Founder of National Road Safety Foundation, Former South Dakota State Official, Others Honored at National Awards Luncheon

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September 14, 2021

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Awards presented at 2021 GHSA Annual Meeting recognize leaders and innovators in behavioral traffic safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) today presented its 2021 highway safety awards to two individuals who have made tremendous contributions to traffic safety and four programs positively impacting impaired and distracted driving and pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The awards were presented in Denver at the 2021 GHSA Annual Meeting, the first in-person national traffic safety conference since early 2020.

GHSA presented its most prestigious honor, the James J. Howard Highway Safety Trailblazer Award, to Fred Manocherian, a pioneering and relentless advocate for highway safety. Manocherian’s dedication to traffic safety started more than six decades ago, when two of his high school classmates were struck and killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver shortly after graduation. In 1962, he founded what would later become the National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF) to educate people about the risks of dangerous driving behaviors and subsequently orchestrated a black envelop campaign that led then-President Nixon to allot $6 million to the Highway Safety Act of 1970. Manocherian’s effort also led to the formation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the annual allocation of Highway Trust Fund monies for safety education. In the nearly six decades since he began this work, NRSF has distributed free of charge more than one million copies of educational films and resources to thousands of schools, law enforcement agencies, and advocacy and community groups nationwide.

Lee Axdahl, former Director of the South Dakota Highway Safety Office and GHSA Executive Officer, received the Kathryn J.R. Swanson Public Service Award. South Dakota experienced record low crash fatality numbers during his tenure, including a 22% decline in roadway deaths in 2019. Axdahl also served as Chair of GHSA’s Federal Reauthorization Sub-Committee and led the association’s efforts to ensure Congressional leaders heard and acted upon state priorities during the drafting of the current federal transportation funding bill, the FAST Act.

GHSA also presented four Peter K. O’Rourke Special Achievement Awards for outstanding highway safety accomplishments to the following programs:

  • The DUI Specialized Prosecution Unit at the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, which strengthens prosecutors’ litigation skills by training them specifically for DUI cases. 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. This transformation took place as the island faced its worst natural disasters, Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
     
  • 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.
     
  • 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 effort 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.
     
  • 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. With people on foot accounting for 31% of motor vehicle deaths in New Jersey, the campaign focuses on the specific and unique needs of pedestrians at the local level to reduce fatalities and injuries statewide. Research confirms the campaign is sparking positive changes in both reported and observed behaviors by drivers and people on foot, and greater awareness of pedestrian safety laws.

More information on the award winners can be found on the GHSA website. To request a photo from the awards presentation, contact Adrian Nicholas at anicholas@ghsa.org. The full GHSA Annual Meeting schedule is available online.

GHSA did not select highway safety award winners in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of last year’s Annual Meeting. All award applications received in 2020 were considered alongside new applicants for the 2021 awards.

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About GHSA

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Visit ghsa.org for more information or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.