Traffic Safety Header
February 2013 


How to increase traffic safety for those on foot


Staff Reports


Walking may be healthier than driving, but that's true only as long as motorists and pedestrians focus on safety. Too often, that's not the case.


Five pedestrians died in Ventura County and 212 were hurt during 2010 - about 18 a month, on average - according to a comprehensive report from the California Office of Traffic Safety.


The toll was highest in Oxnard, where one pedestrian was killed and 69 injured in 2010 (that's the most recent year for which comprehensive figures are available), followed in order by Ventura, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Camarillo.


Statewide, 623 people on foot were killed and 12,668 injured in that single year - a horrific toll of suffering, tragedy and loss.


Yet, there is no simplistic answer to this problem. That was made clear in a news article in The Star last week, reporting on legal claims by attorneys on behalf of four pedestrians severely injured last May.

The four - a woman and three girls - were struck by a minivan in Thousand Oaks as they were crossing Thousand Oaks Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in a commercial area.


The four were hit while they were in a marked crosswalk that was adorned with bright striping and "yield" diamonds on the street pavement.


It even was equipped with crosswalk beacons to call drivers' attention to it. You might assume all those features would have done the trick. But according to attorneys representing the pedestrians, the attention-grabbing safety features had the opposite effect.


They called it "a dizzying display of pavement lights, which tended to distract the attention and focus of drivers away from pedestrians crossing the street."


The irony in that line of reasoning is too striking to ignore, even though we don't intend to pass judgment prematurely on the argument nor to disparage the right of injured people to seek justice.


But in addition to installing all those safety features, the city was aggressive in enforcing traffic laws in that area. Police regularly conducted sting operations on Thousand Oaks Boulevard and ticketed drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians. One sting ended less than an hour before the minivan hit the woman and girls in the crosswalk.


All of which tells us there's no substitute for drivers being attentive at every moment they're behind the wheel. No safety equipment can substitute for that.


Pedestrians, too, need to be alert and aware of their surroundings, including paying close attention to approaching traffic and making eye contact with drivers when possible.


The report from the state Office of Traffic Safety shows that pedestrians' deaths and injuries overwhelmingly occurred while they were crossing a street or roadway, and most often while they were in a crosswalk.

As the figures show, a crosswalk is no guarantee of safety.

New Report Grades States on Highway Safety Laws


10th Annual Roadmap Report Highlights New Federal Funds for States that Take Action on Safety Initiatives 


WHAT: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) will release its tenth annual report card grading all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their performance in adopting 15 basic highway safety laws on adult and child occupant protection, impaired and distracted driving, and teen driving. This year's report focuses on the new incentive grant programs created in July, 2012, under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, MAP-21, (Pub. L. 112-141) to encourage state enactment of teen driver licensing laws, all-offender ignition interlock laws, distracted driving laws and occupant protection programs. Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show a dramatic reversal of previous declines in crash deaths, projecting a 7.1 percent increase of deaths in the first 9 months of 2012, compared to the first 9 months of 2011.


The 2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws report will feature the best and worst performing states, states making the most and least progress over the past year, dangerous loopholes in each state that contribute to preventable death and injury, and state-specific data on traffic deaths, injuries and related economic losses. 


For the entire report:


Report ranks Arizona traffic-safety laws among worst in nation


By Michelle Peirano, Cronkite News Service


A new report says Arizona "falls dangerously behind" when it comes to traffic safety laws, one of only six states to get a failing grade.


WASHINGTON - Arizona's vehicle-safety laws continue to be among the worst in the nation, according to a report released Tuesday by a national highway safety advocacy group.


The report by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety gave Arizona high marks for its child-safety and impaired-driving laws, but said the state falls short on laws governing seatbelt use, motorcycle helmets, texting behind the wheel and teen driving limits.


"Unfortunately, these laws aren't always at the top of the list," said Jacqueline Gillan, the group's president. "The public is paying with their lives and their wallets when state leaders delay and don't act."


Only Mississippi and South Dakota scored lower than Arizona, which tied with three other states that have fallen "dangerously behind" when it comes to adopting highway safety laws, the report said.


But Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, said the report does not accurately reflect Arizona's road safety or law enforcement.


