Directions in Highway Safety: June 2021 Issue

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This special complimentary issue of Directions in Highway Safety, GHSA's members-only newsletter, features a preview of the GHSA 2021 Annual Meeting in Denver in September, an update on transportation policy from Washington, useful news on timely traffic safety topics and initiatives, and much more.

Quick Links: Cover StoryExecutive Director's Report | From Washington | State of the States | Did You Know?From Our Perspective

2021 GHSA Annual Meeting Set for Denver as the U.S. Reopens

Cover Story Image 1As life begins to return to normal, GHSA is excited and eager to reconnect face to face with our highway safety colleagues at the GHSA 2021 Annual Meeting, which will be held in Denver, September 11-15. We look forward to partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation to host the first in-person national highway traffic safety conference since the start of the pandemic.

The health and safety of our attendees is of paramount concern. GHSA is taking appropriate precautions to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort and continues to monitor and implement public health guidelines and best practices to protect everyone from COVID-19. That means this year’s meeting might look and feel a little different, but we are encouraged that so many of you have shown your appreciation for the opportunity to reconnect with your colleagues at an in-person event. Learn more about our health and safety considerations here.

This year’s conference theme, “Moving Mountains: Forging a New Traffic Safety Landscape,” speaks to the collective challenges we face as we emerge from more than a year of pandemic-related restrictions and social justice conversations that have altered the traffic safety landscape. Dangerous driving surged during the pandemic resulting in an unprecedented uptick in fatalities that does not bode well for our quest for zero deaths as more drivers return to the road. There is also an important ongoing national dialogue about racial equity and the role of law enforcement in traffic safety. But with these unique challenges come opportunities for the traffic safety community to come together to share ideas, learn from one other and grow.

Jim KellyBrad Meltzer

The Annual Meeting will feature a stellar lineup of engaging and informative speakers along with sessions addressing key issues facing the traffic safety community. Two of the luncheon speakers – New York Times best-selling author and History Channel host Brad Meltzer and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly – will share their inspirational stories with attendees. Panel discussions will cover timely topics including achieving greater equity in traffic enforcement, automated and driver assistance technologies and the persistent problem of speeding. More information about featured sessions and speakers and the full agenda are available on the GHSA website.

Workshops will dive into a wide array of highway safety topics, including multi-substance impaired driving, the safety of people on foot, highway safety outreach in diverse communities, enforcing distracted driving laws, the future of motorcyclist safety and more.

Details about registration for attendees and exhibitors, including key dates and fees, are available on our website. Be sure to register before July 30 to take advantage of the special State and Associate Member rate of $550.

The Annual Meeting would not be possible without our 2021 Highway Safety Champions. Thank you to the many organizations and companies who have already agreed to sponsor the meeting. Our website has a full list of 2021 Highway Safety Champions as well as information on the benefits of sponsorship and how you can join this exclusive group.

Not sure if you’ll be able to travel? GHSA understands and is offering several pre-conference webinars that will enable you to participate virtually or whet your appetite for Denver. See details of these webinars on our website.

Stay tuned for more information as we add new speakers, sponsors and other surprises. We hope to see you in Denver this September!

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With Washington, D.C., like most of America, gradually emerging from the pandemic, I am cautiously optimistic that the rest of 2021 will look a little more “normal” for all of us. I am especially excited that GHSA will be hosting our first in-person meeting in more than a year this September in Denver.

Even amid pandemic conditions, we appreciate all that the State Highway Safety Offices and their partners are doing to create a new, safer “normal” on roadways by doubling down on those strategies proven to prevent traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities. Here at GHSA, we are working on a number of fronts to improve highway safety by keeping pedestrian safety in the spotlight, highlighting the deadly danger of excessive speed and working to help all our members reach their safety goals.

In March, we produced our annual pedestrian safety report, “Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2020 Preliminary Data,” predicting a startling 20% increase in the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate in the first half of 2020 and reinforcing the importance of prioritizing pedestrian safety. Our subsequent Pedestrian Addendum, the first look at preliminary data for the full year, confirmed that increased reckless driving negatively impacted pedestrian safety, as fatalities in 2020 increased 4.8% despite a 13.2% drop in vehicles miles traveled.

Throughout all this, our work to address racial equity in traffic enforcement is front and center. While no individual or group can unilaterally solve this problem, we all have a part to play. GHSA is putting action behind the statement we issued last fall by funding research examining the role of race and ethnicity in motor vehicle-related fatalities and actions states and communities can take to advance equity in traffic enforcement. A second research project, which includes a resource review and survey of SHSOs to gauge current thinking, best practices and needs around equity in traffic enforcement, will result in a series of recommendations that will be released late this summer and discussed during an Annual Meeting general session.

