Partnering with State Highway Safety Offices: Tips and Tactics for Success
Table of
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
pdf version


How Does the Grant Application System Work?

Once you have developed a relationship with the SHSO and identified ways in which to assist the SHSO meet its State safety goals, you may want to consider a grant application. Each State has different procedures, but if you have established that relationship and have a better understanding of your State’s processes, you will then be able to decide how best to share your organization’s strengths, energy, and ideas.

Once the State has set its performance goals, it must have a process for selecting the appropriate projects for solving the State’s highway safety problems and meeting its goals. States use a variety of resources for selecting appropriate countermeasures:

  • Reviewing data evaluating the previous year’s projects
  • Examining best practices
    • Those identified by NHTSA through the Traffic Safety Digest and other publications
    • Those identified by other organizations
    • Those based on neighboring States’ successes
  • Reviewing recent research results on highway safety issues and problems in publications such as NHTSA’s Traffic Tech reports
  • Receiving input from outside organizations
  • Reviewing technical reports on topical highway safety issues published by
    • NHTSA
    • FHWA
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    • Transportation Research Board (TRB)
    • Other agencies
  • Reviewing NHTSA’s program advisories that outline the elements of an effective program.

Proposed projects generally fall into three categories:

  • Enforcement
  • Education
  • Prosecution/adjudication

Other programs that may be considered are those that:

  • Analyze roadway safety problems
  • Provide training or other operational support
  • Improve the State’s traffic records system or other internal system
  • Improve the State’s emergency medical services systems.

Projects may be Statewide or local in nature. They may be projects that can be accomplished in a single year or may require multiyear funding.

SHSOs may look at a variety of alternative strategies for reaching their State goals. They select the project(s) with the fewest barriers and/or those most likely to succeed. SHSOs also examine whether the proposed project is technically feasible and politically acceptable to key stakeholders, and what kind of impact it will have.

TIP #7
Selecting Projects
Every State selects countermeasures differently. When you contact the SHSO, ask about the criteria the States use in selecting countermeasures.

What types of proposals get turned down? Applications that:

  • Are not performance-based and data-driven or will have little impact on the problem (“feel good” projects)
  • Do not relate to the problems identified in the HSP
  • Are of poor quality
  • Submitted by organizations or agencies that have a poor track record in managing projects (except under special circumstances)
  • Use Federal funding to replace existing State or local funding instead of funding a new or expanded effort (“supplanting,” which is prohibited by Federal regulation)
  • Support the general operations of an organization or agency
  • Fund staff positions that do not relate to a specific project
  • Seek funding for too much travel relative to the size of the project, travel that does not relate to the purposes of the project, or travel that has not been approved by the SHSO
  • Request equipment that is inconsistent with the purpose, size and scope of the project.

Some SHSOs are prohibited by State rules or policies from accepting proposals from nonprofit associations. In those cases, a grant must first go through a local government agency (e.g. local health department, law enforcement agency), which has to subcontract with the nonprofit.

Sometimes a highway safety problem may seem daunting at the local level but does not measure up when compared to other problems at the State level. For example, a community may be devastated by the death of a youngster in a bicycle crash. On a Statewide basis, however, there may be too few bicycle fatalities to warrant intervention with Federal highway safety grant funds. The SHSO may not select the project but may direct the organization to other useful resources and information. An agency or organization needs to understand this perspective when proposing a project.

Typical Criteria States Use in Selecting Projects

  • Why is this project needed?
  • What is the purpose of the project and what does it intend to accomplish?
  • How does the proposed project relate to the State’s highway safety problems and goals?
  • Who is proposing the project and what has been the working relationship between the potential partner and the SHSO?
  • Who is being served by the proposed project and how does this relate to identified high risk groups in the State?
  • Where will the project be undertaken and how does it relate to identified high risk areas in the State?
  • What is the technical and political feasibility of the project?
  • How big is the funding request, relative to the size of the problem, and the available funding?
  • What is the potential impact of the project and how will it be measured?
  • Over what time period will the project be conducted?
  • Are the proposed costs reasonable and allowable?
  • What kinds of non-Federal support will be offered?
  • What is the plan for sustainability of the project?

