said in a statement.

NHTSA is taking additional actions to further reduce the disparities between men and women, including the development of new crash test dummies and computer simulations that can look at the effects of different types of crashes on a variety of human body types and sizes.

NHTSA Administrator to Return to California Air Resources Board

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is leaving to return to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as the agency's Executive Officer.

NHTSA Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff was named deputy administrator in February 2021 and had been running the agency on an acting basis until his nomination by President Joe Biden in October. Dr. Cliff was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in May, becoming the first Senate-confirmed NHTSA administrator since January 2017.

Dr. Cliff is a former deputy executive officer at CARB. His new role is effective Sept. 12.

“Steve brings a deep understanding of the science of air pollution, along with a strong commitment and track record of promoting the solutions that deliver clean air benefits for all Californians, especially those living in communities impacted by persistent pollution,” CARB Chair Liane Randolph said in a statement.

In his previous role at CARB, Dr. Cliff managed regulations for all vehicles, transportation land-use planning, as well as developed incentive programs for reducing emissions and providing energy-efficient cars to low-income residents, CARB said.

NTHSA's chief counsel, Ann Carlson, will serve as NHTSA's acting administrator.

Study: E-Scooter Riders More Likely to Ride Impaired, Without a Helmet

Electric scooter riders are more likely to ride impaired and without a helmet than bicyclists, a study by Norway's Oslo University Hospital found.

Published last month in Jama Network Open, Norwegian researchers looked at more than 3,000 emergency department visits for e-scooter and bicycle injuries in Oslo between 2019 and March 31, 2020.

Out of 850 e-scooter riders injured, only 18 were wearing helmets, or 2.1%, compared to nearly two-thirds of bicyclists injured in crashes (62.2%), researchers said. Nearly 40% of all electric scooter riders injured were impaired, while less than 10% of bike riders (7.7%) were impaired at the time of a crash.

Rates of impaired e-scooter and bicycle riders were even higher at night, researchers said. 

Patients self-reported whether they had been drinking or under the influence at the time of the crash, researchers noted, but that "response rates indicate a large degree of honesty" due to reports being anonymous and not subject to any legal actions.

Researchers attributed the spontaneous nature of e-scooter travel for the low rate of helmet use among riders, who are less likely to have a helmet on hand. E-scooter travel is also more likely used for going to social gatherings, where alcohol is present. 

"Preventive measures, including awareness campaigns, regulating e-scooter availability, improving infrastructure, and implementing stricter helmet and alcohol policies, may prove effective for reducing injuries," researchers concluded.

New Law Calls for Development of

E-Bike Safety Standards

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) will develop safety standards for e-bike riders under a new bill signed into law last month.

Introduced by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), AB 1946 requires CHP to develop safety guidelines and training programs by September 2023.

Topics include general e-bike riding safety, emergency maneuver skills, rules of the road, and laws related to e-bikes.

“E-bikes’ increased accessibility and speed require proven, statewide safety education and training programs on how to ride safely and legally,” Assemblymember Boerner Horvath said in a news release

The statewide safety education and training will help local governments address e-bike safety concerns by providing direction and tools to educate riders, Boerner Horvath said.

"E-bikes make it easier to ride than ever before, though it also means less-experienced riders can travel faster with greater ease, increasing the risk of crashes and injuries," Boerner Horvath said.

Study: Stricter Driver Cellphone

Laws Reduce Crash Rates

States with hands-free cell phone laws have helped to reduce rear-end crashes, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study found.

IIHS researchers looked at monthly crash rates between 2015 and 2019 in Oregon, Washington and California, states with stricter hands-free cell phone laws, and compared it with Colorado and Idaho, which only prohibit texting while driving.

Rear-end injury crash rates declined 11% in Washington and 9% in Oregon after the new laws took effect, compared to Colorado and Idaho. Crash rates did not change in California.

Rear-end crashes were chosen because of previous research that indicated cellphone use while driving increased the odds of those type of crashes than any other crash, researchers said.

“The mixed results suggest that broader cellphone laws can work, but the specific wording and other factors like the severity of the penalties seem to make a difference,” IIHS senior research scientist Ian Reagan said in a news release.

Each state added language in 2017 that specified all cellphone use by drivers must be hands-free, but Oregon and Washington also specified that the cellphone use ban also applies when the vehicle is stopped temporarily.

As of July 1, 2021, California amended its hands-free law that adds a point to a driver's record for any second violation within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense. Last year, the CHP issued more than 55,800 citations for distracted driving. 

Drivers have varied interpretations of what is acceptable, which is why broader bans on cellphone use make it easier to deal with the expanded potential for distracted driving, researchers said.

“Technology is moving much faster than the laws,” Reagan said. “One solution may be to make them broader, rather than trying to come up with an exhaustive list of banned behaviors.”