In April, GHSA participated in the national Lifesavers Conference. The Association has been on the planning committee for this conference since it began in 1982. We were caught off guard and quite surprised and disappointed this year when the conference featured speakers who supported ending traffic enforcement and, on some occasions, spoke with disdain toward officers and provided many unsubstantiated claims. Lifesavers historically has brought together the traffic safety community to thoughtfully address challenging issues, but this year the conference very much missed the mark. GHSA and many of our members and partners have shared feedback with Lifesavers leadership, so I am hopeful the 2022 conference will be much improved. The dialog should always be constructive and respectful. As the saying goes, we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Speaking of meetings, equity, speeding and member training all will be central themes woven throughout the Annual Meeting. GHSA will host a roundtable discussion on how to achieve greater equity in traffic enforcement and engagement. Another general session will explore the deadly impact of speeding and strategies for getting drivers to slow down. Workshops will inform and illuminate on topics ranging from tribal traffic safety to alcohol and drug impaired driving to program management. We are committed to ensuring your safety and comfort throughout the meeting. Visit our website or sign up for email updates to learn the very latest.

GHSA also recently hosted its first Highway Safety Leader Virtual Training Series, which was attended by 43 Governor’s Representatives, State Highway Safety Office Directors and senior staff. The training conveyed key leadership and program management concepts and best practices focusing on highway safety planning, performance management, financial management, management reviews and partnerships. GHSA is planning to host a full-scale, in-person Executive Seminar for Program Management next year as well as launch a course for more junior staff.

I look forward to seeing many of you in Denver in just a few months. In the meantime, have a safe and healthy summer.

Jonathan Adkins

Welcome New Members

GHSA is pleased to welcome the following new Associate Members. Click on those with hyperlinks to learn about their mission and services:

From Washington

The Future of Federal Transportation Programs

From Washington ImageWith the current Federal transportation funding bill, the FAST Act, set to expire on September 30, both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are looking towards the future of the U.S. transportation program. The Senate and House are preparing to consider new legislative reauthorization proposals. GHSA remains deeply engaged in this process and we anticipate formal congressional action this summer.

At the same time, the Biden administration proposed a historic infrastructure spending proposal, the American Jobs Plan, in addition to reauthorization. Details of the bill are still forthcoming, but the latest outline proposes $20 billion for highway safety that includes $1 billion to support safe driving behavior. GHSA has met with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Acting Administrator Steven Cliff to discuss how this bill can best support national safety programs.

The entirety of the safety community, including GHSA, our highway safety partners, the Biden administration, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and NHTSA, are taking steps to prioritize equity. GHSA’s strategy will be to pursue a constructive, collaborative approach to promote the integration of equity in all highway safety efforts, especially in law enforcement partnerships.

Though many pandemic restrictions are abating, the impact of COVID-19 on highway safety and state budgets linger. On April 30, NHTSA renewed waivers for specific FY 2021 regulatory requirements to provide greater flexibility for states as recovery continues.

GHSA submitted comments on how NHTSA can further minimize some administrative burdens that limit the implementation of safety programs. GHSA also joined with a large group of organizations and individuals to comment on the latest revision of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and urged the Federal Highway Administration to provide states more discretion in leveraging changeable message signs to convey traffic safety messages to motorists.

State of the States

Ask, Listen, Learn Middle School Program

State of the States Image 1In late April, GHSA partnered with the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Reponsibility.org) to host a webinar to introduce the “Ask Listen Learn” program to youth/impaired driving coordinators and Law Enforcement Liaisons (LELs). Launched in 2003 by Responsibility.org, this free digital underage drinking prevention program is designed for children ages 9-13 (grades 4-7), their parents and educators. “Ask Listen Learn” provides adults an evidence-based way to start communicating with children about alcohol and continue the conversation through their formative years. The program consists of seven animated videos and downloadable lesson plans designed to teach kids about the impact of alcohol on their brain. The webinar recording link can be accessed online and more information about the “Ask Listen Learn” program can be found here.

GHSA Regional Roundtables

Last month, GHSA hosted a series of virtual roundtables to learn how GHSA can better serve SHSOs and their LEL programs. Five 30-minute roundtables were conducted, with two regions per session. The response was resoundingly positive with 122 SHSO staff members and LELs, representing 40 states, participating in the discussions. Each roundtable was moderated by Pam Shadel Fischer, GHSA’s Senior Director of External Engagement, who was joined by Kerry Chausmer, GHSA’s Programs and Member Services Director, and Tim Burrows, National LEL Program Manager.

The conversations were so successful that GHSA will offer similar roundtables twice a year beginning this fall. The first will be conducted for LELs only and the second, planned for next spring, will include both SHSO representatives and LELs.

Michigan Reports Results of Latest Oral Fluid Pilot, Indiana Launches Training/Distribution Program

State of the States Image 2Is your state considering authorizing the use of oral fluid screening to help law enforcement identify and remove drug-impaired drivers from the road? The results of a pilot in Michigan, as well as a new initiative in Indiana, suggest it is a viable tool in the battle to combat this growing problem.

Michigan initially conducted a one-year oral fluid pilot program in five counties in November 2017. The pilot’s small data set, however, prompted the state legislature to authorize a second phase that ran from October 2019 through September 2020. Like the initial pilot, during Phase II if a driver was suspected to be impaired, an oral fluid sample was collected with the SoToxa Oral Fluid Mobile Test System to screen for six of the most common drug classes. In addition to a routine blood draw for confirmation, a second voluntary sample was collected using the Quantisal Oral Fluid Device. This was sent to a commercial lab for analysis and screened for the same six drug classes.

State of the States Image 3According to the Phase II report issued by the Michigan State Police, Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) from 65 different law enforcement agencies collected data from 693 incidents and 661 roadside oral fluid tests. Accuracy of the roadside test ranged from 87%-96% when compared to the voluntary oral fluid confirmation sample and 82.6-95.2% when compared to the blood draw analysis. While the report deems blood the “gold standard” for drug testing, it determined oral fluid is “accurate” for preliminary roadside testing. The report also noted the “SoToxa … instrument is easy to use, requires minimal training and provides a result for each of the six drug classes within five minutes after a sample is collected.”

The Indiana State Highway Safety Office (housed in the Criminal Justice Institute [CJI]) began providing the SoToxa device to agencies late last year. Rather than select the agencies based on a review of crash, fatality and injury data, CJI examined toxicology results to identify counties with an imbalance of alcohol submission. CJI’s goal is to ensure that testing goes beyond what is necessary to get a conviction and uncover all impairing substances not just alcohol. This aligns with the 2019 GHSA report on high-risk impaired driving that calls for more thorough testing to uncover a motorist’s substance use problem. Failure to do so, as noted in the report, undermines impaired driving prevention.

Unlike Michigan, Indiana’s program does not require an oral fluid test be administered by a DRE. Line officers, approximately 80% of whom are not ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement) certified or DREs, have been trained to use the device. The training takes less than one hour, but all candidates must score 100% on a competency exam to graduate. (Training is conducted by DREs and ARIDE certified officers.) The intent, however, is not to replace the DRE program, but to supplement it as 60% of drug panels currently conducted in Indiana are covered by the SoToxa device.

State of the States Image 4SHSO officials report that officers are enthusiastic about the new tool. Just one hour after a Lake County officer had completed the oral fluid training, he used the findings from the roadside screening to make an arrest of a suspected drugged driver. Currently, 80 instruments have been distributed, which CJI purchased using Federal Section 405 grant funds at a cost of $4,500 each.

The portable oral fluid devices used by Michigan and Indiana are two of many designed for the field. Findings from a NHTSA-funded evaluation of five currently available devices were recently released through the Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program. The devices were selected based on having appropriate tests for several drug categories including cannabinoids, opiates, cocaine/metabolite, methamphetamine/amphetamine, and in some cases methadone or benzodiazepines. The evaluation assessed accuracy, reliability, performance to manufacturer specifications, susceptibility to interferences, and resistance of the consumables to extreme temperatures and humidity. The findings are summarized in an April 2021 Traffic Tech, or you can access the full report here.

For more information about Michigan and Indiana’s oral fluid programs, contact F/Lt. Shannon Sims at SimsS4@michigan.gov and/or Robert Duckworth at rduckworth@cji.IN.gov, respectively.

Did You Know

Critical Conversations: One Successful Example of Policing and Community Engagement

Did You Know Image 1Ford Motor Company Fund and the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) are partnering to promote conversations between police officers and local youth. The goal of Critical Conversations is to foster dialogue that addresses "the systemic challenges we face today."