"Arizona is Arizona. We don't have to kowtow to anybody, including the highway safety advocates," Gutier said. "They don't look at the whole picture; they look at little lines on the map."


Gutier said there is always room for improvement but he insisted that Arizona is in pretty good shape. He added that he does not think many of the laws outlined in the report are enforceable.


But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said the report should be taken seriously.


"It's not surprising we're ranked so lowly," Farley said. "We don't do a very good job of updating all of our driving-safety laws."


Farley said he plans to introduce several traffic-safety bills this year, including one to ban texting while driving, one to let police stop someone for not wearing a seatbelt and another to prohibit minors from using a cell phone while driving.


Farley said his proposed ban on texting behind the wheel - which he first introduced in 2007 - has garnered public support but that opposing lawmakers claim it would infringe on freedoms.


He counters that argument by saying the freedom to text pales compared to the freedom lost by "someone who is hit head-on by a texting driver."


Farley hopes that the new Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act will give lawmakers a financial incentive to pass his bills. The law, signed by the president last year, will offer up to $11 million to states to enforce vehicle-safety laws, he said.


The report did give Arizona credit for a new law, which took effect in August, requiring that children from ages 4 to 7 be strapped into a booster seat while in the car. That helped the state improve its standing from the last report by Gillan's group, when Arizona was second-worst in the nation.


But Arizona is still held back by its lack of a primary seatbelt law - which lets police pull people over for not wearing a seatbelt, instead of citing them only after they have been pulled over for some other infraction. That and the state's lack of a motorcycle helmet requirement for adults automatically disqualify the state from getting a "green," or passing, grade.


Former Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, sponsored the booster seat bill and said it took four years to get the law passed.


A physician convinced McLain that booster seats were necessary for children's safety, but she said some of the other laws promoted in the national report are extreme.


"A lot of my fellow conservatives believe these things shouldn't be mandated at all," McLain said. "We are independent-minded people for the most part."

Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for The First Nine Months (January-September) of 2012 


A statistical projection of traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2012 shows that an estimated 25,580 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. This represents an increase of about 7.1 percent as compared to the 23,884 fatalities that occurred in the first nine months of 2011, as shown in Table 1. Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first nine months of 2012 increased by about 14.2 billion miles, or about a 0.6-percent increase. Also shown in Table 1 are the fatality rates per 100 million VMT, by quarter. The fatality rate for the first nine months of 2012 is estimated to increase to 1.16 fatalities per 100 million VMT as compared to 1.09 fatalities per 100 million VMT during the first nine months of 2011.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is con­tinuing to gather data on crash fatalities for 2012 using infor­mation from police accident reports and other sources. While it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or poten­tial implications of any increase in deaths on our roadways, it should be noted that the historic downward trend in traf­fic fatalities in the past several years means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure. This is a pattern which has continued through the reported totals for 2011 released recently that show deaths at a 60-year low. In fact, fatalities during the first nine months of the year have declined by about 26 percent from the recent high in 2005 to the low during the first nine months of 2011 (from 32,141 fatal­ities in 2005 to 23,884 fatalities in 2011 during the first nine months of the year).


The estimated 7.1 percent increase during the first nine months of 2012 represents the largest such increase during the first nine months of the year since 1975 - the first year when NHTSA started collecting data on such crashes. The previous highest increase during the first nine months of a year was the 5.3 percent increase in fatalities reported in 1986 as compared to the fatalities reported during the first nine months of 1985. The significant increase in the first nine months of 2012 was largely driven by the estimated 13 percent increase in fatalities during the first quarter of 2012. Correspondingly, the fatalities during the second quarter are estimated to have increased by about 4.7 percent and in the third quarter by about 4.9 percent. The estimated fatality rates per 100 million VMT during the first, second and third quarters of 2012 were 1.09, 1.13 and 1.24, respectively.

As West Bridgewater cracks down on texting while driving, police discuss challenges of enforcement 


Police discover success, frustration in targeting texters 

A driver texted while driving in traffic before police stopped him near I-93 southbound and issued him ticket.


