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Austin and Texas staying focused despite rough traffic death data

Texas has a traffic problem and not just with slow commutes. Our roads see more deaths than any other state. And while Austin has seen some success with its Vision Zero Action Plan in recent years, many Austinites are frustrated by setbacks.

Texas trailing the nation in safe roadways

Late last year, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its most recent year of traffic fatality data, most Texans knew we were not going to win any prizes. Texas topped the list, with the nation’s most fatal crashes (3,305) and its most traffic deaths (3,642), all in a single year.

But hold on. Thousands of deaths in one year is almost unimaginably awful. But Texas is a very populous state, and when you count the number of almost anything in each state, we are likely to come out near the top.

Nonetheless, consider that second on the list, California, has nearly 11 million more people than Texas does. Even so, it had just under the same number of fatal crashes (3,259) and not quite as many traffic deaths (3,563).

Numbers do not lie after all

The fairer ways to compare these morbid statistics, and the ways to make clearer comparisons of danger levels, would be with per-person or per-mile data. Those numbers are dismal for us, too.

California had 9.0 and Texas had 12.7 deaths per 100,000 population.

California had 1.02 and Texas had 1.29 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Austin’s safety ambitions take a dreadful hit

Austin’s gradual but steady progress toward no traffic deaths by 2025 helped bring the city’s total down from 102 to 74 in just four years. But any optimism the trend produced met a challenge last year. The total number of traffic deaths reached its highest since the program began, with 88 traffic deaths in Austin in 2019.

Our NPR station conveyed the area’s anger and frustration, but also highlighted opportunities to turn things around.

They quoted the Executive Director of Farm&City, a nonprofit focused on the quality of “urban and rural human habitat” in the state. He urged officials to avoid blaming people for their own deaths.

Instead, he believes state and local officials should focus on their own decisions and reexamine how they are responding to Austin’s fast-growing population and traffic.



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