"As distracted driving continues to plague our roads and kill people every day, state laws that are broadly worded to prohibit drivers from holding a cell phone under any circumstance appear to be effective in reducing rear-end crashes," GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a statement. "...The IIHS study reaffirms the importance of states enacting clear and strong distracted driving laws."

Study: Left-Turn Traffic Signals, Better Lighting, Shorter Crossings Would Improve Older Pedestrians’ Safety

Adding left-turn arrow signals, shorter crossing distances and increased visibility would improve the safety of people walking who are 65 and older, research by Oregon State and Portland State Universities found.

In 2020, 1,190 pedestrians 65 and older were killed in the U.S. – 18% of all traffic deaths in that age group, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

Published in the Transportation Research Record, researchers looked at four years of Oregon crash data at locations where older pedestrians were over-represented. 

Researchers found 20% of the crashes happened at night with limited street lighting, and another 13% occurred at dawn and dusk.

"Better lighting at intersections and near crossing locations, rapid flashing beacons and other devices like ‘Pedestrian Crossing’ warning signs with flashing LEDs would likely help a lot," Oregon State University transportation engineering researcher David Hurwitz said in a news release

Researchers also noted the benefits of "protected" left-turns where a driver is signaled by a green arrow to turn. This is opposed to "permissive" turns, where drivers wait for a break in traffic to make a perceived safe turn.

“In a permissive left turn, drivers can become so focused on looking for a gap in the traffic that they don’t see pedestrians,” Hurwitz said. “Increasing the use of protected left turns in locations where a permitted turn may be difficult can improve the safety of older drivers as well as pedestrians because it reduces one of the more complex driving tasks.”

Left-turning vehicles account for about a quarter of all crashes hitting a pedestrian.

Measures to shorten crossing distances include pedestrian islands in the median, curb extensions, raised crosswalks and reducing the number of vehicle lanes, researchers said. 

Funding for the research was provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.

New "Go Safely" Public Service Announcement Debuts in October

The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are producing a new "Go Safely" public service announcement.

Titled "We Are All Human," the 15- and 30-second PSAs will emphasize that as humans, we will inevitably make mistakes, but they do not need to result in serious or tragic consequences on the road. The videos will feature road "mistakes" to recognize actions everyone can take to "go safely," whether you are walking, biking, riding or driving.

Initially launched in 2018, "Go Safely, California" is a comprehensive education and encouragement campaign that places a top priority on safe travel habits.

The new education campaign video will run in October on digital platforms, as well as audio messages on radio and streaming services.

"Educating the public on safe driving behaviors is one of multiple tools – along with enforcement against dangerous behaviors, safer road designs with safer speeds – that are needed to provide multiple layers of protection for everyone on the road," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said.

Caltrans QuickMap Push Notifications Now Available

Drivers can now get real-time notifications of highway travel conditions through the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) QuickMap app.

The new QuickMap push notification feature allows drivers to receive updates on nearby road closures, emergencies and other traffic reports.

“With this new QuickMap upgrade, Californians now can receive instant traffic notifications based on their location," Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said in a news release. "Drivers can use this information to adjust their plans when needed, compare route options, save time and travel safely to their destinations.” 

Travelers can opt-in to receive location-based alerts on their phones. When the phone with the QuickMap app enters an area within 10 miles of a road closure or other traffic-related event, a message will appear with the time, location and reason for closure.

Caltrans QuickMap is also available online at

OTS, Caltrans Enter Partnership with San Francisco 49ers

The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are partnering with the San Francisco 49ers to encourage fans to choose a sober way to get to and from games and watch parties this season.

As part of the effort to promote a “Go Safely” game plan, fans will see traffic safety messages across 49ers and Levi’sⓇ Stadium digital and social channels including website, Twitter and the 49ers radio network.

Additional messages will focus on highway work zone safety and the importance of moving over or slowing down near workers and emergency responders when flashing amber lights are on.

"The 49ers have an active and loyal fanbase," OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. "Our goal is for fans to share that same loyalty with choosing a safer, sober way to travel." 

The "Go Safely" game plan is as easy as 1,2,3:

  1. Before you grab a drink, grab a designated sober driver.
  2. If you plan to drink at the game, bar, restaurant or watch party, grab a safe ride home and pass the keys to a sober driver, take public transit, use a ride-hailing service, or call a sober friend or family member.
  3. Stick to the “Go Safely” game plan – don’t let friends drive impaired.

Publications and Resources

California Pedestrian Safety Month Press Release Template

Child Passenger Safety Week Press Release Template

Safe System Approach Social Media Toolkit

Safe System Approach Social Media Toolkit (Spanish)

Go Safely, California Media Toolkit

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