(David L. Ryan / Globe Staff)

By Martine Powers/ Globe


It was an elaborate crackdown, the first of its kind in West Bridgewater: Plainclothes officers stationed along Route 106 spotted dozens of people engrossed in their cellphones while they drove. A quarter-mile ahead, uniformed officers pulled the drivers over, 51 in ­total, for texting while driving.


But while 37 people were given $100 citations or warnings, 14 others were let go. They were not texting, they ­explained; they were dialing a call or looking at directions, both still legal.


The Jan. 5 operation, prompted in part by an ­increase in rear-end accidents in the town, highlights the prevalence of texting while driving, while illustrating why more jurisdictions are not cracking down.


When officers are alone on patrol, West Bridgewater police Lieutenant Victor Flaherty said, it's nearly impossible for them to ascertain who should be pulled over for violating the law and who is using their phone ­legally, for instance to help guide them to their destination.


To enforce the law effectively, he said, the state needs a ­total ban prohibiting all use of handheld cellphones while driving, requiring drivers to go "hands-free" by using a headset, speakerphone, or voice ­dialing. As it is, he said, "you can't really tell the difference beween what they're doing. . . . There's no way to enforce this on a regular basis."


Since the texting ban went into effect in September 2010, police departments around the Bay State have issued increasing numbers of citations to drivers. In the first nine months of 2012, the latest statistics available, 1,278 citations were issued statewide. During the same time period in 2011, citations were issued to 860 drivers.


Still, the numbers are low. On Jan. 5, in one four-hour stretch, West Bridgewater officers issued more citations than most towns give out in one year. In the first nine months of 2012, Boston police issued 52 violations.


Jeff Larson, president of the Safe Roads Alliance, a statewide organization that promotes safe driving, said he has heard many law enforcement officers worry that the current law is not enforceable. "It's a problem, and we knew it was going to be a problem from the moment the law was passed," Larson said. "A hands-free component to the law would allow police to enforce it more effectively."


But such a measure does not come easily. A hands-free law has passed twice, handily, in the Massachusetts House as part of more comprehensive bills on vehicular safety, but could not garner enough support in the Senate.


Mark C. Montigny, a state senator from New Bedford who has filed "hands-free" legislation in the past and plans to do so again, criticized the current texting ban as an unreasonable burden on police. Passing a "hands free" requirement is "definitely a fight worth fighting," he said.

Part of the resistance may have to do with a lack of evidence that any ban would work. A study published last year by MIT questioned the effectiveness of cellphone bans, demonstrating that drivers who use cellphones in the car are predisposed to risky behavior and drive more dangerously, with or without a phone in hand.

Still, Representative Joseph F. Wagner of Chicopee, disappointed by low numbers of texting citations, is proposing a law requiring drivers to use Bluetooth earpieces or speakerphones if they plan to talk on their phones. They would also be required to use a voice-activation system to make calls.


"Removing the devices from people's hands is the only way to prevent texting," Wagner said. "I am determined to try and advance this again from the House and to work with the Senate. It makes sound public policy sense. This measure wouldn't inconvenience anyone."


Wagner said he has grown annoyed at those who make a distinction between the dangers of tapping out a message behind the wheel and dialing a phone number.


When it comes to the difference between the two ways of using a cellphone, he said, "I don't particularly care. The fact is, they're both distractions; they're both preventable. We should do it, and we should do it sooner than later."


The West Bridgewater crackdown, Flaherty said, was born of his frustration watching fellow drivers tapping at their phones.


Between mid-November and mid-December, there were 20 rear-end collisions on Route 106 in West Bridegwater, an unusually high number, he said. While driving around town off duty, Flaherty said, he was dismayed to see the number of people staring into their laps while driving down major thoroughfares.

"I was just shocked," said Flaherty. "It's become routine."


West Bridgewater police conducted the crackdown by stationing two officers in unmarked vehicles 100 yards apart on each side of Route 106. The officers watched for texting drivers, making double-confirmation before radioing officers in marked cruisers who pulled them over.


Most admitted to using their phone for illegal purposes, and received $100 citations. One woman corrected the officer who pulled her over, saying she was not texting, but scanning Facebook.


Forty-eight percent of the texting drivers were between 16 and 25. None were over 40, said Flaherty. Sixty-four percent of the drivers were male.