Sometimes an SHSO may also require a “hard” dollar matching formula for any funding request. This generally means that a portion of the total funds must come from the grantee. The hard matching requirement may be applied every year or only during the second and third year of a grant.

Projects funded with Federal highway safety grant funds are generally funded on a three-year basis with a declining share of Federal funding each year. At the end of the third year, grantees are expected to achieve self-sufficiency. Operational projects, such as those involving training or improvements to the State’s highway safety internal systems (such as traffic records), may be funded on a longer-term basis.

Every project proposal is reviewed, discussed and evaluated by the SHSO. Some States assign scores to prospective applications. Others select projects based on a combination of specific selection criteria. In any case, SHSOs strive hard to ensure that their project selection process is fair, defensible and directly tied to the State’s problem identification and goal-setting processes.

TIP #8
Improving your proposal
If your proposal is not selected, meet with the SHSO staff to determine how you can improve it next time.

There are a number of different deadlines for highway safety grant programs. Current dead-lines for Federal grant programs are on GHSA’s web site, The States plan their programs on a continuous, yearlong basis.

Typical Planning Schedule

November - February:

  • Review projects funded in the previous fiscal year
  • Use the results as input for the next fiscal year’s plan
  • Examine crash and other data to determine the leading highway safety problems

February - March:

  • Develop State highway safety goals
  • Solicit project proposals that meet State goals

April - May:

  • Review and evaluate project proposals.

June - July:

  • Select projects to fund with Federal highway safety grant funding
  • Organize projects into priority program areas in the draft Performance Plan/HSP
  • Submit plan for internal review in State
  • Continue working on PP/HSP and work out any remaining issues or problems

September 1:

  • Submit plan to NHTSA for final review

October 1:

  • New fiscal year – begin State implementation of approved projects if Federal funds are available

States typically start planning their upcoming fiscal year (which starts October 1) in the fall and winter of the previous year (e.g., Fiscal Year 2005 planning starts in September 2004). A State will review the projects funded in the previous year and use the results of that review as input for next year’s plan, which will be followed by an identification and analysis of the State’s problem and determination of goals for the next fiscal year. Once the State has performed its problem identification and goal-setting processes, it will then solicit project proposals. There are several different ways States may do this:

  • Send out a blanket solicitation to agencies, nonprofit organizations, previous grantee organizations, or other potential partners
  • Hold a conference and solicit applications at the conference
  • Target certain jurisdictions, asking a jurisdiction to submit a specific project proposal because it is a high-risk area
  • Accept unsolicited project proposals from potential partners or existing grantees with new ideas (some States, however, prohibit unsolicited proposals).

The State’s process may involve some combination of these approaches.

TIP #9
Proposal Solicitation
When contacting the SHSO, ask how the State solicits project proposals and if they accept unsolicited proposals. If the State has a bidders list (or equivalent) for organizations or agencies that wish to bid for projects, ask to be placed on the list.

The project proposals will then be reviewed, evaluated, selected and assembled into the State HSP. Some States convene a multidisciplinary review team to assist in the process, while other States use their own staff to handle the evaluation without outside support and input.

Many States also have other persons or agencies that must review the selected projects before the State plan can be finalized (e.g. the head of the State DOT or public safety agency, a transportation commission, the State legislature). It is common for a State to have a three- or four-layered State review process before the draft plan can be submitted to NHTSA.

NHTSA then reviews the plan to make sure that it is consistent with Federal requirements. Once that review is complete, and Congress has made Federal funds available for the next fiscal year, then the State can begin implementing its plan.

The schedule and process outlined in the box above is a greatly simplified one. Some States conduct their planning process much earlier. Other States have a more complicated planning schedule. As with other aspects of the State planning process, it’s important to remember that every State schedule is different.

