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 Can Your Organization do to Partner with the State Highway Safety Office?

Now that you have a better understanding of SHSOs and their planning and funding processes, it is important to consider what your agency or organization can contribute to State highway safety programs) — not all of which involve the use of Federal highway safety grant funds.

Effective laws are the foundation for every highway safety program. Potential partners should consider activities to educate decision-makers so that they will enact new highway safety laws or strengthen existing safety laws. Nonprofit organizations can help advocate for appropriate highway safety laws. However, local governments are often subject to ethical standards or limitations on lobbying by their employees. State agencies typically are subject to more stringent State lobbying restrictions. Additionally, Federal law restricts the lobbying activities of State officials whose salaries are supported, in whole or in part, by Federal funds and the use of Federal appropriations to fund lobbying activities. Consequently, it is important to explore Federal, State, and local lobbying restrictions before taking any action.

Direct lobbying occurs when an individual or organization:

  • Urges a legislative official to take a certain position or action on a piece of legislation
  • Encourages a specific position when elected officials, legislative staff or other government officials are drafting legislative language
  • Expends funds to influence the drafting of or action on proposed legislation.

Grassroots lobbying occurs when an entity:

  • Urges the public to contact members of Congress or a State or local legislature in an attempt to influence legislation
  • Attempts to influence legislation by affecting public opinion or the opinions of a specific segment of the public
  • Expends funds for that purpose.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) laws allow nonprofits to lobby as long as “no substantial part” of the organization’s resources (e.g. no more than five percent) are expended for that purpose. Advocacy can be conducted by uncompensated board members without restriction and does not have to be reported to the IRS. In other words, a nonprofit organization can write letters to legislators, make personal visits to legislators’ offices, submit testimony, be part of a coalition that advocates for highway safety legislation, and do all the things that lobbyists do as long as the expenditures relating to the lobbying activities do not violate the IRS rule and the organization does not receive Federal grant funds.

Nonprofits and State agencies that receive Federal highway safety funds (grantees) are subject to additional restrictions. Federal law prohibits the use of Federal funds, either directly or indirectly, for the purposes of influencing a member of Congress, a State or local legislature, or an official of any government to favor or oppose legislation, whether or not the legislation is pending. This means that Federal funds cannot be used for grassroots lobbying of Federal, State or local legislators at any time. Federal law also prohibits the use of Federal grant funds to influence the award of a subsequent Federal grant, contract or other agreement. In other words, a grantee can’t use his/her grant to obtain another Federal grant.

Additional lobbying restrictions prohibit the use of Federal grant funds to engage in direct lobbying of Congress or State legislatures targeted at specific, pending legislative bills. As a result, once a bill is introduced, grantees can no longer ask their legislators to take positions on specific legislation.

However, an organization or agency may address broad social or economic issues such as highway safety without urging action on specific legislation. It can:

  • Educate decision-makers in general terms about a particular highway safety problem and what can be done to solve the problem
  • Brief decision-makers on what activities have been undertaken to address the problem in the State
  • Organize a coalition of like-minded organizations and individuals as long as that coalition does not take a position on a pending bill or endorse a specific legislative agenda
  • Draft a letter to a newspaper or a decision-maker as long as the letter doesn’t reference specific legislation or encourage members of the public to contact their Federal, State or local legislators.
  • Provide technical information (data and research) to decision-makers
  • Respond to inquiries from Congress or State legislators
  • Present testimony requested by a Congressional committee or State legislature.
TIP #6
Educating Decision-Makers
If your organization or agency plans to undertake educational activities for decision-makers, be sure and coordinate with the SHSO. You’ll want to ensure that your activities and those planned by the SHSO complement each other.

Provided it does not engage in grassroots lobbying, an organization or agency also can get its message out through the media to:

  • Raise awareness about an issue
  • Identify shortcomings in current legislation
  • Suggest options for strengthening current legislation
  • Create public pressure to adopt new legislation or change current legislation.

Public information and education (PI&E) campaigns are also an important component of a State or community program, so potential partner organizations should consider undertaking such efforts. These campaigns can serve a variety of purposes:

  • Help raise awareness about a safety issue
  • Influence behavior so that the public (or a specifically targeted group) changes behavior
  • Bring a highway safety issue to the attention of decision-makers
  • Inform the public about a new law or regulation that has recently been enacted or significant changes that have occurred in an existing law.

On its own, a PI&E program that only raises awareness of an issue has been shown to have little long-term effect on behavior. However, a PI&E campaign that is part of a comprehensive safety program can be effective. A PI&E program that informs the public of a new law or changes in an existing law has also been shown to be effective. A PI&E program will be approved only if it is compatible with the State’s PI&E campaign.

Among the most effective PI&E programs are those that bring visibility to a law enforcement effort. In May 2004, 49 States participated in a high visibility enforcement mobilization to encourage drivers and passengers to use safety belts. The effort involved waves of enforcement, with publicity both before and after each enforcement wave. Thirty-nine States used the “Click It or Ticket” slogan, which conveyed the message that those not using safety belts would be ticketed. This is a good example of how to coordinate highway safety messages with an overriding law enforcement theme.

