Directions in Highway Safety: March 2021 Issue

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GHSA Publication

This special complimentary issue of Directions in Highway Safety, GHSA's members-only newsletter, features a fresh look and new Member Spotlight videos.

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

New Administration and Congress Buckle Up for Active Year in Transportation

Secretary PetePete Buttigieg Tapped to Lead U.S. DOT 
The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Secretary Buttigieg is former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate, and the first openly gay member of the U.S. Cabinet confirmed by the Senate. He is also a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan in 2014, and the youngest person to ever be nominated for this position.

GHSA strongly supported the nomination as both President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg have proposed significant investment in transportation in the coming years. The Biden administration is expected to release a detailed and assertive plan for the next federal transportation reauthorization that includes increased spending on infrastructure, transit, rail, and climate sustainability.

GHSA also anticipates Secretary Buttigieg will propose a more progressive approach to highway safety. During his presidential campaign, Secretary Buttigieg’s platform called for a national vision zero plan and more federal pressure to push states to improve highway safety.

The new administration tapped Steven Cliff to serve as Deputy Administrator and Acting Administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) until an Administrator is nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Deputy Administrator Cliff was formerly the Deputy Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board and previously served as Assistant Director of Sustainability at the California Department of Transportation. His selection, along with other new political appointees, signals the administration’s strong focus on transportation and the environment.

GHSA shared its recommended priorities for U.S. DOT with the Biden transition team prior to Secretary Buttigieg’s nomination. GHSA recently joined with the Road to Zero Coalition and other highway safety advocates to urge President Biden to tackle this challenge head-on by committing to zero fatalities by 2050. GHSA encourages its members and partners to join the call to action here.

117th Congress Takes the Gavel
The 117th Congress began on January 3, welcoming many new members and committee changes. Following the January 5 special elections in Georgia, the Democratic Party won control of the U.S. Senate, establishing rare trifecta leadership of both chambers of Congress and the White House. Though Vice President Kamala Harris may serve as a Democratic tiebreaker on the floor, the Senate struck a deal in early February to establish organizational rules in its otherwise unique 50-50 environment.

Though the Democratic majority may lead to the consideration of more ambitious policy proposals, partisan margins remain razor thin in both chambers. Getting any legislation across the finish line will require consensus and compromise. Last year’s extension of the FAST Act expires on September 30, 2021. All previous reauthorization legislation from 2020 has expired. This clean slate of the new 117th Congress will provide an opportunity to make changes and Senate Democratic leaders have already indicated they intend to return to the drawing board on reauthorization plans. GHSA continues to share its reauthorization recommendations widely on Capitol Hill and is positioning itself to engage on a bipartisan basis throughout the legislative process.

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2020 and the first few months of 2021 have been, to put it mildly, interesting times. With so many individuals and families impacted by recent events, I think it is safe to say that most of us are ready for less interesting times.

We are certainly all ready for safety on our roadways to be trending in the right direction after the discouraging news that traffic deaths have increased during the pandemic (skip to Directions article). To combat this troubling trend, GHSA has been active on a host of fronts:

  • As you may have seen in the news, GHSA and Ford Motor Company Fund report, "Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle," highlights the significant role speeding plays in teen driver fatalities and offers practical tools to help parents rein in this lethal driving habit. In addition to the report, a series of infographics help to tell the story (skip to Directions article). The GHSA/Ford Driving Skills for Life webinar had an exciting reveal as Ford Motor Company Fund’s Jim Graham announced that the Ford Driving Skills for Life program will provide competitive grants to states totaling $100,000.
  • GHSA promoted the release of the inaugural Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program (BTSCRP) report, “Examining the Implications of Legislation and Enforcement on Electronic Device Use While Driving,” published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) and funded through NHTSA. The report includes a library of resources and best practices that states and other stakeholders can use to enact or revise their laws and enhance enforcement and education efforts. Stay tuned for future BTSCRP reports addressing a range of traffic safety topics, including how infrastructure design impacts distracted driving, e-scooter safety, child safety in ride-hailing vehicles, traffic safety messaging on electronic signs, and employer-based behavioral traffic safety programs. A webinar, free for GHSA members, will be held on March 15 from 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. ET. Details are available online and you must register through
  • In addition to our research being in the news, did you see GHSA and Lyft’s campaign to reduce impaired driving in five states? Through the holiday season and during Super Bowl Sunday, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas distributed Lyft ride credits and used creative campaigns to raise public awareness of their programs (skip to Directions article).
  • GHSA is committed, through leadership, culture change, training and accountability, to contribute to reforms to achieve justice, and we were pleased to release recommendations to fight racism in law enforcement. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we remain committed to working with SHSOs to ensure fair and equitable traffic enforcement. We were also pleased to see the National Safety Council acknowledge the important role of equitable law enforcement in improving traffic safety.
  • In January, the National Law Enforcement Liaison Program (NLELP) held its first virtual networking webinar where attendees learned from NHTSA and GHSA about upcoming mobilizations and webinars, the multi-day LEL virtual conference in August, and the GHSA Annual Meeting in September. If you missed it, you can watch the recording.

