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
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
- Local nonprofits and grassroots organizations.
Increasingly, however, they are working with non-traditional partners
- 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
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
DEVELOP A RELATIONSHIP
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- An agency or organization can arrange for its
director to speak at a general session of a State highway safety
- 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.
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.