PI&E programs that use social marketing techniques have also been found to be more effective than those that simply raise awareness. Social marketing is the use of marketing theories and techniques to influence behavior for a social end. The goal of social marketing is to change behavior in a way that will benefit society. Highly visible social marketing campaigns generally use a variety of communications tools such as media and public relations, issue advocacy, and advertising.

Potential partners that wish to do PI&E programs should develop a media plan that complements and supports the State safety goals and State media plan. To help formulate a plan, potential partners should address the following questions:

  • What is the specific problem that you are trying to solve?
  • How are different groups affected by the problem and what do they know about it?
  • What are the key characteristics of the group(s) you need to reach?
  • How can you best reach the targeted group?
  • What message can most effectively influence the behavior of the targeted groups?
  • In what forms should the message be delivered?
  • What will it cost to market the message to the targeted audience?
  • How will you know if your message has been received and accepted?

Additionally guidance on media rela-tions can be found in NHTSA’s Community How To Guide on Underage Drinking Prevention, which can be downloaded at

Another key component of every highway safety program is enforcement of traffic safety laws. Unless a highway safety law is adequately enforced, it will have little effect because many drivers and other road users don’t believe they will be apprehended if they violate the law. Visible enforcement deters potential offenders from breaking the law and it ensures that the law functions in a manner intended by its authors.

There are many types of law enforcement activities that can be undertaken by State highway patrols, sheriffs’ departments or offices, liquor control enforcement agencies, local law enforcement agencies, or college or university enforcement offices:

  • Sobriety checkpoints — concentrated enforcement efforts designed to stop impaired drivers
  • Safety belt checkpoints — specifically set up to enforce a State's safety belt law
  • Saturation patrols — roving patrols that enforce impaired driving laws
  • Compliance checks — enforcement efforts to detect illegal sales of alcohol to minors by retailers
  • “Cops in Shops” — programs that detect illegal purchase of alcohol by minors in retail establishments
  • Speed or aggressive driving programs — either stationary or roving patrols that seek to apprehend drivers that exceed the posted speed limit or exhibit aggressive driving behavior.

Other safety efforts that involve law enforcement include:

  • Roll-call videos for law enforcement officers that present safety programs or relay safety messages
  • Training conferences on safety issues such as child passenger safety or impaired driving
  • False identification programs using technology to detect fake or improper identification for underage drinkers
  • Teen courts in which students, under the supervision of the schools and the courts, act as prosecutors, defense attorneys and jurors in cases in which their peers have been charged with alcohol-related offenses
  • Juvenile holdover programs in which teens detained by law enforcement are held temporarily until an adult assumes responsibility or the teen can be moved to a juvenile facility
  • Child passenger safety fitting stations.

Smaller law enforcement agencies that do not have the resources to undertake special traffic enforcement can team up with other agencies for a multi-jurisdictional effort. Small jurisdictions can also incorporate traffic safety enforcement into their regular enforcement activities that are conducted every day.

SHSOs may fund equipment purchases for law enforcement, such as laptop computers, breathalyzers, radar, video cameras, etc. However, the equipment purchases must be part of a project that addresses a specific highway safety problem, the project has to relate to the State’s goals and priorities, and there must be a plan for how the equipment will be used. The grantee also has to maintain an inventory of the equipment for several years depending on State rules.

Even if the organization is not law enforcement related, it can support police traffic safety through such activities as:

  • Writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, or news releases in support of specific enforcement activities (“endorsement for enforcement”)
  • Participating in press conferences for law enforcement events
  • Participating in newspaper editorial board meetings focused on enforcement activities
  • Obtaining a supportive city council resolution
  • Conducting interviews or helping publicize law enforcement efforts through their newsletters or at conferences.

Strong laws and highly visible enforcement are effective deterrents to unsafe driving behavior. It’s also critical that laws be properly adjudicated so that the deterrent effect is not diminished. As the level of law enforcement increases around the country, and as more focus shifts to hard-to-reach populations, it will become increasingly important for an SHSO to have partnerships with key members of the criminal justice system — prosecutors and judges.

In most jurisdictions, the chief law enforcement officer is the District Attorney, serving as the gatekeeper and key decision-maker in the criminal justice system. Research shows that through plea negotiation, prosecutors make the decisions in 75 percent to 90 percent of all cases, and they present evidence and make recommendations to the court in the remaining cases.

The District Attorney sets the policy for the cases that are to be tried. This policy determines the type and quality of cases accepted from law enforcement officers. After an officer forwards an investigation to the District Attorney’s office, prosecutors assigned to the case review the evidence and determine what charge(s) to file. In instances where charges are filed directly by law enforcement, prosecutors may subsequently amend the charges, if necessary, to what the prosecutors believes the evidence will show in court.

To create a cohesive enforcement and prosecution approach, programs are available allowing prosecutors and officers to be trained together. An example of such training is the Protecting Lives, Saving Futures course taught at a number of venues around the country.1 Other training courses on impaired driving are available for prosecutors from basic entry-level to special classes in prosecuting vehicular homicides. Training for prosecutors is something that some States fund as part of their HSP, so prosecutors should consider coordinating with the SHSO to support training that fits the State’s needs and plans.