TIP #10
Follow the Schedule
Potential partners often make the mistake of submitting a project proposal at the wrong time because they are unfamiliar with the State’s planning schedule. If the potential partner submits a proposal too late in the process, it cannot be considered for the upcoming fiscal year. This may cause the State and the potential partner unneeded frustration. Every State develops its plan according to State-specific schedules that take into account Federal requirements. When contacting the SHSO, be sure to ask about the schedule for developing plans and submitting project proposals.

Good project proposals:

  • Have a clearly defined problem Statement that uses available crash or other data and relates to problems identified by the SHSO in its HSP
  • Relate to the State annual and long-term highway safety goal
  • Establish quantifiable, measurable objectives
    • Use action words
    • Use clear, understandable language
    • Establish a framework to evaluate project success (see evaluation section)
  • Clearly define the scope of the project and the specific activities to be undertaken
  • Include project milestones and deliverables (plans, reports, etc.)
  • Make a funding request in proportion to the size of the highway safety problem
  • Include a detailed project budget.
TIP #11
State Crash Test Data
If you are having difficulty locating the necessary data for your project proposal, ask the SHSO for assistance. Generally, State crash data can be dissected by: county or city, time of day, type of crash, and other factors. Many States employ data analysts who may be able to help.

A Typical Project Objective
“To increase safety belt use
among youth aged 16-21 in XYZ
County from 65 percent to 70
percent in 2005.”

Some States offer an option that requires less upfront work. Applicants submit a concept paper rather than a detailed project application. If the concept relates to the State problems, goals and priorities, then the State may accept the concept and prepare to fund the project. The potential partner may then be asked to submit a more detailed project application.

A number of SHSOs conduct workshops to help potential partners submit the best grant application possible. During the applicant workshop, the SHSO staff may:

  • Review the role of the Federal government in highway safety
  • Detail Federal goals and priorities
  • Explain the State planning process and highway safety priorities for the year
  • Explain how projects are selected and when to submit applications
  • Review guidelines for submitting grant applications
  • Offer prospective applicants grant writing exercises
  • Explain State and Federal rules and regulations, including those relating to the financial management of the grant and equipment guidelines.

Potential partners interested in working with their SHSO should contact the SHSO to find out when and where these workshops are offered.
Some SHSOs (particularly medium-and larger-sized ones) may involve program staff members who will provide technical support as you develop your grant application. They can explain State and Federal rules and answer your questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are unclear about any aspect of the grant application process.

TIP #12
State Forms and Requirements
Every State handles the grant application process differently. State forms vary, as do State requirements. Ask questions to help familiarize you with the process.

Once the application is approved, it is critical that the grant be managed effectively. The first step in the process is the completion of the grant agreement. The grant agreement is similar to a contract, and typically includes:

  • Problem Statement that is based on a clearly identified problem
  • Project goals and measurable objectives
  • Project plan of action for reaching those goals
  • Clearly defined countermeasures, project milestones and deliverables
  • Project budget.

It may also require additional details, such as:

  • Public information and education components
  • Any training that may be required as part of the grant
  • Plan for evaluating the project success
  • Plan for achieving self-sufficiency
  • Statements assuring compliance with Federal rules and regulations, such as
    • Federal lobbying rules
    • Drug Free Workplace regulations
    • American for Disabilities Act regulations
    • Other Federal requirements.

State project agreements vary considerably, so it is important to familiarize yourself with what is required in your State.

Once the grant application is accepted, an agreement is executed and funds made available, the “potential partner” becomes a “gran-tee” and project implementation begins.

Many States contact grantees in the summer prior to the start of the fiscal year to begin the process of contracting with grantees to undertake specific Federally funded highway safety projects. The contracting process may take several months, depending upon the State agency, the grantee’s agency or organization, and the officials that need to sign off on the contract. Implementation can move forward only when the State receives its share of Federal funds (usually the start of the Federal fiscal year, October 1). Occasionally, Congress does not provide Federal funds on time, and grant agreements are held up until the funds are available.

