With the goal of reducing the 38,680 roadway deaths experienced in 2020, four traffic safety initiatives from California, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and Tennessee recently received recognition from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in Denver at the 2021 GHSA Annual Meeting.
Specifically, the following four programs positively impacted impaired and distracted driving and pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Each was honored with a Peter K. O’Rourke Special Achievement Award for outstanding highway safety accomplishments:
California — Some 846 cyclists nationwide died in traffic crashes in 2019 alone. The Go Human Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Program, led by the Southern California Association of Governments, works collaboratively to reduce collisions involving people walking and biking through public outreach, community engagement and safety demonstration projects. The latter includes a lending library of safety materials, called Kit of Parts, which allows jurisdictions to borrow and utilize equipment to test street infrastructure improvements with the public. To date, more than one third of these safety projects have been funded or permanently installed.
New Jersey — On average, a pedestrian is killed every two hours in a roadway accident in the U.S. The Street Smart NJ pedestrian safety campaigns led by TransOptions educate drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists about safely sharing the road through equitable enforcement of the state’s law mandating that drivers stop for pedestrians in a marked crosswalk, grassroots public education and outreach, and pop-up and low-cost infrastructure improvements.
People on foot account for 31% of motor vehicle deaths in New Jersey, so the campaign focuses on the specific and unique needs of pedestrians at the local level to reduce fatalities and injuries statewide. Research confirms the program is sparking positive changes in both reported and observed behaviors by motorists and people on foot, and greater awareness of pedestrian safety laws.
Puerto Rico— Over 10,000 people lost their lives in drunk driving-related crashes in 2019. The DUI Specialized Prosecution Unit at the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, which strengthens prosecutors’ litigation skills by training them specifically for DUI cases, was recognized as a laudable initiative. The program was overhauled in 2017 to better address Puerto Rico’s high rate of impaired driving fatalities. As a result, the territory’s DUI convictions have nearly tripled, and the case dismissal rate fell from 50% in 2016 to 9% today.
Tennessee— Distracted driving killed 3,142 people in 2019 alone and continues to plague our nation’s roadways. The Tennessee Highway Safety Office, in partnership with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, developed and implemented a Distracted Driving Bus Tour in 2017 as an innovative way to increase public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and enforce the state’s texting and cell phone law.
The outreach and enforcement program has been highly successful, as law enforcement agencies across the state have joined the effort resulting in the number of motorist engagements nearly doubling every year since the program’s inception.