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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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The Pro's and Con's of Working with an SHSO

Working with an SHSO can present many opportunities. But it is also important to recognize that there are limitations on what SHSOs can do. Potential partners need to have a full understanding of both in order to have a successful working partnership with an SHSO.

Although SHSOs receive Federal highway safety grant funding, they are limited by the amount of funding they receive. They have to maintain a State office and fund many priority programs —something that is increasingly a challenge given all the demands on the SHSO. They cannot fund every proposed project, even if the project has merit. In order to use their Federal resources most wisely, SHSOs target the most significant problems as identified by the State’s problem identification process and focus on those projects that reach the right populations and jurisdictions. Usually a substantial portion of a State’s Federal safety funds are used for enforcement of State impaired driving, safety belt, and child restraint laws. Problems in which there are few fatalities at the State level (e.g. fatalities at rail-highway grade crossings) are less likely to be funded. Projects that are not data-driven and do not have a strong statistical justification are also less likely to be funded.

Further, the SHSOs are limited by the purposes of the grants they receive. Only the Section 402 program has the flexibility to fund pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle safety, and EMS programs. The incentive funds are generally limited to impaired driving, occupant protection, or traffic records purposes. SHSOs do not receive discretionary grants (grants that can be used for any highway safety purpose at the discretion of the SHSO).

At the same time, there is increased competition at the State level for Federal safety dollars. It is common for a State to have two to three times the number of project applications than there are available funds. That means the SHSO has to say “no” to many potential partners.

SHSOs typically work with “traditional” partners such as:

  • State and local law enforcement agencies
  • Judges and prosecutors
  • Other State agencies (e.g., a State education department)
  • Schools
  • Local nonprofits and grassroots organizations.

Increasingly, however, they are working with non-traditional partners such as:

  • State and local public health agencies
  • Hospitals and health care organizations
  • Substance abuse agencies
  • Organizations representing minority populations
  • Many others

This means that the available resources are being spread among more and different types of organizations than ever before. It’s harder than ever to receive funding unless a project helps the State meet its goals.

Federal laws and regulations also limit what SHSOs are able to do. As noted previously, they cannot:

  • Use any Federal funds to support coalitions that lobby on specific bills
  • Lobby on Federal or State safety legislation after that legislation has been introduced (even if the legislation has been introduced by the State’s own officials).

SHSO normally do not take a position on an issue if it is different than the position the governor has taken. If the governor does not support a primary belt law, for example, the SHSO cannot support primary belt legislation even if the SHSO staff believes that a primary belt law would be beneficial. If the governor does not support Federal sanctions on States for failure to enact specific legislation, then the SHSO cannot support the sanctions, even if the required legislation would improve highway safety. As a result, SHSO sometimes cannot be as active on issues as they would like.

Federal rules also limit the type and amount of equipment that can be purchased with Federal funds. Federal highway safety funds cannot be used for highway construction, maintenance or design purposes, office furnishings, or fixtures for governmental buildings. Individual equipment purchases of $5,000 or higher must directly relate to the project and must be approved by the SHSO and the appropriate NHTSA Regional Office. For example, while a State might have the funds to support the purchase of multiple computers, Federal rules may prohibit the purchase of such equipment if the project purpose does not require computers.

Federal rules limit proposed projects to new or expanded operations and activities. As noted previously, Federal highway safety funds cannot be used to supplant (replace) State and local expenditures. They cannot be used to cover general expenses -- costs required to carry out the overall responsibilities of State or local governments or nonprofit agencies.

TIP #16
State Limitations
Often, State rules are stricter than Federal rules. When you are considering applying for a Federal highway safety grant be sure that you ask what State limitations exist. The State pre-application conference may provide an answer to this question.

A successful partnership can benefit the SHSO in a number of different ways:

  • Messages: Given that SHSOs are prohibited from lobbying under certain circumstances, a current or past grantee organization may be able to “carry the State’s message” and impact the State legislative process for the SHSO.

  • At Risk Populations: A grantee organization may also help the State reach certain high-risk populations that it is having difficulty reaching. For example, if a State’s Hispanic population is not buckling up at the same rate as the general population, then a grant to a Hispanic group that can deliver a successful program may be in order. That potential grantee may have greater access to and credibility with the target population.

  • Supplemental Work: A grantee organization may supplement the work of the SHSO. This is particularly true with respect to enforcement and education programs. The State Highway Patrol or State Police cannot be everywhere to enforce State traffic safety laws. An SHSO may give a grant to a number of local law enforcement agencies to ensure that there is good coverage throughout the State. Similarly, an SHSO may give grants to a number of agencies or organizations to help develop public information campaigns that support State safety goals and objectives.

