Texas, Where 10 People Are Killed on Roads Every Day, Commits to Vision Zero

Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr
Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Texas, long a laggard in traffic safety, is now under order to end traffic deaths by 2050.

The Texas Transportation Commission has mandated that [PDF] the state’s Department of Transportation “work toward the goal of” halving traffic deaths by 2035 and eliminating them entirely 15 years later.

Texas’s freewheeling road culture has made it one of the bloodiest states. In 2017, 3,721 people were killed on the state’s roads. For a long time the Lone Star State’s Department of Transportation manta with regards to traffic safety has been #EndtheStreak, which refers to the fact that there hasn’t been a single day without a traffic fatality in Texas since November 7, 2000. On average about 10 people die on the state’s roads every day.

The Vision Zero pledge is nothing more than a goal, but it still represents a sea change in the state’s approach. By comparison, just last year, Texas’s official traffic safety goal called for just an incremental improvement in safety. But adjusted for population growth, the state’s “goal” involved 446 more people losing their lives on Texas roads every year by 2020.

Fortunately, grassroots leaders — such as Jay Crossley of the nonprofit smart growth group Farm and City, plus families that have lost loved ones in traffic crashes —have been pushing for the change for more than two years under the banner of Texans for Safe Streets.

“At the 2018 World Day of Remembrance on the steps of the Texas State Capitol, we asked for the state’s leadership to do more and to adopt accountable goals to end the suffering on Texas streets,” Crossley told Streetsblog. “And we noticed that some TXDOT leaders showed up and listened and communed with the families sharing their stories.”

Originally the activists aimed to convince the legislature. But eventually they decided it was better to focus on the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, which governs the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Texans from across the state sent letters to the Commission asking for accountable goals to end the traffic death epidemic,” Crossley said. “And we kept coming to every meeting. Kept telling our stories. Kept asking for more.”

It worked. The CEO of Texas DOT eventually joined some of their campaigns.

Now the hard part: Getting the state to follow through to make the changes that actually reduce traffic deaths. But state officials are still doing some pretty dangerous things. The House, for example, is on the verge of banning red-light cameras. Lack of automated enforcement was one problem singled out by the Houston Chronicle in a recent investigation about the region’s horrifying traffic death rate. Houston is the number two region in the nation of traffic deaths per capita, the paper’s analysis shows.

But at least now there’s a countervailing force trying to make the case for safety.

“The work has only just begun,” said Crossley. “We’re going to continue supporting TXDOT and the commission as they take on this vision. We’re going to work with every city, county, and [Metropolitan Planning Organization] in the state to join TXDOT in taking responsibility for ending traffic deaths.”

12 thoughts on Texas, Where 10 People Are Killed on Roads Every Day, Commits to Vision Zero

  1. FARS data for 2017 showed the US average fatality rate was 1.16 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Texas was higher at 1.38 and part of that difference is due to the large areas that are very lightly populated so the emergence response times and the distances to qualified trauma hospitals are much greater as is true in many western states.

    Red light cameras are going away in part because a 12 year study of them in Texas by Case Western Reserve University found no safety benefits. Another part is the disgust of many people who got tickets at lights that were deliberately mis-engineered with too-short yellow intervals to raise camera profits.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  2. Texas? Vision Zero? to quote the late gentleman from Lubbock, “That’ll be the day.”

  3. Texas Governor Abbott signed the bill to ban red light cameras statewide on Saturday afternoon. Most cities will have to take the cameras down soon, and the for-profit rackets will end.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. TxDOT will have to dramatically change how it evaluates road projects if it really wants to commit to this goal. The state DOT controls many roadways in cities that are now high-density, high-speed corridors with wide lanes and few facilities for people walking or biking. They’ve long been an obstacle to improving those roads. They prefer to spend their money on projects like the $8 billion expansion of I-35 that will undoubtably reduce safety and worsen congestion.

    I hope this is more than lip service and Texas is truly leaving behind the outdated ideas that have historically dominated their initiatives.

  5. @James C. Walker
    Please move to Texas, hopefully you’ll get hit by a driver running a red light and we won’t have to listen to you anymore.

  6. “We will continue to engineer our roads to be more forgiving of drivers’ errors…” – Sounds like they’ll just end up building wider, faster roads and more sprawl.

  7. I think this is a wonderful idea/ concept. I live in rural Tarrant County and the posted speed limit is 20mph, we get very little help from the Sheriffs office in slowing the speeders down. This is the response from multiple deputies “we have 110 square miles to cover and a limited staff and DO NOT have time to do traffic patrol.” It sounds a little rehearsed to me since that statement has been made my multiple persons in that office.

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