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
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What are State Highway Safety Offices?

In 1966, 50,894 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. This put the fatality rate at 5.5 deaths per 100 million miles of travel. Even worse, deaths were projected to go up dramatically. If Congress did nothing to address the problem, highway fatalities over the next nine years would increase to 100,000 a year.

Congress did do something: It enacted the Highway Safety Act of 1966, which established a new way of dealing with highway safety problems. The Act created a Federal highway safety grant program and required governors to be responsible for the administration of the Federal highway safety program.

Each State had to have a highway safety program approved by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Each governor was to appoint a Governor’s Highway Safety Representative (GR), to administer the Federal highway safety program.

Congress provided funding for every State under Section 402 of the U.S. Code. Section 402 became the basic building block of every State highway safety program. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Indian tribes under the stewardship of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and four U.S. territories also receive Federal funds and are considered “States” under the law and by this guidebook.

To oversee the program, the 1966 Act also created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In effect, the 1966 Act put the Federal government in a leadership position with respect to highway safety, but it kept the actual implementation of highway safety programs in the hands of the States. This State-Federal relationship continues today.

Since 1966, Congress has revised the Federal highway safety program a number of times, adding new incentive grants, penalties and sanctions. The basic structure of the program, however, has remained the same.

The Federal government oversees the Federal highway safety program primarily through NHTSA but with some program support from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

NHTSA’s role includes supporting the States and their community programs by:

  • Conducting demonstration programs
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of specific highway safety programs
  • Providing technical assistance to the States
  • Developing safety products, materials and public information campaigns.

NHTSA also establishes program priorities, most of which focus on safer driving habits and changing unsafe behaviors.

FHWA conducts safety research and also develops safety materials that can be used by the States. These are specifically targeted roadway-related safety issues such as red light running, bike and pedestrian safety, run-off-the-road crashes, and intersection crashes.

The State governments receive Federal highway safety grant funds, implement highway safety programs, and use the technical assistance provided by the Federal government. Program implementation is conducted either by their own staff, by other State agencies, or through local governments and nonprofit organizations. Before a State can use Section 402 and other grant funds, it must have a State highway safety program that considers the national highway safety priority program areas (see box). Within the program, the State must have an annual Highway Safety Plan (HSP) that sets performance goals and objectives.

  National Highway Safety Program Areas
Occupant protection
Impaired driving
Police traffic services
Motorcycle safety
Bicycle and pedestrian safety
Speed control
Roadway safety
Emergency medical services
Traffic records
Elder roadway users

As a result of the Highway Safety Act of 1966, every State has a designated GR. In many States, the GR is the head of a large agency or department (such as the Department of Transportation or the Department of Public Safety), with responsibilities for many different issues and programs in addition to highway safety. In those States, the governor and the GR name a Highway Safety Coordinator to run the Federally funded highway safety program on a day-to-day basis. The Coordinator may be a bureau chief or division director — someone who reports to the agency or department head.

TIP #1
Get to Know your SHSO
Become acquainted with your SHSO by reviewing its web site. The web site of the Governors Highway Safety Association,, has links to all of the State web sites in the “State Information” section. After you have reviewed the web site, contact your State’s SHSO and ask to see a copy of the State’s most recent Highway Safety Plan (HSP). (A listing of SHSOs is in Chapter VIII, “Resources”.) Review the plan and follow up with the SHSO by phone, e-mail, or fax with your questions. If the SHSO has a conference on a highway safety issue or a pre-application conference, ask to be placed on the mailing list for the conference and be sure to attend. Consider a face-to-face visit if your previous efforts have not given you all the answers you need.

The GR or Highway Safety Co-ordinator has many responsibilities including:

  • Gathering data which can be used to identify the State’s highway
    safety problems
  • Setting the State’s performance goals and objectives
  • Selecting countermeasures (strategies that will help solve a safety problem) to meet the State goals
  • Preparing the State’s planning document
  • Preparing grant documents
  • Contracting with other agencies and organizations for program implementation
  • Monitoring the contracts
  • Undertaking selected highway safety programs such as Statewide educational campaigns
  • Evaluating the results of Federally funded highway safety programs
  • Conducting highway safety training or funding other agencies that conduct such training
  • Convening highway safety conferences and meetings
  • Assisting communities to organize highway safety programs
  • Implementing State or other Federal programs, such as:
    • U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention underage drinking programs
    • State-funded impaired driving programs
    • State-funded motorcycle rider education and training programs
    • Other Federally- or State- funded programs

In addition, the GR or Coordinator may be responsible for one or more of the following:

  • Providing information to the governor’s staff or State legislative committees about highway safety issues under consideration
  • Coordinating on highway safety issues with a variety of State agencies or State and local chapters of a multitude of other organizations (e.g. law enforcement organizations, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), National SAFE KIDS Campaign, Emergency Nurses Association)
  • Serving on a variety of State or local coalitions or task forces such as a Statewide impaired driving coalition or injury prevention task force
  • Representing the governor at press conferences or meetings
  • Coordinating with other State agencies to improve the collection and analysis of crash data and enhance the State’s highway safety information system.

The SHSO is typically staffed with a small number of employees. The average staff is eight or nine persons, with some as small as two or as large as 35. A small office means that the staff cannot do everything or work with every potential partner. They must set priorities when deciding what issues or projects they address.

TIP #2
Contacting the SHSO
Be patient when trying to contact the SHSO. It may take several tries before you are able to make the connection. The staff may be busy addressing several competing demands.

The GRs and Coordinators belong to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit organization. GHSA represents the SHSO with Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation and provides information, materials and training to help SHSOs meet their safety responsibilities.

Chapter 2















Case Study # 2

The South Central Planning and Development Commission (the Houma MSA Metropolitan Planning Organization) received four years of funding for its South Central Safe Community Program, through a grant from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. Most of the annual grant was used to fund sub-grantees for local projects that meet the region’s highway safety priorities.

The Safe Community Task Force meetings brought together highway planners, State and local enforcement agencies, health officials, emergency preparedness officials, and interested citizens across a six-parish region of South Central Louisiana to address traffic safety issues. The result improved communication between agencies, sharing of resources, and a unified approach in targeting traffic safety issues. The LHSC funding was essential to get the program started, but it was their technical expertise and participation in meetings and forums that kept the program going and on track in targeting problem areas and understanding possible resolutions. The LHSC Executive Director provided his and his staff’s valuable time at the monthly meetings. The Safe Community Program was merged with the State Police Troop C Incident Management meetings and this helped the Safe Community Task Force focus its attention not only on the identification of the cause of crashes but also better ways to respond to incidents and avoid future mishaps.

With the support and encouragement from the LHSC Executive Director, the South Central Planning and Development Commission has sought other funding to address specific issues. To date, these include alcohol related crashes among 21 to 34 year olds (NHTSA grant), speeding (FHWA), and bicycle safety (the Gheens Foundation). Many roadway improvements also have been made through improved cooperation between the State’s Department of Transportation and Development and local agencies as a result of their participation in the meetings.