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Will Caltrans Safety Cone Mascot Save Lives?

5:33 PM PST on February 6, 2023

Safety Sam

California has an urgent pedestrian safety problem. Caltrans highway workers are vulnerable to crashes when they are repairing and maintaining roads, with the department suffering over 100 fatalities in 2020 alone.

So Caltrans and the Office of Traffic Safety invented a child-friendly, adult-annoying mascot, Safety Sam the Orange Cone, apparently to get kids to remind their parents not to run people over.

This cute li'l mascot was named via a "a statewide student contest," the Office of Traffic Safety tells us, as "part of the campaign to expand public safety awareness to protect highway workers throughout the state."

So compelling was the chosen name, in fact, that the winning entry has earned its inventor, a student in Huntington Beach, "a laptop, a $500 gift card, a $500 gift card for their teacher’s classroom, T-shirts, and a visit from Safety Sam."


“Caltrans makes safety priority number one, and safety cones are critical to let drivers know when and where highway workers are on the road,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares in a press release. That is a truth. Safety cones are out there doing their work, and drivers should know their purpose is to draw attention to something that needs it.

But presumably kids are not driving. Are they supposed to keep a safety watch from the back seat for their distracted parents? Should they interrupt dad's phone conversation when they notice the car drifting too close to those cones? "Hey, daddy, watch out for Safety Sam and his friends!" or "Hey, daddy, why didn't you stop to help that pedestrian you hit?"

Note that the Office of Traffic Safety has also recently launched a partnership with NASCAR driver Ross Chastain to encourage safe driving practices. That campaign has the catchy title "Protect your Melon."

Maybe a professional race car driver is supposed to appeal to every driver's inner speed demon - but to what end, exactly? That campaign's message seems to be "Do as I say, not as I do," with Chastain telling the public: "Leave the racing to the professionals and practice safe driving habits.”

Streetsblog was happy to rise to the Caltrans/OTS safety-campaign challenge, and came up with the following suggestions for potential members of Safety Sam's mascot team:

    • Wrandy the Wreckingball: When Wrandy's in town, Caltrans is tearing down! Tearing down homes and biz, to make freeways whizz! Kids, when you see Wrandy coming, tell your parents to start packing 'cause they're gonna be movin' away.
    • Smokey Loki: Smokey is Caltrans' air quality mascot. Smokey Loki says "more lanes and more cars mean cleaner air." Kids, hold your breath if you see or smell Loki.
    • Climate Clyde and Jeep-Jeep the Roadbuilder: Just like Looney Tunes' Coyote and Roadrunner, Clyde is always coming up with zany regulations to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, but the undeterrable Roadbuilder finds endlessly clever ways to evade his shenanigans.
    • Brian Carbrain: This little cutie-pie just can't imagine walking or riding a bike somewhere when he can just drive. Hey, kids, make sure you're strapped in behind this guy, not trying to cross the street in front of him!
    • Lolita Lockbox: Caltrans keeps project study reports safely away from public eyes (and the prying world wide web), by locking them away in Lolita. Lolita can move with amazingly superhuman slowness when faced with her nemesis, Callie Public Records Act.
    • Babe the Gray Aux: Babe is a big wide aux (auxiliary lane), so darn cute that Caltrans can use Babe to add freeway capacity without letting on that they're (wink wink) actually adding freeway capacity.
    • Fonya "Fonsi" Fonda: Fonsi (Finding Of No Significant Impact) is how Caltrans studies freeway widening projects. Fonsi and his sidekick, "Cat" the Categorical Exemption, protect Caltrans from actual public input and long-winded studies of environmental impacts.
    • Multimodal Mo: This mythical future mascot is always coming next year or maybe the year after. Mo is at her most elusive when she's facing her arch-enemy: Pete the Perpetual Project Pipeline.

A new laptop would be nice, thank you so much! But Streetsblog would rather see state agencies spend time and energy on eliminating the root causes of traffic injuries and fatalities:

    • unsafe vehicle design
    • unsafe road design
    • policies that accommodate and encourage driving and speeding
    • increasing driver distractions and increasing acceptance of those distractions as unavoidable
    • a serious lack of safety-focused education for drivers

If Caltrans is short of ideas that can make a dent in these, then maybe they could hold a contest. Meanwhile, for no particular reason, here's video of a bear helping Safety Sam the Orange Cone.

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