  • Local Expansion: Grants to local governments or community nonprofit programs help the SHSO get its “foot in the door” at the local level. State funding for a community highway safety program, for example, can link an SHSO with local businesses, local public health agencies, other prevention programs, local public works agencies and local law enforcement agencies. This can build a program in the community to address local highway safety problems — a program that may be around long after the Federal funding has ended.

Grantees working with an SHSO also benefit from the partnership in many ways:

  • Resources: First and foremost, the SHSO provides resources to help the grantee organization address a specific highway safety issue. The SHSO can also provide training and equipment under limited circumstances so that the grantee organization will develop the skills and have the facilities that are needed to be successful.

  • Technical Assistance: The SHSO also has skilled and experienced staff members who can provide technical assistance on a range of issues so that the grantee organization can conduct its program more successfully.

  • Pre-Proposal Assistance: In many States, the SHSO organizes pre-application and application conferences, and some State staff may even provide assistance to potential partners in drafting grant applications.

  • Management Support: SHSO staff can assist the grantee organization in managing the grant properly by ensuring that proper accounting systems are in place and informing the grantee organization of eligible expenditures.

  • Conferences: Many States hold conferences on topical highway safety issues, either combined with or separate from meetings related to grant applications.

  • Data: The SHSO has access to crash data and other databases that will help the potential partner pinpoint the safety problem and formulate objectives and performance measures for its program. As mentioned previously, in some of the larger States, the State staff may be able to provide assistance to the grantee organization in analyzing local crash data.

State agencies, local governments or nonprofits often want to work with their SHSO because the State office has Federal grant money. Rather than approaching the SHSO as a partner and showing a willingness to share expertise, skills, or resources with the State agency, they treat the SHSO as if it were a bank and they are the bank customer ready to withdraw funds. When volunteer work or other efforts need to be undertaken, the potential partner may not offer to participate. SHSOs resent this approach because it is a one-way rather than the two-way relationship that is needed for a successful partnership.

TIP #17
Mutual Concern
In developing your relationship with the SHSO, offer to work with the staff on an issue of mutual concern in which NO money is involved.

A better approach is to build a long-term working relationship with the SHSO. Here are a few ways to work together:

  • A nonprofit could help lobby the State legislature on a specific highway safety bill since the SHSO is not allowed to do so.

  • An agency or organization can make an SHSO aware of an emerging highway safety issue.

  • An agency can share a database with the SHSO so that a more complete picture of a highway safety problem can be drawn.

  • An agency or nonprofit can lend personnel to the SHSO to help conduct a special event, support and participate in a press conference, and support activities such as a child safety seat check.

  • An agency or organization can arrange for its director to speak at a general session of a State highway safety conference.

  • A GR or coordinator can be invited to speak at a safety-related meeting of the agency or organization.

  • A State public health or education agency can lend support for a traffic safety public information campaign that the SHSO has developed.

  • A local public health coalition can make traffic related fatalities its priority for the year and focus its attention and non-highway safety resources on that topic.

  • A coalition coordinator can invite an SHSO staff member to be represented on the coalition.

  • An agency or organization can write a letter to the editor to support a special enforcement effort or special public information campaign.

The possibilities are endless and bound only by an organization’s or agency’s creativity and imagination. The SHSO will appreciate such efforts because they show that the potential partner is serious about highway safety, is willing to bring something to the table, and wants to support the State highway safety program. This kind of assistance will help the potential partner establish credibility with the SHSO, demonstrate that it is a willing partner, and create a good working relationship with the SHSO. When a specific funding opportunity does arise, then the SHSO is likely to go to a potential partner with whom it already has a good working relationship.

Chapter 6














Case Study # 6

The Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority Inc. of Takoma Park, Maryland initiated a Pedestrian Safety Committee to develop strategies to combat the high rate of pedestrian fatalities in an area of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Hispanic pedestrians have been found to be significantly overrepresented in pedestrian crashes in this area. The Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO) joined the Committee and helped leverage resources, such as graphic design assistance, and MHSO’s Community Traffic Safety Program Coordinators provided educational and promotional items for press events to highlight pedestrian safety in this largely Hispanic community.

In addition, the Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO), the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and Montgomery County, Maryland developed a productive and efficient partnership in the creation of a region-wide pedestrian safety outreach campaign, titled “Street Smart: Look Out For Each Other.” In 2002, Montgomery County was planning to use highway safety funding for a countywide pedestrian safety outreach campaign. At the same time, MWCOG was applying for funds to conduct a much larger region-wide effort to raise public awareness of pedestrian safety for the following year. MHSO was instrumental in prompting the two grantees to partner on the project, and Montgomery County was able to concentrate its funds to develop the media outreach materials while MWCOG’s grant funds were able to be used exclusively to place all the ads during the 2003 grant year. Thus funds for a single jurisdiction campaign were leveraged to benefit a region-wide campaign that recorded an 11 percent increase in public awareness of the pedestrians safety issue, according to post campaign evaluation.