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[Caltrans] – In 2010, traffic fatalities in California declined to their lowest level since 1944, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From a peak of 5,504 in 1987, fatalities fell to 2,715 in 2010. Success can be attributed in part to safety improvements Caltrans made on highways statewide along with safety programs such as Slow for the Cone Zone and Safe Routes to Schools.

“We are committed to saving lives along the state’s highways and roads,” said Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Safety is our top priority and an essential component of every one of our projects.”

A focal point of California’s highway safety efforts is the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), created in 2006 to address a broad range of important traffic safety issues. Caltrans partnered with the California Highway Patrol, the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), the Department of Motor Vehicles, and other federal, state, and local agencies to develop the plan. In 2009, Caltrans received a National Roadway Safety Award from the U.S. Department of Transportation for its outstanding work on the SHSP.

Continuing its commitment to SHSP goals, in 2011 Caltrans awarded 80 safety improvement projects worth about $140 million – upgrades such as installing left turn lanes, improving traffic signal timing, realigning roads, and paving highways with permeable asphalt to absorb rain water to reduce crashes on slickened highways.

Last year, Caltrans awarded $66 million to cities, counties, and regional agencies for 139 Safe Routes to School (SRTS) projects to improve safety for students in grades K-8 who walk and bicycle to and from school. In addition to the federal SRTS program, the state Safe Routes to School Program funded 85 projects for $24 million in October 2010. Since 2000, the state and federal programs have awarded more than 1,200 projects for approximately $420 million.

Caltrans also made strides toward making highways and local streets safer through its Slow for the Cone Zone public awareness campaign launched in 1999. California work zone fatalities declined 63.4 percent from 1999 to 2010, compared to a drop of just 37.4 percent nationally.

In addition, Caltrans developed the Highway Safety Improvement Program Application and Evaluation Tool for Local Roadways that allowed local transportation agencies to set priorities for safety projects. The application identifies projects that offer the greatest potential of reducing fatalities and injuries on California’s local roads. These projects will save lives and provide a projected $743 million in safety benefits as a result of fewer vehicle crashes, injuries, and fatalities on local roads, according to the Caltrans Division of Local Assistance, which used the evaluation tool to project future savings.

Last year, Caltrans and its partners launched a campaign to educate the public about the importance of moving over a lane or slowing down for Caltrans, law enforcement, tow trucks, and other emergency vehicles displaying flashing lights. A 2011 traffic survey conducted after the campaign by the OTS found that 92.5 percent of drivers surveyed said they were aware of the Move Over law.

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