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Caltrans Honored for Strategic Highway Safety Plan

Wed November 18, 2009 - West Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

The Roadway Safety Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has recognized the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for its Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), which is a plan to reduce highway fatalities by 20 percent.

The SHSP proactively identifies and establishes priorities for the state’s highest transportation safety issues. To develop the SHSP, Caltrans partnered with safety stakeholders from federal, state, and local agencies, as well as private groups and individual citizens. Other members of the plan’s steering committee included the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the California Office of Traffic Safety, the California State Association of Counties/County Engineers Association of California, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the California League of Cities, the California Department of Public Health, the city of Folsom Police Department, the American Traffic Safety Services Association, the Emergency Medical Services Authority, Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Regional Transportation Planning Agencies. In all, more than 500 stakeholders provided input. The plan used data-driven analysis to identify the highest priority safety issues, and ultimately included 152 distinct “Actions.”

More than 300 safety stakeholders representing 80 different agencies and organizations are working together to implement the actions within the SHSP. For example, during this past year, Caltrans acted to improve safety by making school districts more aware of the Safe Routes to School program, expanded safety training for highway workers and CHP officers in construction zones, and trained engineers who design transportation projects on how to better accommodate older drivers and pedestrians.

“Delivering safety improvement projects is Caltrans’ utmost priority in order to achieve safety benefits as quickly as possible,” said Caltrans Director Randy Iwasaki. “All safety improvement projects meeting the eligibility criteria are guaranteed funding and are resourced from both federal and state funds.”

Roadway safety programs are a critical part in preventing injuries on the state’s highways. Caltrans implements many measures that make our highways safer. As a result of the SHSP, additional safety measures are being taken. The department has a long history of designing and building roadway projects such as straightening curves, and installing median barriers and safety hardware to improve safety. In 2008, California’s traffic fatalities decreased 13.2 percent, reaching their lowest level since 1975.

California has seen several consecutive years of improved safety in many areas. Traveler fatalities on state highways in 2006 were 1.01 fatalities/100 million vehicle miles traveled (MVMT). The fatality rates went down to 0.94 fatalities/100 MVMT in 2007, and down again to 0.81 fatalities/100 MVMT in 2008. Traffic fatalities decreased by 14 percent, from 3,995 in 2007 to 3,434 in 2008. Some of the decrease in traffic fatalities may be related to the decrease in the number of miles traveled by the state’s drivers in 2008.

In 2008, for the third year, DUI deaths declined in California. The drop was 9.1 percent, from 1,132 in 2007 to 1,029 in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The 2008 figure marks a total decrease of nearly 21 percent from the most recent high point in 2005. “Reducing Impaired Driving Related Fatalities” is one of the 16 Safety Challenge Areas included in California’s SHSP.

Fatalities involving unlicensed drivers (expired, suspended, revoked, or not properly licensed for the type of vehicle) peaked in 2003 at 1,179. Each year since then, California has seen a decrease due to combined efforts to communicate the need for proper licensing, educating drivers, and increased enforcement. “Ensuring Drivers are Properly Licensed” is another of the 16 Safety Challenge Areas included in California’s SHSP.

From 2004 through 2008, safety belt usage in California increased steadily from 90.4 percent to 95.7 percent of vehicle occupants, which is significantly better than the national average of 83 percent. This means 356,697 more people buckled up in 2008. In California 1,920 people are alive today because they used seatbelts, child safety seats, motorcycle helmets, or had cars equipped with air bags in 2008. The estimates from NHTSA are calculated using the effectiveness of each device. “Increase Use of Safety Seat Belts and Child Safety Seats” also is one of the 16 Safety Challenge Areas included in California’s SHSP.

The Roadway Safety Award is presented biennially to programs and projects across the nation exhibiting excellence in roadway design. Recipients were evaluated on their innovation, effectiveness and efficient use of resources.

“By making a firm commitment to action that will better protect motorists, Caltrans has made a top priority out of highway safety and should be commended,” said Greg Cohen, executive director of the Roadway Safety Foundation. “The Safety Plan’s outstanding results showcase the value to everyone of good planning in making our highways safer for us all.”

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