As an independent branch of government, the judiciary is in a unique position to ensure that traffic safety laws equally are applied. The majority of cases heard before the judiciary concern traffic safety; as such, the judiciary must remain impartial and rule on the matters that are placed before them.

Judicial training is important to maintaining an effective judiciary. Programs provide an overview of legal or evidentiary issues related to plea taking, search and seizure, and arrests and confessions are already available to the judiciary. In addition, these courses also provide information on the role of the traffic court judge in the community, ethical judicial outreach and bridge building, and new approaches to sentencing traffic safety offenders.

Judicial outreach programs, such as the Courage to Live program developed by the National Judicial College to reach underage youth, can also make an impact by offering judges or prosecutors an opportunity to participate in awareness and prevention efforts. Agencies that represent a segment of the judicial community should make themselves aware of the educational, training, or outreach programs that are already available and collaborate with the SHSO to support training that is consistent with the State’s needs, plans, and resources.


If a highway safety project is proposed and funded, it can be delivered in various ways. The most common activities involve those conducted at the community level, in the workplace, and through schools.

Community highway safety programs are comprehensive in nature and focus on a number of highway safety problems. They may be part of a broader community-related injury prevention effort called Safe Communities that addresses a variety of unintentional injuries. More typically, a community program focuses solely on motor vehicle-related injuries, addressing a variety of local highway safety problems.

There is usually a community coordinator or project director who is responsible for running the community program. The coordinator is supported by a community coalition with members from relevant sectors of the community:

  • Local government
  • Law enforcement
  • Business
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Criminal justice.

The coalition may be divided into committees to handle child passenger safety, underage drinking, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and other issues of importance to the community. The coalition may meet periodically to review problems, plan programs, and evaluate results. The community coordinator may implement programs with the help of members of the coalition.

The benefit of a comprehensive community highway safety program is that it provides the infrastructure for addressing highway safety problems at the community level. Currently, every SHSO supports community coalitions and many fund activities through those coalitions. Additional information about Safe Communities may be found on the Safe Communities section of NHTSA’s web site, Information about comprehensive community underage drinking prevention programs may be found at NHTSA’s Community How To Guide on Underage Drinking Prevention, which can be downloaded from the NHTSA web site, contains information that would be helpful for any community traffic safety program.

Another way to deliver highway safety programs is through employers. Many crashes occur while commuting to and from work, or while on work-related travel, and involve not just employees but their families as well. Employers want to reduce costs (insurance costs, time off, etc.) and increase the productivity of their employees. One way to do that is by reducing motor vehicle-related injuries and property damage that an employee or family member may face as a result of a motor vehicle crash. Fewer crashes mean more time spent on the job, a key benefit for the employer. Employers are a good delivery mechanism for highway safety programs because they have a controlled audience for their programs. The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) ( is an excellent resource for employer-based programs.

Schools are a great place to instill safety concepts in children at an early age. They are the single most important way to reach children and provide many opportunities for prevention programming. The idea is this: if children are trained and acquire good safety habits at an early age, they will retain those habits for the rest of their lives. Materials and activities can be developed for the children themselves as well as for their parents. Some potential school-based activities include:

  • Development of a safety curriculum
  • School safety campaigns and pledge cards
  • Safety assemblies
  • School safety policies
  • After-school safety activities
  • Youth safety clubs
  • Youth leadership training.

School-based programs work especially well for underage drinking prevention, child passenger safety, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and teen driving. There are many resources for school-based programs, including but not limited to, NHTSA, MADD (, Students Against Destructive Decisions (, the National Safe Kids Campaign (, and the National Organizations for Youth Safety (

1This training program places prosecutors and law enforcement officers from the same locality together to allow for an interaction between the two disciplines. This helps them understand the issues that they each experience in addressing impaired driving cases, to build better cases.

Chapter 4














Case Study # 4
South Carolina

The South Carolina Office of Highway Safety funded a project from Fiscal Years 1997-2000 with the Babcock Center, a private not-for-profit agency providing services to people with mental retardation, autism, and head and spinal cord injuries. The agency’s main focused is to help people with disabilities become more productive and independent, while attempting to prevent or reduce the occurrence of these disabilities where possible. As a result, Babcock Center staff created Buckle Down and Buckle Up to target the age group most at risk for head and spinal cord injuries resulting from motor vehicle use — drivers under the age of 21. The Buckle Down and Buckle Up program targeted 35 high schools in eleven South Carolina counties, through the implementation of an educational and motivational program encouraging the use of safety belts and the avoidance of intoxicating substances while operating motor vehicles. A variety of activities were undertaken including a ribbon tree with a ribbon for each fatality, signage, a pledge program, and school presentations.

The Babcock Center had a lot of experience with injury prevention programs and was a good candidate for a Federal grant. The work of the Center helped the SHSO in its effort to prevent traffic safety-related injuries. The Center, for its part, has benefited by receiving Federal funds and the assistance of the SHSO.