Even in Brookline, known as one of the state's most aggressive cities when it comes to ticketing texters, police Captain ­Michael Gropman said it is usually possible to catch drivers in violation of the law only when they are driving slowly.


"It's easier to catch somebody at a stoplight or in heavy traffic than it is driving the roadway at 45 miles an hour," said Gropman. Brookline, he added, has also been plagued by increasing numbers of rear-end collisions.


A. Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said West Bridgewater and Brookline are not the only law enforcement agencies puzzling over how to enforce the law. Even if an officer believes he or she saw a driver texting, they may decide not to pursue issuing a citation because drivers can simply say they were dialing a number, rather than texting. Drivers are not required to hand over their phones when they are pulled over by police, so there is no way an officer can immediately know if the driver is telling the truth.


Martine Powers can be reached at

Iowa gets a 'caution' rating on its traffic safety efforts 


A group recommends a motorcycle helmet law, plus other measures.




Safety advocate group's recommendations

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety would like to see Iowa add laws that require: 

  • Motorists to be at least 16 to get learner's permits. Iowa now allows 14-year-olds to get permits. 
  • Helmets for motorcyclists. 
  • Booster seats for passengers through age 7. 
  • Drivers to be at least 18 to get unrestricted driver's licenses. 
  • More night driving limits for those with probationary, or graduated, licenses. 
  • A ban on texting while driving for all drivers that lets officers stop motorists for that offense alone. 
  • Breath locks on the vehicles of all those convicted of OWI. 
  • A limit of one teen passenger who isn't a member of the driver's family for those with probationary licenses. 
  • Thirty to 50 hours of supervised driving before a person can get an unrestricted driver's license.

A national advocacy group has ranked Iowa's traffic safety efforts with a yellow "caution" designation and called on all states to consider new laws as traffic fatalities climb nationally for the first time in years.


The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said Monday that Iowa has just six of the 15 laws the group considers essential to protect motorists, especially young ones.


For example, Iowa does not require motorcyclists to wear helmets. And while there is a statewide ban on texting while driving, police cannot pull someone over for that offense alone.


The group's 10th annual report card on states' safety efforts comes after years of decreased fatalities nationally gave way to an increase last year.


"While it is welcoming news that 2011 highway deaths have fallen to 32,367, a 1.9 percent decrease from 2010, it is concerning that preliminary figures for the first nine months of 2012 indicate a 7.1 percent increase in fatalities compared to 2011," reports the 2013 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws.


"Moreover, annual costs to society from motor vehicle crashes remain at more than $230 billion. There is no better time for states to act than now."


"Recent progress in reducing highway crashes, deaths and injuries has made states complacent," Jackie Gillan, the group's president, said in an interview. "No state has all 15 laws yet, even though several states enacted many of these laws in the 1970s and early 1980s.


"Last year, only 10 recommended state highway safety laws were passed, compared to 16 in 2011 and 22 in 2010. In fact, several states are moving backward and most states are not moving at all," Gillan added.

Iowa Department of Transportation lobbyist Elizabeth Baird said lawmakers appear interested in a couple of safety laws that could be debated in the session that started Monday.


One would require youths to drive a year instead of six months on a learner's permit before getting a license. Another would restrict the number of passengers a youth could have in the car in the first six months of having a driver's license, probably to one person other than members of the driver's household.

It's possible there may be debate over whether to allow law enforcement officers to pull drivers over simply for texting, which is banned, Baird said. As it stands, an officer has to cite a driver for some other offense before adding the texting infraction.


House Transportation Committee Chairman Joshua Byrnes, R-Osage, said he hasn't heard of specific proposals headed for the committee this year, but he's still sorting out what is likely.


Iowa had 360 traffic deaths in 2011 and again in 2012, the lowest totals since World War II, said state transportation safety engineer Jeremey Vortherms.


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety reported Iowa had an average of 410 traffic deaths a year over the past decade. That translated to a $2.1 billion cost to the economy annually, the group added.


Vortherms declined to comment on the group's ranking of Iowa's efforts. He said it's possible AAA or someone else might bring safety measures to the Legislature this year, but he is not sure they would address the advocacy group's wish list of laws.


