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Highway Safety Initiatives

Collaboration: The Key to Continued Reduction of Fatalities

By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP

reliminary figures indicate that crash fatalities declined 3 percent in 2010 over 2009, signifying an astounding 25 percent decrease in highway deaths between 2005 and 2010, from 43,510 to 32,788.1 Moreover, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) last year rose 20.5 billion miles, or 0.7 percent in 2010 over 2009.2 If these initial figures hold, the nation’s fatality rate per 100 million VMT was 1.09 last year—compared to 1.13 in 2009 and 1.46 in 2005—and was the lowest rate recorded since 1949.3 Significantly, 2 of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) 10 geographic regions recorded double-digit declines in crash deaths: the Pacific Northwest states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington (Region 10) at 12 percent; and the western states of Arizona, California, and Hawaii (Region 9) at 10.8 percent.4 The obvious question now becomes this: With Americans driving more miles and with ever-shrinking budgets, can traffic deaths continue to decline? The four Es—enforcement, engineering, education, and emergency medical services—working in concert with one another offer a positive response to this question.


Law enforcement agencies are undertaking far more activities with far fewer resources in these trying economic times. As their funding—and what it formerly supported—has dwindled, these agencies still have fulfilled their core responsibilities and many have been assigned new homeland security duties since 9/11. Officers have remained true to their oaths, for the country continues to be safe: The FBI reported that violent crime—that is, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault—decreased 6 percent last year over 2009,5 and traffic fatalities declined as well.

Law enforcement agencies always have generated tremendous amounts of information and have initiated in recent decades a variety of effective data-driven approaches to harness the usefulness of that information; they now are able to pinpoint and then target specific incidents when and where they intersect. Agencies can allocate their limited resources to when these resources will have the greatest impact if incidents’ locations and times of occurrence are known.

Several examples follow:

  • Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other Demonstration Program.6 Distracted driving continues to contribute to crashes, but two demonstration projects suggest that NHTSA’s high-visibility enforcement model reduced drivers’ use of handheld cellphones while driving by 57 percent in Hartford, Connecticut (from 6.8 percent to 2.9 percent); and 32 percent in Syracuse, New York (from 3.7 percent to 2.5 percent);7 as well as drivers’ texting while driving 72 percent in Hartford (from 3.9 percent to 1.1 percent) and 32 percent in Syracuse (from 2.8 percent to 1.9 percent).8 Officers employed two different enforcement strategies: those in Syracuse preferred roving patrols using “higher vantage points, SUVs, and unmarked vehicles,”9 while those in Hartford favored “a spotter technique, where an officer, usually standing on the side of the road, radioed ahead to another officer whenever a passing motorist using a handheld cellphone was observed. The second officer made the stop and wrote the ticket.”10

  • Target Zero Teams.11 On July 1, 2010, the Washington State Patrol initiated three full-time Target Zero teams consisting of one sergeant and six troopers each, in cooperation with allied agencies, in three counties. The aim of Target Zero was to reduce the 40 percent of statewide fatalities that are alcohol-related as an integral part of its overall goal of achieving zero fatalities by 2030; that is, a reduction of fatalities by 25 per year. Target Zero is a high-visibility impaired driving enforcement effort funded by NHTSA for two years, and those assigned made 1,000 arrests in three months and 2,400 in nine months with only three impaired driving fatalities. Target Zero achieved its goals in a mere ten months, and the patrol now intends to acquire funding in order to implement this effort statewide rather than only in the original three counties.

  • Although the number of drivers or motorcycle riders with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater declined from 48 percent in 1982 to 32 percent in 2009, 10,839 alcohol-impaired drivers nevertheless died in 2009.12 In terms of those fatalities that occurred from 12:00 midnight to 3:00 a.m., 66 percent were alcohol impaired.13 NHTSA has suggested employing sobriety checkpoints between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. to leverage their deterrent value, complemented by saturation or roving patrols between 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.14 Multiagency low-staffing sobriety checkpoints are one vehicle that can economically demonstrate law enforcement’s commitment to reducing impaired driving deaths and are force multipliers promoting cooperation and camaraderie among participating deputies and officers.15 Even though lack of restraint use by drivers of passenger cars and light trucks decreased from 64.3 percent in 1975 to 29.0 percent of 200916 and that by occupants of those vehicles declined from 68.5 percent in 1975 to 49.2 percent in 2009,17 21,969 unrestrained persons still died in 2009.18 Sixty-two percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2009 between 6:00 p.m. and 5:59 a.m. were unrestrained.19 Nighttime seat belt enforcement affords agencies another opportunity to save even more lives; can identify other criminal acts and traffic violations; and can be undertaken in tandem with other efforts, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation or roving patrols.


