Safe Moves is one the most well-regarded street safety organizations in California. Led by the tireless efforts of Pat Hines, Safe Moves has won a number of national awards for contributions to street safety including the United States Department of Transportation “Safety Program of the Year.”

They are also one of the five street safety charities participating in GJEL’s Winter Charity Contest (Vote here!). We’ll be interviewing someone from each organization this week, and have already chatted with MADD California, TransFormCA and Walk SF.

For our interview with Safe Moves, I talked with Pat Hines about the counterintuitive learnings from observational studies, why your test at the DMV might be changing soon, and their vision for 2012.

GJEL: For those who are unfamiliar with Safe Moves, can you offer a little background?

SAFE MOVES: A big part of what we do as a service to parents, we probably see about 60-75k parents a month on traffic safety awareness. We teach them all about pedestrian safety, all about car seats, bike safety, even toy and health and nutrition for kids. We also do things like help schools revamp their pick up and drop off areas to make them safer.

We’re funded 90% by federal money and serve from San Diego all the way up Stockton, that’s our core outreach.

GJEL: You are doing a lot of different things! What’s one area that you think could really benefit from more attention?

SAFE MOVES: One of the things that would be really helpful in changing the quality of life with kids walking to and from school is driver awareness. And also changing the traffic patterns so that people’s primary routes aren’t going past schools. More infrastructure changes to avert traffic from school. And also having kids with parents who understand that education and having kids in traffic is safer than keeping them away. What I mean is driving them everywhere is going to make it so that they are less prepared to walk to and from school. More kids out means the neighborhoods are safer because drivers are used to kids walking and biking.

GJEL: Child safety around schools is a something people get behind. There’s been a big push in San Francisco to reduce speed limits in front of schools.

SAFE MOVES. It’s funny, you know, it’s like preaching to the choir. The ones who speed aren’t going to be impacted by changing the speed limit. People who drive fast drive fast all the time. It’s a great thing and it makes people feel good but if you look a the crash data the amount of kids that are killed by a speeding car in front of their school–the number is actually very, very low.

The danger is really more the parent who is double-parked so when the kid steps out of the car on the passenger side he is hit by another parent. The speed zones are a good thing, but in terms of really improving safety, it’s not a silver bullet.

GJEL: How do you change the way people drive, then?

SAFE MOVES: One of the big thing we’ve been pushing is having more safety information on the state driving exam. What do you do when a pedestrian is here? How are you supposed to drive around bike riders? A lot of people don’t think that bike riders belong in the street, that they should stay on the sidewalk, which is really dangerous for the bike riders because if they cross the street from the sidewalk drivers can never see them.

Personally I’d rather have a car beep at me cause then I know they can see me, they’re a lot less likely to hit me if they can see me.

GJEL: Data is so important to creating a compelling argument for groups like Safe Moves. What have you seen recently that was a bit surprising?

SAFE MOVES: We do surveys asking kids how they get to and from school and when you ask about safety they’ll all tell you the right things, what they think they should know. So what we do is we have our instructors–who really look like kids, too–hang out near the schools and document their behavior for a period of time. On rainy days, sunny days, cold days, that kind of thing.

And what we’re finding is that often times it’s the parents’ behavior that governs the kids’ behavior. So if you are a parent that crosses mid-block, even if the kid knows that crossing mid-block is not something they are supposed to do, they’ll follow the parents lead. And then we watch the kids on their own, they’re crossing more safely.

We have a lot of parents who feel their kids should always bike to school with a helmet, but when they bike with them, they don’t wear a helmet. So it’s really interesting that parents are really poor role models when it comes to safety. Everything from talking on the phone to not wearing their seatbelts. So what we are having to tell kids is “in this situation, don’t listen to your parents.”

That’s what the surveillance has shown us more than anything. Left on their own and educated kids will often make the right decision.

GJEL: What are you big projects going forward in the new year?

One of our biggest projects is that the LA school system, which is the second biggest school system in the country, is in danger of losing its busing funding. So we’re going to see a lot more kids walking to school, and walking greater distances. Now we’re trying to work with parents to say this is doable, and they can walk three miles to school, but this is how its going to have to be done.

The other issue is that more high school students are driving themselves to school than ever before, which makes it less safe for the kids who walk to school. So we’ll be working with Family Member High School, which has 2,700 kids. We’re trying to change their focus on automobile drivers and turn it back to pedestrians and bicyclists.

And then our third challenge is trying to reduce the gas emissions in Mountain View. We have a 5-year grant to reduce the air pollution in and around schools. We’re doing some innovative school mapping, bike lanes and bike routes. And then you know the ongoing training that we’re doing all the time. It’s like teaching math: you just continually do it all the time. Now we’ve got funding to that and also to target some specific goals.

Be sure to check back this week for more interviews with some of California’s most important street safety organizations, and don’t forget to vote to help your favorite one win $1,500!