The group gave Iowa credit for passing a seat belt law, restrictions on young drivers using cellphones, a six-month waiting period for an unrestricted license, an open-container law, mandatory blood-alcohol tests for those suspected of drunken driving, and a law that increases restrictions meant to protect young passengers.


Lawmakers may consider legislation to expand the use of ignition-interlock systems, or breath locks, for people convicted of drunken driving. Iowa law allows the state to require the devices on the vehicles of drivers convicted of operating while intoxicated under certain circumstances, but the advocacy group wants the devices ordered in all OWI cases.


Stolen Vehicle Slowdown Cuts the Chase



High-speed pursuits remain one of the most dangerous situations law enforcement can encounter. In fact, tens of thousands of these incidents occur every year, resulting in nearly 360 deaths annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


The good news is that OnStar's Stolen Vehicle Assistance technology can help prevent these hazardous scenarios from developing, as well as assist in bringing a high-speed chase to a safe conclusion. It also can help locate a stolen vehicle even when the vehicle isn't moving.


How does Stolen Vehicle Slowdown1 work?

  • Once an OnStar subscriber reports a stolen vehicle to law enforcement (and that agency treats the vehicle as stolen), the subscriber calls OnStar and requests Stolen Vehicle Assistance.
  • An OnStar Advisor uses GPS technology to locate the vehicle and relay the information to law enforcement. (The Advisor also sends a Remote Ignition Block signal on select vehicles to prevent the vehicle from starting at the next ignition attempt.)
  • Once law enforcement has the vehicle in clear sight, the Advisor sends a signal to flash the exterior lights, confirming the vehicle's identity.
  • When law enforcement indicates conditions are safe, the Advisor sends a signal to reduce the vehicle's engine power, gradually slowing it (while maintaining steering and braking functions), so the vehicle can be pulled safely to the side of the road.
  • After the suspect is apprehended, OnStar can re-enable the vehicle at the request of law enforcement, allowing it to be driven from the scene.

In short, Stolen Vehicle Slowdown not only works to recover an OnStar subscriber's vehicle; it also helps protect law enforcement officers and innocent civilians in the process, making it a win-win for everyone involved.

Utah given low ranking for traffic safety laws


By Lee Davidson, The Salt Lake Tribune


Only 10 states receive a lower grade than Utah in a new report card on traffic safety laws released Tuesday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of insurance companies and consumer, health and safety groups.


It rates states according to how many of what it calls 15 "lifesaving laws" each has passed. Utah has enacted eight. Only 10 states have enacted fewer.


No state has enacted all 15. New York has enacted the most, 13,. South Dakota has the fewest, only three.

The group called on Utah to pass such laws as requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has said he will push such a bill this year, but motorcycle groups are vowing a fight.

Advocates also urge Utah to pass a law to allow police to stop and ticket drivers when they see a violation of seat-belt laws for front-seat occupants. Currently, police may issue such tickets only as a "secondary" offense after pulling over motorists for other violations.


The group also seeks several changes in graduated driving licenses for teens, including requiring teens to reach age 16 before obtaining a learning permit; requiring reaching age 18 for an unrestricted license; toughening restrictions on night driving and cell phone use; and limiting how many teen passengers are allowed without adult supervision.


The group praised Utah for previously passing such laws as requiring booster seats for children; several tough laws on drinking and driving; banning texting while driving; and requiring some adult-supervised driving for new teen drivers.


Jacqueline S. Gillan, president of Advocates, said the laws it promotes save lives, cut medical costs and help states qualify for federal incentive grants.


"This is a win for motorists, for state budgets and for taxpayers," she said.

Vehicle Marking and Visibility Guide

A new guide highlights study findings that detail best practices for making emergency vehicles more visible to help reduce collisions and save lives. This guide provides information on the application of various arrangements of emergency warning devices, creative use of retro reflective decal markings, and other innovative designs; all with the intent of increasing the visibility of emergency vehicles to motorists approaching them. It focuses on emergency vehicles not covered by existing standards in this area.


Download Vehicle Marking and Technology for Increased Highway Visibility: A Reference Guide for Decision Makers at: