What Are Texas Lawmakers Doing to Make Our Roads Safer?

San Antonio

The last day that no one died on Texas roads was Nov. 7, 2000. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has been expanding its efforts to “End the Streak,” which is how their promotional materials put things. However, despite their best efforts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Texas is still the state with the most traffic deaths. Though the numbers fluctuate somewhat, with the number of fatalities falling two percent between 2016 and 2017, that still means more than 3,700 people died on Texas roads in 2017.

One New Bill Could Become Law…

While the Texas legislature has had mixed results, at best, when it comes to passing laws aimed at cutting the number of road fatalities, they are finally considering several bills intended to make a serious dent in the number of traffic deaths. One such bill,  House Bill 1287, which was filed by State Rep. Celia Israel of Austin, would lower the default speed limit on unmarked residential roads to 25 mph, from the current 30 mph.

The bill was proposed after reports that kids who are playing, walking or biking on or around unmarked residential roads are more likely to be hit and injured or killed than kids doing anything around a road with a marked speed limit. Rep. Israel has been reported as saying her bill “is about saving lives, but it’s also about saving money.” Right now, if a neighborhood wants to reduce a speed limit to less than 30 miles per hour, it is necessary for the city to conduct a traffic study. If her bill passes, speed limits on unmarked roads will automatically be 25 miles per hour without conducting a traffic study.

So far, the bill has bipartisan support and it has made it out of committee. It’s still waiting to be added to the agenda for debate and a vote in the full House of Representatives.

… But Some New Bills Are Going Nowhere

Meanwhile, the other side of that mixed bag is a law that would ban texting and all other use of handheld electronic devices while driving has gotten far less support in the Legislature. Senate Bill 43, which was filed by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, would make the use of any electronic device not equipped with a hands-free device illegal to use while driving. According to the bill, the only time a driver would be able to text or talk on the phone, mess with the GPS or music apps, or surf the web without the use of a hands-free device, would be when they are stopped outside of a travel lane.

Unfortunately, the Texas legislature, which just passed a texting ban in 2017, may not have the political will to expand that law just yet. That bill hasn’t even had a committee hearing in the Senate as yet. This, despite the numbers. According to TxDOT, there were more than 100,000 crashes in 2017 involving distracted driving, leading to 2,889 serious injuries and 444 fatalities.

A third bill designed to keep more Texans safe, House Bill 1289, is a reaction to aggressive drivers who fail to respect the rights of pedestrians to be in a crosswalk. The law would require all drivers to stop and yield to pedestrians who are legally present in a crosswalk. The current law merely requires the driver to “yield” to a pedestrian who is in a crosswalk when there is a “Walk” sign or if there is no traffic light.

While there doesn’t seem to be any vocal opposition to the bill, it remains stalled without even a committee assignment and hearing.

What If No New Laws Pass?

Of late, the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) seems more determined than ever to expand safety on state roads. For example, back in March the TTC hosted and heard a presentation from the TxDOT Department of Engineering and Safety that indicated the agency’s seeming intention to implements a plan to reduce fatalities to zero by 2050.

Their plan seems to be modeled after Austin’s “Vision Zero” traffic plan introduced in 2016 with a goal of zero fatal injuries by 2025. Several other Texas cities have adopted similar plans, with the state of Washington being the first to adopt a statewide plan to reduce traffic deaths to zero. Since then, about half of the other states have set such plans in motion. All such plans intend to address the issue of traffic deaths through the implementation of better road design, greater enforcement of traffic laws and more effective public education programs.

Traffic experts are hopeful that the TTC will adopt such a zero-death plan when they meet later this month.

It’s clear that many Texas state officials recognize there is a problem with traffic deaths in the state, which can certainly be seen as progress; the first step to solving the problem. However, there still seems to be too much opposition to common sense measures that could make Texas Roads safer.

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