Texas DOT Isn’t Learning From Its Horrific Road Fatalities Calendar

Graphic: Texas DOT
Graphic: Texas DOT

This calendar is published by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of its traffic safety efforts. It shows how many fatal collisions and traffic deaths happened every day of the year. On average, someone is killed every two and a half hours on Texas streets, and someone is injured every two minutes, according to TxDOT [PDF].

Texas hasn’t had a day without a traffic fatality in more than 15 years. In that time, more than 50,000 people have been killed on Texas roads — an absolutely staggering number. By comparison, California, with a population 44 percent larger, has nearly 300 fewer traffic deaths per year. (The safest state, Massachusetts, has a per capita traffic fatality rate nearly 60 percent lower than Texas’s.)

State officials in Texas attribute the problem to drunk driving and failure to use seat belts — not any shortcoming in their own work. Just one day without a traffic fatality is the agency’s depressingly unambitious goal: #EndTheStreak, they call it. TxDOT’s strategy seems to consist mainly of using Twitter and PSAs to reach drivers.

What if, instead of #EndTheStreak, Texas state transportation officials got serious about ending traffic fatalities altogether? What if they launched a statewide Vision Zero campaign?

A concerted effort to reduce traffic deaths would have to involve solutions much more substantial than PSAs. It would require an entire rethinking of the state’s transportation policies.

A growing number of American cities are adopting Vision Zero goals and laying out plans to fix their dangerously designed streets — making more room for walking and biking while taming speeding traffic. The idea is gaining momentum in Texas cities too.

TxDOT’s #EndTheStreak campaign clearly isn’t getting the job done. Statewide traffic deaths increased 3.7 percent in 2014 compared to the year before [PDF]. Without a fundamental paradigm shift, there’s no reason to expect this year’s calendar will be any different.

Hat Tip: Kostelec Planning

  • Southeasterner

    Given the huge spike in nationwide fatalities I would hate to see the same calendar for 2015.

    On the plus side the ridiculous number of road (and gun) fatalities are helping to mitigate the increase in the number of Texas voters.

  • jarendt

    From TxDOT’s own numbers, most of the people killed in Texas crashes did not involve a DUI (71%), and more restrained than unbelted people were killed (1292 vs. 1006). Ending all DUIs and unbelted drivers would still leave a lot of dead sober people.

    Vision Zero for the state of Texas would look quite different from Vision Zero for cities. Most of Texas’s fatal crashes were in rural areas (55.86%). More than a third of Texas’s fatal crashes were on U.S. or state highways, and more than a third were single-vehicle runoff crashes. TxDOT could start by looking how to keep people from killing themselves running off the road on the rural highways TxDOT builds and maintains.

    http://www.txdot.gov/government/enforcement/annual-summary.html
    http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot/trf/crash-statistics/2014/01.pdf

  • Jean Blais

    If you avoid getting shot chances are they’ll run ya down.

  • dwightk

    Per capita traffic fatality rate isn’t a good comparison, we need to see fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled. I’m guessing a much larger proportion of the population in Massachusetts can get around fine using mass transit which isn’t practical for much of Texas.

  • Amy

    Some Texas highways have a digital billboard along the side of the road that publish these numbers as a running tally, “X number of deaths on Texas roads this year.” It is so strange that TxDOT thinks advertising or public relations can solve the problem of poorly designed roads.

  • Jordanjacob

    Looking at the number of fatalities per capita is the correct comparison for guiding transit policy, at least if reducing deaths is what you care about.

  • Streetsblog Network

    That’s actually part of the point we’re trying to make. Bad transit, bad land use kills people. But TxDOT isn’t even looking at that.

  • jarendt

    Even by VMT, the traffic death rate in Texas is more than double that in Massachusetts.

    http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview
    http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

  • thielges

    Yes, that makes sense. A transportation system that places inadequately trained amateur drivers in control of powerful vehicles is inherently dangerous.

    One solution is to increase the level of competency required to be licensed to drive. More frequent testing, higher standards, and more severe penalties for dangerous behavior could reduce the fatality rates.

    Raising standards would be politically hard but it can be done. You can see how professional truck and bus drivers have a lower accident rate despite being responsible for controlling much larger and harder to maneuver vehicles.

  • R94110

    Yeah but you need more than that. “Oh isn’t it terrible that X died” is emotionally powerful but no substitute for a cost-benefit analysis.

    A monetary value can be put on a human life. And a monetary value can be put on the cost of engineering highways to the point where there are zero deaths, even assuming that is ever possible.

    So, for example, if freeways had a 5 mph speed limit deaths may well be trivial. But the economic cost would be enormous. The real question is about where the sweet spot is, and that requires the concept of an acceptable level of traffic fatalities.

  • R94110

    Is there any evidence that, say, 20 years prison time would reduce fatal accidents?

    It might deter someone from robbing a bank, but it is not as if any driver intends to kill.

  • thielges

    The penalty need not be that draconian. A temporary license suspension should be good enough. But even that doesn’t fly because the defendant will often claim that they can’t get to work without their car due to the sprawling land use patterns and lack of good transit. And hence the self perpetuating cycle is complete.

  • jarendt

    I am generally skeptical of cost-benefit analysis because it’s prone to people conveniently incorporating or ignoring whatever indirect costs or benefits that best support their existing opinions. It is one thing to use cost-benefit to say, “What is the most efficient way to achieve our goals?” It’s quite another to use cost-benefit to decide what we value and what our goals should be.

    With that said, a cost-benefit analysis of transportation modes showed a net benefit to society for bicycling and a net cost for driving. I’d love to see DOTs look at this cost-benefit for urban road projects.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800915000907?via%3Dihub

  • CalRobert

    Making people drive ridiculous distances because of poor urban design is a driver of fatalities, and a good reason to consider fatalities per capita, not per mile.

  • R94110

    But surely the importance of the punishment is deterrence rather than retribution? It is not as if I am driving along thinking “I would hit that cyclist except that I might lose my license”.

    Now with DUI there is some measure of deterrent. You lose your license and typically have costs of a few thousand. But it is a very tangible and deliberate decision to drink and drive, and so the punishment can deter. But most accidents happen when people are just driving along and then “something” happens.

    I want people to be more careful too. I just don’t think that getting all punitive will have that effect.

  • R94110

    So ten deaths in a million vehicle miles is the same as ten deaths in a billion vehicle miles, to your way of thinking?

  • jaarendt

    So 10 deaths in a thousand people is the same as ten deaths in a million people, to your way of.thinking?

  • thielges

    I’m not talking about fluke collisions. Instead I mean those that could be avoided by correctable behavior like speeding or texting. Anyone who takes a serious approach to driving will avoid collisions and have very few or none of them. On the other hand agro and or sloppy/negligent drivers will have more. The penalties should focus on the latter. They’re easy to recognize by driving infractions like speeding, rolling stops, unsafe passing, drifting off the road, etc. And if you don’t recognize them that way, look at their traffic citation record over a longer term.

  • R94110

    I would agree that it makes more sense to punish things like speeding or running a stop, because those are intentional acts, mostly anyway. But in fact we already do that via citations and fines.

    But accidents happen in many situations and I’ll bet many of them happen not because of an immediate transgression but simply as a combination of factors coming together. Example: the sun was in my eyes AND an approaching vehicle crossed over the center divide AND the road was wet AND there was a cyclist to my right.

    My real point is that we should not punish people just for being involved in an accident when the cause of often multi-variant. Such complexities are resolved in civil court where, typically, blame is allocated across all the parties to the accident, with bad luck also being a factor

  • R94110

    I think you are agreeing with me.

  • CalRobert

    The basic disagreement is that one of you thinks a person will drive X miles no matter what. The other recognizes that decisions made by our governments affect how much we drive. I live in a neighborhood where I can walk to things, but that’s only because it was built before short-sighted planning commissions made it illegal to build new neighborhoods like my own with zoning and parking minimums. I am less likely to be killed on the roads than a person who drives 30 miles a day because they can’t afford to live in my expensive neighborhood. But in your view that’s OK because driving longer distances makes dying on the roads more acceptable.

  • thielges

    Bad luck and perhaps mild negligence. There are a lot of sloppy drivers (and bicyclists for that matter) who could up their game and improve theirs and others odds against participating in a collision.

    Bad road design is another factor. Lowering the design speed for example almost always increases safety.

    And I never implied that people should be punished for simply being involved in a collision. If you read my original statement includes the phrase “…more severe penalties for dangerous behavior…”

  • Peace and quiet

    False collision reporting doesn’t promote accurate data to curb death rate either. My daughter and her friend were killed in collision and police report lied about the driver in her vehicle saying not buckled in and speeding! I’ve researched as I knew it had to be a lie because these weren’t the kind of people to do this and found thru dashcam recordings the police lied, as well as deposition of other driver stating the boy was in his seatbelt! It was done to provide other driver which was a large, trucking company freedom from liability! Thus, the very people providing data are liars and who knows how much data is corrupted so they can fund their campaigns “cracking down on seatbelts and speeders” which hasn’t curbed Texas’ death rate. How many greiving families are out their thinking our police, DPS, etc… are good and when their loved ones die swallowing the lies, thus corrupting insurance payouts, liability, and on and on not to mention the No Respect for the deceased!!! How dare they have this kind of power and how dare they use it in such a devastating situtation!

  • Think.First

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

America’s Progress on Street Safety Is Pathetic

|
A new report from the International Transport Forum shows America is only falling farther behind all of its peer nations on street safety [PDF]. The traffic fatality rate in the United States (10.7 per 100,000 people) is nearly four times higher than in the United Kingdom (2.8 per 100,000) and close to double that of […]
2010s-MV-Deaths5

America’s Traffic Death Toll Is a National Disgrace

|
More than 40,000 Americans were killed in traffic last year, according to new estimates from the National Safety Council, the worst toll in a decade. The U.S. transportation system claims far more lives each year than peer countries. If America achieved the same fatality rate as the UK, more than 30,000 lives would be saved each year.

The Death Toll From Cars Is Even Higher Than You Thought

|
Ten days ago, four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain was killed near Houston when a neighbor backed his pickup truck over him. At least 50 times a week, people back their cars over kids in the U.S. On average, two of those 50 incidents are fatal. But you won’t see them represented in official crash statistics. Every year, the […]