A number of economically worthwhile highway engineering strategies are available to reduce crashes, serious injuries, and deaths. • Cable barrier systems have substantially reduced fatalities from cross-median crashes and from rollover collisions in medians.

  • Improving signage on horizontal curves appears to be another cost-effective approach to reducing deaths.20

  • Roundabouts have proven effective in reducing vehicles’ speeds and individuals’ injuries in Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, and many other states.21

  • Shoulder rumble strips have proven quite effective in preventing roadway departure crashes. They have alerted drivers distracted by alcohol or other drugs; overcome with fatigue; or engaged in such varied behaviors as adjusting climate controls, applying cosmetics, changing a radio station or CD, drinking, eating, looking for a specific business, picking up a dropped item, shaving, talking to a passenger, and rubbernecking, and, simultaneously, they have afforded officers and other highway workers opportunities to escape imminent danger.

In terms of vehicle engineering, NHTSA predicts that the full implementation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 126—requiring as of September 1, 2011, the installation of electronic stability control (ESC) systems in 100 percent of passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or fewer22—will reduce singlevehicle crashes of passenger cars by 34 percent and single vehicle crashes of SUVs by 59 percent, with a much greater reduction of rollover crashes.23 Furthermore, NHTSA estimates the ESC will save 5,300–9,600 lives in all types of crashes annually once all light vehicles on the road are so equipped.24


All states except Hawaii have enacted “move-over” laws. Unfortunately, these statutes contain a hodgepodge of provisions and generally have not been well promoted or heavily enforced, although Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee joined together to raise awareness and initiate enforcement in the interest of safeguarding those highway workers covered by these laws.25 More importantly, move-over statutes have not reduced officer deaths, as an average of one officer per month was accidentally struck and killed by a vehicle over 17 consecutive years (1993–2009).26 However, the IACP State and Provincial Police Directorate has recommended “a national educational campaign to increase awareness of move over laws and increased and coordinated enforcement efforts of move over laws.”27 Hopefully, the similar aspects of these laws will be identified and broadcast so motorists will recognize their legal responsibilities, and those whom the laws were intended to protect will fare better.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

“Motor vehicle crashes account for 65 percent of all unintentional injury deaths for persons 15 to 24 years of age,”28 and “90 people still die every day on our nation’s roadways.”29 Even though rural roads carry only about one-third of U.S. traffic, they nevertheless account for more than half of U.S. traffic fatalities: 57 percent in 2009 alone.30 The fatality rate per 100 million VMT was 2.6 times higher in rural areas than in urban ones in 2008 (2.11 and 0.81, respectively).31 In every state, there were more deaths per 100 million VMT in rural areas than in urban ones.32 However, “currently within the United States, only 28 percent of the land mass and 83 percent of the population are coveredto reach a trauma center within 60 minutes—‘the golden hour.’”33 In 2009, there was a 26.3 percent difference between crash time and a 60-minute hospital arrival between rural and urban fatal crashes—63.2 percent to 89.5 percent, respectively.34 Dr. R Adams Cowley built the Maryland Shock Trauma Center on that premise: “There is a golden hour between life and death. If you are critically injured you have less than 60 minutes to survive. You might not die right then; it may be three days or two weeks later—but something has happened in your body that is irreparable.”35 Strategies that result in more swiftly detecting crashes in rural areas, expediting the response of qualified first responders to those crashes, and increasing the availability of medevacs to injury-appropriate trauma centers will afford severely injured persons who otherwise would become fatalities the opportunity to recover and live the remainder of their lives.