"During this time, we know it is critical to find ways to gain mutual trust through positive police interaction with youth," said Robert Jamerson, CEO of Detroit PAL. "We had to combat the unrest we witnessed in 2020.” The program seeks to remove implicit bias, create empathy and suggest solutions when situations with police happen.

Launched in November 2020, the six-week program included weekly, two-hour video calls during which youth discussed ways to promote positive relations between their community and police. Weekly topics focused on the role of police officers, knowing your rights, culture and social norms, police brutality and harassment, youths’ perception of police officers and maintaining positive interactions with police officers. As word spread about the program, interest grew and the number of youth doubled to more than 100.

"I attended the weekly programming and witnessed the impact the conversations made on both the officers and students," said Shawn Thompson, Ford Motor Company Fund’s Community Development Manager. "And that's why we did it, these important conversations are helping to build trust and strengthen our communities."

The six critical conversations were recorded and are available for viewing.

Research Round-Up

Did You Know Image 2It has been a productive time for GHSA’s Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program (BTSCRP), with new reports, new ideas for future research, new RFPs for recently launched projects and a newly reformatted research web page.

In late February, the first BTSCRP report, Using Electronic Devices While Driving: Legislation and Enforcement Implications, was released in partnership with the Transportation Research Board and NHTSA. Researchers reviewed distracted driving laws and U.S. and Canadian enforcement and public education practices to develop a library of resources and best practices that can be used to help strengthen state laws and enhance enforcement and education efforts.

Three other projects were recently completed. The first evaluated five field oral fluid drug testing devices to assess their accuracy and reliability (skip to Directions article). Another looked at using automated license plate readers (ALPRs) for traffic safety purposes. The researchers concluded that ALPRs can be effective at identifying habitual traffic offenders, but law enforcement agencies should develop targeted goals and strictly enforce policies on data quality, security and compliance with applicable laws and privacy issues. The last project, "High-Visibility Enforcement: Assessing Change and Identifying Opportunities" summarizes interviews with both SHSOs and law enforcement officials to examine a perceived decrease in law enforcement participation in high-visibility enforcement efforts and consider innovative approaches that may counter this trend. GHSA expects a number of other final research reports to be released over the next 18 months.

Meanwhile, the GHSA Research Committee considered more than 20 research project ideas for the next round of funding. (The program receives $2.5 million in federal funding annually.) The Committee will present its recommendations to the GHSA Executive Board, which if approved, would create new projects on the underreporting of impairment and distraction on crash reports, racial bias and equity in pedestrian and bicyclist safety, the effectiveness of innovative messaging, and teen driver distraction and diversity of driving experiences.

There are several opportunities for all GHSA members to get involved in the research program. Both State and Associate Members can submit research ideas for consideration during the call for problem statements, typically in January and February. Members also can volunteer to serve as expert panelists for newly selected projects. Panels meet (currently virtually) to draft requests for proposals, review submitted proposals, select the contractor to perform the research and help monitor the project as it moves toward completion. In addition, each project panel has a State Member who serves as the monitor, ensuring the research results will be useful to SHSOs. Lastly, Associate Members may respond to the requests for proposals to perform the actual research.

For more information about BTSCRP, visit GHSA’s recently revamped research web page, where you can search for projects by topic area, year of inception and project status. In addition, there are three BTSCRP RFPs available from the Transportation Research Board (TRB).

AAA Survey Finds Users of Alcohol and Marijuana Admit to Variety of Dangerous Driving Behaviors

According to data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who use both alcohol and marijuana (polysubstance use) are significantly more likely to speed, text, intentionally run red lights and drive aggressively than those who do not consume these substances. These polysubstance users also are far more likely to report driving under the influence of alcohol than those who consume only alcohol and not marijuana.

Did You Know Image 3Did You Know Image 4

“These data show the alarming impact of alcohol and marijuana use on the choices drivers make when they get behind the wheel,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. “From choosing to drive while impaired, and speeding, to driving distracted or running red lights, using these two drugs leads to poor decision-making with potentially fatal consequences.”

Polysubstance use is prevalent among high-risk impaired drivers (these individuals are also more likely to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15 or higher and be a repeat offender), who are highly resistant to changing their behavior despite sanctions, treatment or education. GHSA’s 2019 report, “High-Risk Impaired Drivers: Combatting a Critical Threat,” identifies challenges and opportunities for addressing these offenders. SHSOs and their partners are encouraged to review the report, which recommends an individualized justice approach to identify and treat the root cause of the substance use problem to reduce recidivism.

Read more about the results in the scientific paper and AAA press release.