GHSA staff is working hard on our 2021 Annual Meeting, and we are hoping you will join us in Denver for great sessions, exhibits and in-person conversations. We have information on our website and details in this edition of Directions (skip to Directions article).

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

Outlook on 2020 National Traffic Fatalities: All Signs Point to an Increase in Fatalities

In early January, NHTSA released new data analysis showing significant increases in fatal crashes from January through September 2020. During this period, an estimated 28,190 people died in traffic crashes, a 4.6% increase from the same period in 2019, despite a national 14.5% decrease in vehicle miles travelled (VMT). If the uptick continues, the number of roadway deaths in 2020 will likely negate gains made in 2019, when fatalities fell by 2%.

The factors driving this concerning trend are multi-faceted. From coast to coast, SHSOs reported increased incidences of excessive speeding. Some states also reported reductions in traffic enforcement due to pandemic-related duty assignments and changes in the wake of the national discussion on equity and policing.

NHTSA confirmed what the states were reporting when the agency released an analysis for the first six months of 2020 showing an uptick in fatalities. declining belt use and increases in speeding and impaired driving. Despite fewer drivers on the road, those that were behind the wheel appeared to be less risk averse. In addition, some motorists may have viewed empty roadways as an opportunity not only to speed, but also to engage in other risky behaviors.

State of the States

Maryland and Virginia Awarded GHSA/IIHS/NRSF Speed Management Pilot Grants

GHSA, in partnership with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF), has selected Maryland and Virginia to each receive $100,000 to develop, implement and evaluate speed management pilot programs. The comprehensive initiatives will simultaneously leverage engineering, equitable enforcement, education, public outreach and advocacy strategies to reduce speeding. Maryland’s project will be located in a rural setting, while Virginia’s will be in an urban area.

The speed pilots will launch once traffic patterns stabilize enough for IIHS experts to conduct a valid before-and-after evaluation of the programs. The goal is to develop a template for effective speed reduction strategies that can be duplicated in other states and communities. The initiative is critical, as more than 9,000 people die each year in speeding-related crashes.

Read the full announcement here.

Lyft Program Offers Rides in Five States

Lyft and GHSA partnered for a third year to award State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) a combination of cash and ride credits to address impaired driving during the most recent holiday season and on Super Bowl Sunday. Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas received grant funding to create campaigns offering redeemable ride credits and alternatives to impaired driving. The states and their partners used traditional and social media and other tools to reach key audiences with this lifesaving message. Here is a summary of the state initiatives:

  • The Colorado Department of Transportation conducted a “Gift of Lyft” campaign offering the public $10 off a Lyft ride in exchange for signing an online pledge to never drive impaired.
  • The Illinois Department of Transportation partnered with law enforcement agencies in Sangamon and Macon Counties, populous areas with limited alternative transportation options, to remind those planning to celebrate the season “we’ll be everywhere during the holidays, but so is Lyft.”
  • The New Mexico Department of Transportation combined Lyft safe rides with its statewide ENDWI campaign to encourage holiday revelers in Las Cruces, an impaired driving hot spot, to opt for a safe ride home.
  • The North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) partnered with health and safety organizations to encourage people to use Lyft as an alternative to impaired driving through their holiday “Booze It and Lose It” campaign. GHSP also distributed face coverings featuring KeysFreeNC at stores throughout Charlotte.
  • The Texas Department of Transportation partnered with law enforcement agencies and alcohol retailers to promote Lyft rides in Harris County (home to Houston) through in-store promotion and officer engagement.

