Austin Sees Record High Traffic Fatalities
It’s official: 2015 is Austin’s deadliest year yet. As of September 15th there have been 69 deadly wrecks causing 78 fatalities in Austin’s city limits, matching 2012’s record high of 78 total fatalities with 3 months in the year left to go. A number of experts and local officials postulate as to the cause of this increase, but none can be entirely sure of the source. Here’s a look at what we do know about this year’s deadly crashes.
Despite APD Efforts, Traffic Fatalities Increase
Austin is now infamously known for its drinking-and-driving problem after the horrific 2014 SXSW incident where a drunk driver drove into a crowd of pedestrians. However, the amount of deadly crashes involving alcohol this year was surprisingly low. Only 9 out of 69, or 13% of deadly crashes were suspected to have involved alcohol consumption by a driver, according to Austin Police Department’s traffic fatality releases. In comparison, 37% of fatal crashes in Travis County in 2014 involved alcohol. In response to the increased traffic fatality rate in early 2015, APD initiated extended No-Refusal policies and DWI initiatives during holiday weekends to combat a known problem. As of August, Police Chief Art Acevedo added a third shift to the DWI unit.
Despite these efforts, the death toll on Austin roads have continued to rise, leaving Acevedo and other city officials confounded as to how to stop these deaths, resorting to calls for “personal accountability.”
One number that stands out is the pedestrian deaths on Austin roads. Sometimes even looking twice before you cross the road won’t help. Of the 69 fatal crashes, 23 involved pedestrians and 6 of those were hit and runs where a driver involved in the accident failed to stop and render aid. According to Acevedo, 94% of these pedestrians were crossing the street illegally, prompting transportation and city planning advocates to call for more walkable streets.
Beyond just pedestrians, over half of all fatal crashes in 2015 involved someone that wasn’t in a car. In each of these cases, it was the pedestrian, motorcyclist or cyclist who was killed.
Last November, Austin launched the Vision Zero Task Force, which, like the name suggests, aims to bring Austin’s traffic fatality and injury count to zero. While the task force’s official recommendations are slated to come out this November, Austin drivers can begin fighting traffic accidents immediately by choosing not to drink and drive and driving cautiously for potentially dangerous conditions such as darkness and weather.