Nevada Uses On-Bike Technology to Enforce 3-Foot Law

Did You Know Image 5Currently 26 states and the District of Columbia have laws that requires a motorist to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet when passing a bicyclist on the road. Enforcing this law can be challenging but critical as bicyclist fatalities topped 857 in 2018 – a number not seen in more than 30 years – and declined only slightly in 2019.

Law enforcement agencies in Clark County, Nevada joined forces in late 2020 to raise awareness of the state’s three-foot law with a press event. The initiative came on the heels of one of the state’s worst fatal bicycle crashes when a box truck plowed into a group of bicyclists, killing five cyclists and seriously injuring four others.

For the enforcement detail, an officer rode a bicycle equipped with C3FT, a device that uses a laser to measure the distance between passing cars and his bicycle. As he completed a series of laps on local roads, the officer called out violations to more than a dozen other officers positioned along the route. At the end of the detail, officers stopped 170 cars, handing out 184 citations and 30 warnings. The device proved to be highly effective with more than 300 vehicles identified as violating the law, far more cars than the officers could handle.

Ensuring motorists understand bicyclists have a right to the road is critical. Not only can the device be used to enforce a three-foot law, but it can also be synced to a tablet via Bluetooth, allowing an officer to show the footage to a driver to educate them about the law. In addition to Las Vegas, the device is also being used by the Austin, Chattanooga, Fort Collins (Colorado) and Houston Police Departments and the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Member Spotlight

Two GHSA Associate Members were invited to give “Directions” readers a quick glimpse at their respective organizations and what’s new via a brief video interview. This month, GHSA features Laser Technology’s Nick Ackerson and Boomer Oyler with OnMyWay, a texting and driving prevention app.

Member Spotlight Image 1
Nick Ackerson, Laser Technology
Member Spotlight Image 2
Boomer Oyler, OnMyWay


Want to be featured in the next issue of Directions? Email Kerry Chausmer.

From Our Perspective

Making Our Future Roadways Safer by Educating the Public Now

From Our Perspective ImageTara Andringa 
Executive Director 
Partners for Automated Vehicle Education

There may be no public officials at any level who are more acutely aware of the challenges we face in preventing roadway deaths than the members of GHSA. That is why we are so proud at Partners for Automated Vehicle Education – or PAVE – that GHSA has chosen to join our effort to raise the level of public awareness and knowledge of automated vehicles (AVs).

PAVE’s diverse coalition of traditional automakers, AV startups, component makers and nonprofit advocates is united by two beliefs: AVs offer historic potential to make transportation more available, sustainable, and safer; and we will not reach that potential without public knowledge and trust of these advanced technologies. As the nation’s leading advocates for highway safety programs, GHSA and the State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) are vital to meeting this challenge.

And we are at a critical point. Already, advanced technologies with the capability to reduce crashes, deaths and injuries are on our roads. But drivers are not fully knowledgeable about what these driver-assistance features can do, and perhaps more importantly, what they cannot do. No vehicle available for public purchase today is capable of fully autonomous driving, but we regularly read reports of crashes in which drivers may have overestimated their vehicle’s capabilities with tragic results.

These unfortunate reports are not isolated incidents. A 2020 poll commissioned by PAVE found that only 55% of Americans know they cannot buy a fully autonomous vehicle today, while 19% believe they can and 26% are unsure. Though much in the public discourse – media, social media, advertisements – blurs the critical distinction between driver assistance and autonomy, the link between this misleading content and the tragic outcomes is becoming clearer with each media report of another crash.

Lack of public knowledge and understanding of these technologies threatens to blunt their safety potential today. And it threatens tomorrow’s potential safety gains as well, by reducing trust and confidence of more advanced autonomous systems before they even reach the roads in large numbers.

Rising to this challenge will take a unique combination of capabilities, and GHSA and SHSOs understand the challenges of accomplishing behavioral change on the roads better than anyone. Right now, we have an opportunity to instill the knowledge, understanding and trust in automated systems that are critical to maximizing their safety potential. PAVE is dedicated to making sure drivers have the knowledge and understanding that build trust and confidence, and GHSA is a key player in building a safer and more sustainable and mobile future.

The 2021 GHSA Annual Meeting will include workshops and sessions on AVs and we look forward to sharing and learning with you in Denver.

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Directions in Highway Safety is published quarterly by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

GHSA Executive Board

Contributors to this Issue

  • Kerry Chausmer
  • Kara Macek
  • Russ Martin
  • Stephanie Nguyen
  • Pam Shadel Fischer
  • Adam Snider
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