In 2020, States Acted on Distracted Driving, Vision Zero, Marijuana

Some of the actions that state legislatures took in 2020 to address highway safety are now in effect or will be later this year. Here is a brief overview of new and noteworthy laws:

  • Idaho, Indiana, South Dakota and Virginia enacted hand-held cell phone bans, bringing the total to 24 states and three territories. South Dakota also upgraded its texting ban from secondary to primary enforcement. Currently, 46 states and three territories ban texting while driving, of which three laws are secondary enforcement.
  • New York expanded its seat belt law to cover all seating positions, becoming the 20th state, along with three territories, to adopt this law. An additional 11 states and one territory require seat belt use only in the front seat.
  • South Dakota revised its Graduated Driver Licensing law to require teens to log more supervised practice driving hours among other improvements.
  • Hawaii passed a law directing the state to adopt a Vision Zero policy, while the District of Columbia Council approved a comprehensive package of Vision Zero legislation. Both laws include provisions addressing speed management and pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
  • The Vermont Legislature passed a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, while voters in five other states reformed marijuana laws via ballot measures. Montana established 21 as the legal age to purchase, possess and consume marijuana for recreational use. Arizona and New Jersey also legalized recreational marijuana, while South Dakota approved legalization for both recreational and medical use. And Mississippi became the first southern state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Learn more about these and other state laws by visiting the Issues section on the GHSA website. The section was recently revised to make searching for a particular law by issue or state easier. There is also a feature that enables users to compare state laws. GHSA also asks for the SHSOs help in keeping this section of the website up to date by emailing Russ Martin whenever new laws are adopted.

Did You Know

GHSA 2021 Annual Meeting Set for Denver 

Annual Meeting

GHSA is excited to announce that the 2021 Annual Meeting will be held in person in Denver, Colorado, September 11-15. Recognizing the many health and safety challenges we faced during the past 12 months, this year’s theme, “Moving Mountains: Forging a New Traffic Safety Landscape,” seems entirely appropriate.

Under the leadership of Colorado’s Carol Gould, the Annual Meeting Planning Committee is developing a robust agenda that will explore the impact of the pandemic on driving behaviors with a particular focus on speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and seat belt use. Attendees will dig into these persistent problems during plenary sessions and workshops as well as focus on other critical topics including the safety of vulnerable road users, automated vehicles, state highway safety office management, and more. GHSA is working with our partners and vendors to ensure that all safety protocols are taken.

GHSA is committed to including dynamic and engaging speakers in the lineup. At Monday’s welcome luncheon, attendees will hear from bestselling author Brad Meltzer. While readers may be familiar with his political thrillers, such as “The Inner Circle,” he’s also the creator of “The Lost History” television show and both a non-fiction and comic book writer. Meltzer will deliver a compelling message about how ordinary people can change the world.


On Tuesday, GHSA will honor the recipients of the 2020-2021 Highway Safety Awards at the annual luncheon and later that evening host a special social event at a secret location (more to come on that). Attendees will want to stay through Wednesday’s closing luncheon as NFL Hall of Famer and Buffalo Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly, will provide insights on teamwork and leadership as he shares his personal story of perseverance and determination. It is sure to be an inspiring presentation that is not to be missed.

This year’s meeting will take place at the Sheraton Denver Downtown, which is located on the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian promenade brimming with shopping, dining, night life and entertainment. Room reservations will be available later this spring and meeting registration will open in early June. Be sure to register before July 30 to take advantage of the special State and Associate Member rate of $550. Sponsorship and exhibit opportunities are also available.

Plan on joining the GHSA Board and staff in Denver this September!

New GHSA Report Highlights the Deadly Consequences of Teen Speeding

Teens and Speeding

A new GHSA/Ford Motor Company Fund report is helping to call attention to the dangers speeding poses for teens, our most at-risk drivers. One of the key findings of “Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle” is that between 2015 and 2019 teen drivers (16-19 years of age) accounted for a greater proportion of speeding-related fatalities than all other age groups – 43% versus 30%. During this five-year-period, nearly 5,000 teen drivers and passengers died in speeding-related crashes.

The report took a deep dive into NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data and revealed that the teen driver involved in these fatal crashes is more likely to be male, have run off the road or rolled the vehicle and be unbuckled. Nearly half of all teen drivers killed in speeding-related crashes were unrestrained. The FARS analysis also found that the youngest teen drivers (16- and 17-year-olds) have the highest fatal crash risk due to lack of experience, but 18- and 19-year-olds are more likely to crash later at night and on highways and freeways. And the likelihood of a teen driver having a speed-related fatal crashes rises exponentially with each additional peer in the vehicle.

Parents play a key role in addressing this deadly situation. The report offers real-world, practical tools and technologies they can leverage to help rein in speeding teens and reevaluate their own driving habits. The latter is especially important since speeding is typically passed down from parent to child.

Also included are 19 recommendations directed to the State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) and their partners focusing on speed enforcement, driver education and training, parent and teen engagement, peer-to-peer programs and more. To encourage implementation, GHSA is partnering with the Ford Driving Skills for Life program to make $100,000 in competitive grants available to the SHSOs. More information on the grants will be available this spring.

The report, infographics and new release can be downloaded from the GHSA website.

The Return of a Fan Favorite: NLELP Shares Ideas and Highlights Programs in Podcasts

LELThe National Law Enforcement Liaison Program (NLELP) is excited to relaunch a podcast series that highlights the work of law enforcement liaisons (LELs) across the country. The LEL Podcast will continue speaking with and about the LELs and their work with traffic safety organizations dedicated to saving lives, with a goal of assisting the LELs as they promote traffic safety to law enforcement and in the communities they serve. The new version of the LEL Podcast will include episodes in both video and audio formats so users can listen or watch in the format that best suits their needs.

Dr. Darrin Grondel of was the first guest of the LEL Podcast relaunch, which was released earlier this month. You can listen to or watch the conversation by clicking here.

NLELP originally launched the podcast series in 2015. Recordings of past episodes, available on the NLELP website, include guests discussing rural LEL programs, social media, Florida’s Challenge Program and the National Park Service LEL Program. Podcast production stopped in 2016 but they are back in 2021.

GHSA is interested in ideas for guests, topics and programs. Please email suggestions to Tim Burrows.

Vehicle Safety Recalls and Check To Protect

Vehicle Safety Recalls Week, March 8 - 12, focuses on the importance of getting recalls fixed immediately and checking for recalls at least twice a year. NHTSA administered nearly 900 safety recalls affecting more than 55 million vehicles and other equipment in 2020, yet only 75% of vehicles recalled in a given year are ever fixed.

GHSA partners with the Check to Protect program, a National Safety Council initiative, to remind motorists about the importance of getting vehicle safety recalls fixed and to increase awareness of how dangerous they can be if they go unrepaired. State Highway Safety Offices and Associate Members are encouraged to help amplify this important message through your social media and other channels. Ready to use social media content is available on the Check To Protect media materials website, including CellARide (text to check for recalls) and partner posts in English and Spanish. An e-newsletter, written PSAs/messages and a template press release are also available.

Cellphone Laws and Their Impact on Teens Calling While Driving

The findings of a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined teen driver use of cell phones while driving (CWD) and found states with concurrent laws (a young driver ban plus a ban on hand-held calling for all drivers irrespective of age) are the most effective at getting novice drivers to hang up and focus on the road.

Using Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data from 14 states for 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, the researchers grouped the states by type of cellphone law: no hand-held ban either for teens or all other drivers, a ban prohibiting all forms of CWD use by teen drivers, or a concurrent ban prohibiting both teens and all other drivers from hand-held CWD.

More than 150,000 high school students participated in the survey, with 45% having reached the minimum age to obtain an intermediate license and drive during the 30-day survey period. Approximately 53% of the participants reported CWD at least once during the previous 30 days. Compared to students with no bans, those from states with concurrent bans were 19% less likely to engage in CWD. Students in states with concurrent bans were 23% less likely to engage in CWD compared to students in states with young driver bans only.

