How TxDOT Aims to Reduce Traffic Accidents and Fatalities

Fire Department at Scene of Car Crash

There is no argument that Texas has a serious problem with car and truck accidents, especially those leading to fatalities. And, as anyone who has driven through the Eagle Ford Shale since the oil and gas boom started can attest, many roads in active oil and gas production areas can be somewhat harrowing for drivers. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), in 2018, approximately half of all traffic fatalities occurred in the areas most active in the energy sector.

In 2018, fully 1,673 people died and more than 6,000 were seriously injured in traffic accidents in Texas oil-exploration hotspots, such as the Barnett Shale, the Permian Basin, Granite Wash, the Eagle Ford, and the Haynesville/Bossier shales. In fact, the number of traffic fatalities in those areas was up about four percent over 2017.

All of that said, it is not possible for anyone, especially TxDOT, to say the problem is limited to those areas where oil and gas drilling and fracking has been booming would not be accurate. The problem is a statewide problem and it’s been a problem for a long time. The last time the state of Texas had a day without a fatal crash was Nov. 7, 2000, which means we just passed 19 years without a death-free day on Texas roads. Since then, more than 67,000 people have died on Texas roads, which amounts to approximately 10 road fatalities per day. And the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) desperately wants to lessen the carnage.

Texas has the most dangerous road conditions in the country. Between 2010 and 2018, Texas held the number ne position in terms of states with the most traffic deaths. Even the more populous and more car-centric state of California has nothing on Texas. When factoring in population, in 2018, 12.7 out of every 100,000 residents were killed in a car or truck wreck, which puts the state near the center for per capita road fatalities, although the number is still above the 11.2  national average. TxDOT considers that to be an “epidemic” and they are certainly very serious about curbing the problem. Back in May, TxDOT set a goal of ending all traffic fatalities statewide by 2050, and they have committed to spending a lot more money on safety. Just in the next two years, they have committed to spending $600 million for such things as widening and repaving roads, upgrading guardrails and improving conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well.

Teaching Texans to Drive Safely

The most common factors leading to serious crashes, which are often fatal, are speeding, unsafe lane changes, distractions, and driving under the influence of alcohol. Many accidents feature more than one contributing factor. For instance, in many cases, a driver may be caught speeding and also texting from his cell phone.

Not all of the news is bad. In Texas, for instance, fatal crashes involving alcohol decreased by just under nine percent between 2010 and 2018, with the alcohol being cited in 34.5 percent of deadly crashes in 2010, and dropping to 25.7 percent last year. TxDOT cites the increased awareness of the DWI problem as a contributory factor to the reduction, as was the advent of ride-sharing companies. Therefore, education and safer roads would seem to have played a significant role, which bodes well for the future.

That said, while many safety officials are elated at the reduction in DWI-related fatalities, there is no way TxDOT and other safety agencies plan to take their foot off the gas, as it were. Nor do they have plans to celebrate. Several officials with the agency cite that 25.7% of crashes were linked to the consumption of alcohol is still far too many, so is the 67,000 deaths since 2000 is still far too many.

The Problem With Rural Roads

According to TxDOT statistics, about three out of every four Texas crashes happen in cities, with a “city” defined as having a population of 5,000 or more, but more than half of the state’s traffic fatalities happen in rural areas. Among the reasons why rural roads seem so dangerous is because of rod conditions, Several studies have shown that drivers have very little room for errors, but many continue to what they have always done on a suburban or urban highway.

The high number of rural fatalities shows that road improvements are needed all over Texas, and not just in heavily populated areas, showing that the problem is neither exclusively a rural or metro issue, but is actually a statewide issue.

The Problem with Cyclists and Pedestrians

While walking and biking are less common in many Texas cities than in many other American cities, their numbers continue to grow at a fairly rapid pace. The number of people killed while walking or biking keeps increasing. As TxDOT puts it,  while it is very dangerous to drive a car in Texas, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to walk or ride a bike.

Many safety officials are noting that one of the biggest reasons why Texas roads are so dangerous is because Texas civil engineers have been building roads based on the wrong idea for many years, in that road design has largely been centered on moving vehicles at greater speed, and not enough emphasis on reducing danger.

The Explosion in Trucks and SUVs

One reason safety experts cite for the increase in danger to bicyclists and pedestrians has been the size of the vehicles we buy. In 2018, 68 percent of the vehicles sold nationwide were SUVs or trucks. In Texas, such heavy vehicles are involved in more fatal crashes than regular passenger vehicles, like sedans or coupes.

Experts say the extra weight on these vehicles makes them deadlier to others on the road, especially bikes and those who walk.  Some in the Texas legislature and other Texas safety officials believe that a tax on a vehicle’s weight might discourage customers from buying heavier cars. Best of all, the extra revenue could be spent on building safer roads.

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