The recent substantial progress made in reducing crash fatalities must not regress. The four Es working in unison possess the knowledge and experience to tailor activities toward those areas where they can continue to save lives and reduce serious injuries. Many of these efforts can be accomplished with current resources by working both smarter and harder, neither of which is foreign to those serving in the four Es. Despite the immense challenges of the day, the rewards—saving lives and reducing serious injuries—far outweigh the efforts. ?


1“Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Fatalities in 010,” NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, April 2011, DOTHS 811 451, 1, (accessed November 3, 2011).
4Ibid., 3.
5Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, September 2011, (accessed November 3, 2011).
6Linda Cosgrove, Neil Chaudhary, and Ian Reagan, “Four High-Visibility Enforcement Demonstration Waves in Connecticut and New York Reduce Hand-Held Phone Use,” Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, July 2011DOT HS 811 845, 2, (accessed November 3, 2011).
7Ibid., 1, 5–6, 10.
8Ibid., 1, 5–6.
9Ibid., 4.
11IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Agenda Screening Meeting Minutes, March 13–14, 2010,” 6, (accessed November 3, 2011); IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Midyear Meeting Minutes, June 16–19, 2010,” 1, (accessed November 3, 2011); IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Annual Meeting Minutes, October 24, 2010,” 4–5, (accessed November 3, 2011); IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Agenda Screening Meeting Minutes, March 26–27, 2011,” 6, (accessed November 3, 2011); and IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Midyear Meeting Minutes, June 15–18, 2011,” 7, (accessed November 3, 2011).
12NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Traffic Safety Facts 2009: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System, DOT HS 811 402, September 2011, table 13, 32, (accessed November 3, 2011).
13Ibid., table 61, 94.
14IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Midyear Meeting Minutes, June 4–7, 2008,” 3–4 (accessed November 3, 2011).
15NHTSA, Low-Staffing Sobriety Checkpoints, DOT HS 810 590, April 2006, (accessed November 3, 2011).
16NHTSA’s NCSA, Traffic Safety Facts 2009, table 21, 39.
17Ibid., table 22, 40.
18Ibid., tables 21 and 22, 39-40.
19NHTSA’s NCSA, Traffic Safety Facts: Highlights of 2009 Motor Vehicle Crashes, DOT HS 811 363, August 2010, 3, (accessed November 3, 2011).
20Federal Highway Administration, Techbrief: Safety Evaluation of Improved Curve Delineation, FHWA-HRT-09-046, August 2009, (accessed November 3, 2011).
21Betty J. Mercer, AASHTO Safety Leadership Forum V: Toward Zero Deaths (TZD): Aggressive Plans to Meet Aggressive Goals (Washington, D.C.: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, August 2011), 10.
2249 CFR 571 §126, S3.1 and S8.4, (accessed November 3, 2011).
23NHTSA, (accessed November 3, 2011).
25IACP Division of State and Provincial Police, Preventing Traffic-Related Lineof-Duty Deaths, May 2011, 23, (accessed November 3, 2011).
26Federal Bureau of Investigation, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2002, October 2003, table 52, November 3, 2011); Federal Bureau of Investigation, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2009, October 2010, table 61, (accessed November 3, 2011).
27IACP Preventing Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths, 13.
28Mercer, AASHTO Safety Leadership Forum V, 5.
29Ibid., 11.
30NHTSA’s NCSA, Traffic Safety Facts 2009, table 60, 93.
31NHTSA’s NCSA, Traffic Safety Facts:2008 Data Rural/Urban Comparison, DOTHS 811 164, August 2010, (accessed32 November 3, 2011).
32Larry Copeland, “More Motorists Die on Rural Roads,” USA TODAY, October 6, 2009, (accessed November 3, 2011).
33Mercer, AASHTO Safety Leadership Forum V, 5.
34NHTSA’s NCSA, Traffic Safety Facts 2009, table 27, 50.
35University of Maryland Medical Center, “Tribute to R Adams Cowley, M.D.,” March 27, 2008, (accessed November 4, 2011).

Please cite as:

Richard J. Ashton, "Collaboration: The Key to Continued Reduction of Fatalities," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 78 (December 2011): 104–106.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 12, December 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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