Grantees usually have to meet with the SHSO staff to review the project agreement. A typical meeting includes the project director and the fiscal officer from the grantee organization, and the State program manager and State financial contact. Other participants may include any local official who may be involved in the project, and other key project personnel. The State staff will provide technical assistance on the project agreement and review Federal and State rules and requirements.

Many States conduct project management seminars to help grantee organizations understand what is expected of them. These seminars are highly recommended, as they provide grantee organizations with one-stop assistance in grant implementation.

After the contract is in effect, the grantee is required to submit progress reports (usually quarterly but sometimes more frequently). They will also need to do a final project report, and they may be required to collect evaluation data to show how well their program is working.

Grantees are also required to submit invoices or costs statements, usually on a quarterly basis. The Federal grant funds operate on a reimbursement basis. This means that the grantee has to cover all costs up front. After expenditures have been incurred, the grantee invoices the SHSO for a reimbursement. Expenditures on all invoices must be accompanied by proper documentation so that there is an adequate audit trail.

Grantees need to submit timely and accurate progress reports and invoices. It helps to communicate regularly with the State program manager or other SHSO staff, and to notify the State office immediately if there is a problem.

TIP #13
Financial Management
Set up a financial tracking system so that grant-related expenditures can be tracked separately from non-grant expenditures. Detailed financial records and equipment inventories should be kept up-to-date and ready to be shared at any time with the SHSO staff, and/or State and Federal auditors.

The SHSO will periodically monitor the grant to make sure that the grantee is performing adequately. The monitoring activities may include telephone interviews, meetings with the State highway safety staff, and/or on-site inspections.

The SHSO will take note of potential problems such as:

  • Late start
  • Slow expenditure rate
  • Low project activity
  • Late project reports
  • Report discrepancies
  • Missing project records
  • Excessive project personnel changes
  • Too many revisions to the project agreement.

If any of these conditions occur, the SHSO may require corrective action. Grantees may have their grant restructured. If a project has significant problems, the GR or Coordinator and the NHTSA regional staff will be notified, findings will be issued and a plan to resolve the difficulties will be developed. In the most severe cases, funding will be withdrawn or legal action may be taken.

TIP #14
Do not wait until your grant problem gets so large that it is difficult to overcome. Notify the SHSO staff of the problem immediately and work to address it. In other words, do not be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it.

The project director is the steward of public funds. It is expected that he or she will effectively manage those funds and set up proper management systems. If that does not occur, it is likely that the grantee organization will not be allowed to retain the grant or receive a new grant in the future.

Every project funded with Federal highway safety grant funds should have an evaluation component to assess the extent to which the project accomplished its goals and objectives. Project evaluations do not have to be large and costly research experiments in order to be valid. They do, however, have to be built into the project design from the beginning. They have to be appropriate to the size and scope of the project and be carefully executed.

A good evaluation methodology begins with a clearly defined highway safety problem, specific project goals and specific, reasonable and measurable objectives. Once the objectives have been identified, the grantee organization should develop a plan for implementing the evaluation. The plan should define what is to be measured (and should be directly linked to the objectives) and how the results of the project will be measured. The plan should be implemented right from the start of the project, not at the very end. Once the data are collected, they should be analyzed and the results reported to the SHSO as part of the final project report.

A formative evaluation should be used to test the appropriateness and effectiveness of proposed project activities and materials. Its purpose is to determine whether the program, activities and materials will work as planned. Formative evaluations should be used with the development of a new program or when an existing program is being modified. Formative evaluations can involve personal interviews, focus groups, surveys, or other methodologies.

An administrative or process evaluation will help the grantee organization determine whether he or she has implemented the program as planned. It requires an understanding of what was supposed to occur in the project and a systematic way to track what actually happened. Direct and indirect contacts with the program and number of items distributed or collected are typical measurements taken during an administrative evaluation.

An outcome or impact evaluation will help the grantee organization determine whether the program has had an impact on the problem they are trying to solve. Impact evaluations are often difficult to conduct at the community level because the total number of crashes and fatalities may be low. However, it is possible to measure impact by examining:

  • Changes in behavior (such as an increase in safety belt usage)
  • Changes in public opinion about the identified problem
  • Institutional responses to the problem (such as a change in the number of citations issued by the police, legislation enacted to address the problem, etc.).

