Traffic Safety:

Improved Reporting and Performance Measures Would Enhance Evaluation of High-Visibility Campaigns

GAO-08-477: Published: Apr 25, 2008. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2008.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Katherine A. Siggerud
(202) 512-6570
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Two primary risk behaviors related to fatal traffic crashes are failure to use safety belts and driving while impaired by alcohol. High-visibility enforcement (HVE) campaigns that combine enforcement of a traffic safety law with media to inform the public about the campaign are effective in reducing these behaviors. In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users authorized funding of an HVE program, including safety belt and impaired-driving campaigns. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT) provides media and coordinates with states to provide enforcement activities for the campaigns. This report addresses (1) the extent to which NHTSA has implemented the HVE program and (2) for selected states, the impact of the campaigns and challenges that exist in conducting the campaigns. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed fatality data, plans, and evaluations and interviewed officials from DOT and seven selected states.

NHTSA has fully implemented the high-visibility enforcement program by (1) developing and disseminating advertising, (2) coordinating with states on media and enforcement activities, and (3) annually evaluating the effectiveness of the two HVE campaigns; however, NHTSA's evaluations have shortcomings that limit the agency's ability to determine the effectiveness of the campaigns. Regarding advertising, NHTSA introduced an annual plan in 2005 that sets forth a strategy for the campaign advertisements, developed advertisements, and purchased national media time for the advertisements. To coordinate with states, NHTSA provides an overall strategy and guidance to assist states in conducting the campaigns, as well as technical assistance and collateral materials, such as posters and model press releases. Officials in selected states reported that NHTSA's coordination efforts provided the support and interaction needed to conduct HVE campaigns. Although NHTSA's annual evaluations of campaign effectiveness indicate that the campaigns are helping to improve safety belt use and reduce impaired driving, the evaluations have shortcomings that limit NHTSA's ability to assess the level of state and local activity--a key component of the campaigns--and the overall effectiveness of the campaigns. For example, the information that NHTSA has on states' activities is inconsistent and incomplete because reporting of such data is generally voluntary for local law enforcement agencies. As a result, NHTSA has reported that it cannot provide meaningful analyses and comparisons of state activities. NHTSA's ability to measure the campaigns' overall effectiveness is also hindered because the performance measures used to evaluate the campaigns are not comprehensive. For example, while NHTSA measures daytime safety belt use, it does not directly measure nighttime safety belt use, despite recent efforts to increase safety belt use at night. In addition, NHTSA's evaluations do not include measures of the effectiveness of the campaigns at reaching all target audiences. NHTSA is working to develop more comprehensive performance measures. According to officials in selected states GAO visited, the campaigns are contributing to increased safety belt use and reduced alcohol-involved fatalities, but these states face challenges in conducting the campaigns and achieving desired results. From 1997 to 2006, safety belt use increased in all seven of the selected states, and each state experienced a decrease in the alcohol fatality rate. Officials in the selected states said that the campaigns provide additional benefits, such as apprehending suspects involved in other crimes. However, officials in those selected states identified several challenges, such as increasing safety belt use and reducing impaired driving among resistant populations; insufficient staff to conduct the campaigns; and weak prosecution of impaired-driving arrests. NHTSA has initiatives under way to help states address some of these challenges. For example, NHTSA has sponsored a campaign to increase safety belt use in rural areas. In addition, NHTSA provides funds that can be used by states to purchase equipment for local law enforcement agencies, such as breath-testing units, to encourage the agencies to participate in campaigns.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve NHTSA's evaluations of the HVE campaigns, the Secretary of Transportation should direct NHTSA to develop a minimum core set of reporting requirements for states to consistently report HVE law enforcement and media activities funded with federal dollars. These requirements should be designed to achieve a more consistent measure of state activity and accountability for federal funding without presenting an undue burden to states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) annual evaluations of the effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement (HVE) campaigns have shortcomings that limit the agency's ability to assess the level of state and local activity and the overall effectiveness of the campaigns. For example, the information that NHTSA has on states' activities is inconsistent and incomplete because reporting of such data is generally voluntary for local law enforcement agencies. As a result, NHTSA has reported that it cannot provide meaningful analyses and comparisons of states' activities. To improve NHTSA's evaluations of the HVE campaigns, we recommended that NHTSA develop a minimum core set of reporting requirements for states to consistently report HVE law enforcement and media activities funded with federal dollars. We noted that these requirements should be designed to achieve a more consistent measure of state activity and accountability for federal funding without presenting an undue burden to states. In response, NHTSA and the Governors Highway Safety Association established a minimum set of performance measures for states and federal agencies to use in the development and implementation of behavioral highway safety plans and programs, including measures for HVE activities. NHTSA worked with states to include these measures in the states' Fiscal Year 2010 highway safety plans. In 2010, NHTSA also implemented two mechanisms for states to use to report enforcement activity data: 1) an online reporting system for states to report HVE activities, which includes a tutorial and definitions for each data entry field to ensure consistency, and 2) states are required to submit a report of HVE and media activities with certain annual traffic safety grant applications. These efforts will provide NHTSA with more complete and consistent data to use in evaluating HVE campaigns.

    Recommendation: To improve NHTSA's evaluations of the HVE campaigns, the Secretary of Transportation should direct NHTSA to develop and include additional performance measures--such as a measure for nighttime safety belt use and additional measures of media effectiveness--in the agency's annual evaluations of the effectiveness of the two campaigns.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) ability to measure the overall effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement (HVE) campaigns is hindered because the performance measures used to evaluate the campaigns are not comprehensive. For example, while NHTSA measures daytime safety belt use, it does not directly measure nighttime safety belt use, despite recent efforts to increase safety belt use at night. In addition, NHTSA's evaluations do not include measures of the effectiveness of the campaigns at reaching all target audiences. To improve NHTSA's evaluations of the HVE campaigns, we recommended that NHTSA develop and include additional performance measures?such as a measure for nighttime safety belt use and additional measures of media effectiveness?in the agency's annual evaluations of the effectiveness of the campaigns. As a result, in March 2010, NHTSA issued guidelines for states to observe and estimate statewide belt use at night. These guidelines include options regarding how to estimate seat belt use at night and a detailed description on how to conduct night observations. In addition, starting in December 2010, states were required to conduct and report information from driver surveys every year to help measure the effectiveness of HVE campaigns. The driver survey includes questions on self-reported behavior, media awareness, and enforcement awareness for campaigns. These additional measures should help to improve NHTSA's ability to measure the overall effectiveness of the campaigns.

    Apr 8, 2014

    Feb 28, 2014

    Feb 12, 2014

    Feb 5, 2014

    Feb 3, 2014

    Jan 31, 2014

    Jan 16, 2014

    Dec 9, 2013

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here