The researchers noted that further research into the effectiveness of cellphone laws is warranted, but “it is apparent that restricting [hand-held cellphone use by] drivers of all ages, including teens, may influence the traffic safety culture on distracted driving.”

CDC Releases New Tribal Road Safety Fact Sheets

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest motor vehicle-related death rates of all racial and ethnic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, crash-related injuries and deaths among members of Tribal nations can be prevented. The CDC recently released new fact sheets that discuss how to reduce crash-related injuries and deaths in Tribal nations. The fact sheets call for:

  • Increasing the use of seat belts and child safety seats
  • Reducing alcohol-impaired driving
  • Improving teen driver safety

Each fact sheet identifies proven strategies for addressing crash-related injuries, including the use of occupant restraints, primary enforcement of seat belt laws, high visibility enforcement, blood alcohol concentration laws, and graduated driver licensing. The fact sheets, along with posters and a video, are included in the Roadway to Safer Tribal Communities Toolkit that SHSOs working with Tribal nations are encouraged to review and share with their partners.

The toolkit compliments the CDC’s Tribal Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention Best Practices Guide 2016, which discusses recommended strategies and outlines five important components for success – commitment, collaboration, data and evaluation, tailored evidence-based strategies, and technical support.

Member Spotlight

Several GHSA Associate Members were invited to give “Directions” readers a quick glimpse at their respective organizations and what is new via a brief video interview. This month, GHSA features the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Dr. David Harkey and Melissa Wandall, President of the National Coalition for Safer Roads.

David Harkey, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Melissa Wandall, National Coalition for Safer Roads

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

From Our Perspective

Dispatches from the Pandemic

Kurt EricksonKurt Erickson
Washington Regional Alcohol Program (

With a goal of sparing you the pandemic tropes of pivotunprecedenteduncertain times and we’re all in this together, I appreciate GHSA affording the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) this opportunity to provide some “Dispatches from the Pandemic.” My goal is to briefly discuss the implications – and opportunities – to local traffic safety programming during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded in 1982, the nonprofit (501[c][3]) WRAP is an award-winning public-private partnership working to prevent drunk driving and underage drinking in the Washington (DC) metropolitan area. Through public education, innovative health education programs and advocacy, WRAP is credited with keeping the metro-Washington area’s alcohol-related traffic deaths historically lower than the national average. WRAP, however, may best be known to area residents via the organization’s popular free safe ride service for would-be drunk drivers, SoberRide®.

While no one is 100% immune from COVID’s impact, the pandemic has revealed WRAP and many state and local traffic safety organizations as resilient entities still focused on finding new pathways to achieving our local and lifesaving missions. During the pandemic, we have all become navigators charting new and often virtual courses for our prevention and safety programming governed by the old computer-voiced “recalculating” prompt as public health now demands that we take alternative routes to public safety.

WRAP has long prided itself on being an effective and results-oriented steward of the public and private support it is entrusted with (including spending just 3% of its total expenses on administration and/or fundraising). In the last year, this responsibility has been exemplified by our organization as we converted a number of program offerings to online applications, evaluated the pandemic’s impact on local behaviors (including that of law enforcement), adapted prevention strategies to effectively resonate in the “new normal,” and coexisted “safer-at-home” messaging with calls-for-safety if people did go out and alcohol was involved.

WRAP and its state and local traffic safety partners have responded to the disheartening pandemic realities that impaired drivers are not self-quarantining. This was recently confirmed by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research that indicated despite vehicle miles traveled decreasing by a double-digit percentage, highway deaths increased by nearly 5%. And despite COVID restrictions, NHTSA also reported in an Open Letter to the Driving Public that 65% of drivers treated in five trauma centers tested positive for drugs or alcohol.

While our collective and continuing response to the further ills of the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly necessary, it has also proven to effectively unify U.S. traffic safety professionals under a Saved Lives Matter banner. This shared movement is key to effectively pivoting during these unprecedented and uncertain times. Because we are all in this together. (Sorry.)


Contact Us

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

GHSA Executive Board

Contributors to this Issue

  • Tim Burrows
  • Kerry Chausmer
  • Kurt Erickson
  • Pam Shadel Fischer
  • Russ Martin
  • Stephanie Nguyen
  • Kara Macek
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