The measurement can be undertaken through field observations or surveys, with data collection forms, or by analyzing archival data such as police accident reports, court files, etc.

Frequent evaluations will alert the grantee organization to potential problems with the project. With good evaluation data, the grantee organization can make corrections so that the project will achieve its objectives more effectively. Evaluation data will also provide information to the SHSO, the media, and the public that can help build support for the continuation of the project. Frequent evaluations will help build expertise and credibility with the SHSO so that the office may call upon the grantee organization the next time there is a funding opportunity.

TIP #15
Evaluation Assistance
Larger SHSOs may be able to provide technical assistance with evaluations. Your local college or university may be able to provide assistance, as well. The NHTSA publication, The Art of Appropriate Evaluation, provides descriptions of each type of evaluation and step-by-step instructions on how to do them. The publication can be ordered from NHTSA’s web site at

States are required to submit an Annual Report outlining the State’s accomplishments. These are due by the end of the calendar year for the fiscal year that ended on September 30. The report must describe the State’s progress in meeting its goals and how the implementation of specific projects contributed toward the goal. The NHTSA Regional Administrators review the annual reports to determine whether the States are making adequate progress in meeting State goals. This may involve a review of grantee projects as well.

If the annual report indicates that little or no progress has been made toward a goal after three years, NHTSA regional office staff members are required to work with the SHSO to jointly develop a performance enhancement plan. The plan must describe strategies, program activities, and funding targets to meet defined State safety goals and may involve changes in grantee projects.

SHSO are also subject to State audits, as well as audits by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Grant projects may be audited as part of these processes. Grantee organizations are required under Federal regulations to maintain records for at least three years and make them available for auditing purposes at any time.

States may also request NHTSA’s Regional Office to conduct a management review. States typically do this when the director of the SHSO leaves and a new director comes on board. In addition, NHTSA will conduct management reviews of States every three years. The management review will help determine whether the SHSO has the proper systems in place to manage the Federal highway safety grants satisfactorily. The review may involve an examination of the manner in which the SHSO awards grants and keeps financial records. An unsatisfactory review may require that the SHSO have stricter oversight over the management of grants.

Grantee organizations need to be aware of Federal and State requirements and regulations, and must take every step to manage their grants properly. As noted previously, grantee organizations have stewardship over public funds and must be vigilant about how those funds are treated.

Chapter 5








































Case Study # 5

Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Highway Safety Project is a unique collaboration with Virginia’s Highway Safety Office (Department of Motor Vehicles.) This partnership serves as a model for other States that want to develop a successful, non-traditional partnership with a minority organization.
African-Americans were a high-risk group that had one of the lowest safety belt usage rates in the Nation. The Virginia Historically Black Colleges and Universities Highway Safety Project is a multiyear effort established to help resolve the disparity in safety belt and child safety seat usage among African-Americans, and to address other safety and wellness issues within the community, such as drug and alcohol awareness. In addition, another major goal of the HBCU Project was to introduce students to careers in the transportation industry. This project includes all six HBCUs in Virginia: Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Saint Paul’s College, Virginia Union University, Virginia University of Lynchburg and Virginia State University, with each providing valuable and previously untapped opportunities for collaboration at many levels on highway safety issues.

To date, this project has reached more than 20,000 students, faculty, and community leaders through activities such as individual campus/community highway safety events, highway safety campaigns with faith-based organizations within the minority community, an annual highway safety and careers symposium, an established transportation safety college course, presentations, studies, and focus groups conducted. The project has received praise and participation from representatives of grassroots community organizations, the educational community, as well as individual health care professionals, State legislators, elected city officials, local public officials and public safety officers. The Virginia HBCU Highway Safety Project successfully demonstrates how creative management can expand and adapt funds allocated for specific purposes to build programs and institutions that serve a broad range of needs from highway safety, community health, institutional development and individual career growth.