Article Features Jesse Bhullar

Implementing the Strategic Highway Safety Plan: What Your City Can Do

Jesse Bhullar is state highway safety engineer for the California Department of Transportation’s Division of Traffic Operations and can be reached at

California has a large and complex road transportation system with 347,000 lane miles of roadways serving more than 36 million residents. The range of safety issues facing California’s road travelers reflects not only the size of the state but also the diversity of its population and geography. By teaming with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and other state and local safety stakeholders, local public works departments have a real opportunity to improve safety on local roads, reduce crashes and save lives.

The Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) provides the mechanism for this effort. California’s SHSP was approved by the state’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency secretary in 2006, as required by federal law. Caltrans approached the plan as an opportunity to encourage collaboration across agencies and successfully reduce transportation-related fatalities and injuries.

Addressing Challenge Areas

Caltrans partnered with the California Office of Traffic Safety, California Highway Patrol and California State Association of Counties to lead a steering committee, which provided guidance to teams that each addressed one of the 16 challenge areas identified by the SHSP:

  1. Reduce fatalities related to impaired driving.
  2. Reduce the occurrence and consequence of leaving the roadway and head-on collisions.
  3. Ensure drivers are licensed and competent.
  4. Increase use of safety belts and child safety seats.
  5. Improve driver decisions about rights of way and turning.
  6. Reduce young-driver fatalities.
  7. Improve intersection and interchange safety for roadway users.
  8. Make walking and street crossing safer.
  9. Improve safety for older drivers and pedestrians.
  10. Reduce speeding and aggressive driving.
  11. Improve commercial vehicle safety.
  12. Improve motorcycle safety.
  13. Improve bicycling safety.
  14. Enhance work zone safety.
  15. Improve post-crash survivability.
  16. Improve safety data collection, access and analysis.

The multidisciplinary teams are composed of experts from the “4Es of safety” — engineering, enforcement, education and emergency services. These teams were initially responsible for developing SHSP goals and strategies to address the state’s most pressing transportation safety issues.

Defining and Implementing Actions

Upon approval in September 2006, the teams developed detailed, specific actions for implementation in each challenge area, with participation by safety stakeholders from state, city and county agencies, private sector businesses, grassroots organizations and other key individuals.

In May 2008, Caltrans hosted Safety Summits in Northern and Southern California to unveil the 152 actions developed by the SHSP teams. Participants then broke into workshop groups to delve into the actions and discuss implementation. During the workshop sessions, new stakeholders were encouraged to participate in the challenge area teams and commit to implementing the SHSP within their organization and/or circle of influence. Participants also shared their ideas and local best practices and identified other safety stakeholder groups, organizations and individuals who should be invited to participate in ongoing SHSP efforts.

In addition to announcing the actions, the Safety Summits were designed to get new local safety stakeholders involved in implementation and encourage them to join the existing group of more than 300 people. The goal was to have new stakeholders comprise at least half of the attendees at each event. As a result of outreach efforts, 277 of the 479 summit attendees (58 percent) were new participants.

What Local Public Works Departments Can Do

There are a range of opportunities to incorporate the strategies and actions of the statewide SHSP into local public works programs and to improve safety on local roads.

Obvious areas for public works involvement include reducing the occurrence and consequence of leaving the roadway and head-on collisions (challenge area 2), improving intersection and interchange safety for roadway users (challenge area 7), making walking and street crossing safer (challenge area 8), and improving bicycling safety (challenge area 13). Examples of SHSP actions to address these areas include:

  • Monitoring two- and three-lane roadways for concentrations of collisions that cross the roadway’s center line;
  • Reviewing intersections with existing or potentially high numbers of crashes and implementing appropriate safety countermeasures;
  • Improving roadway striping for pedestrians and including standard safety upgrades in routine maintenance and striping projects; and
  • Establishing more bicycle corridors.
  • Local public works departments can also consider some of these not-so-obvious challenge areas:
  • Implementing a systematic approach for reviewing traffic control devices to identify devices in need of replacement, relocation or upgrade can help improve driver decisions about rights of way and turning (challenge area 5);
  • Implementing elements of the state and federal Safe Routes to School program can help reduce young-driver fatalities (challenge area 6); and
  • Improving left-turn options and intersections can help improve safety for older drivers and pedestrians (challenge area 9).

The SHSP also lists additional actions public works departments can implement to address speeding and commercial vehicle and motorcycle safety.

Public works directors are encouraged to review the SHSP Version 2 and Implementation of the SHSP to identify areas of interest and potential actions relevant to their jurisdictions. These documents and more information on implementing the SHSP are available at

This article appears in the February 2009 issue of Western City
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