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Austin’s Vision Zero Future, According to Law

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McMinn Law Firm is committed to improving the lives of people who have been injured in car, pedestrian and truck crashes. The devastating pain caused by serious accidents should be prevented wherever possible. Adoption of Vision Zero policy is one way cities can reduce injuries and loss of life. You can read on about how these losses could be diminished with better road design and fewer negligent drivers.

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero efforts by cities like Austin attempt to reduce the number of tragic traffic deaths. We know the devastating effects that car accident, pedestrian, and motorcycle fatalities have on a family’s life and well being. Vision Zero seeks to eliminate traffic death and suffering.

Advocates remind the public that we have the power to eliminate traffic deaths, which are not caused by “accidents” after all. For too long, they say, fatalities have been considered an inevitable side effect of motor vehicle transportation. But with Vision Zero, all crash fatalities can be prevented using approaches that prioritize safety. Vision Zero means taking a comprehensive look at systems for travel and ensure that they are safe for all users.

Austin Injury Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for Vision Zero

Recovery doesn’t come easily or quickly – and there are some injuries a family may never recover from. We feel that loss is too heavy a price for communities to pay for distracted or negligent driving. Improvements in road construction can reduce the pain and suffering that families experience following a car crash tragedy.

102 traffic related deaths, as seen in Austin in 2015, is far too many deaths. 1 death is too many. If you or someone you know has been affected by an Austin car accident death, contact McMinn Law Firm today for a free consultation.


Why Austin, Texas Needs Vision Zero Initiatives

Austin is a great place to live. There’s a music festival almost every weekend, activities for the family, and opportunity for a great education at many of Austin’s public schools. But Austin ranks as the

13th most dangerous city for traffic (among cities with population over 500,000.)

Texas traffic fatality and injury: Texas is one of the most dangerous states for per capita traffic fatalities. At least one person has died on Texas roads since November 7, 2000. Not a day goes by that a Texan doesn’t lose their life to car accident injury.

Austin traffic fatality statistics:

  • In an average year, 64 people are killed on Austin’s roads
  • In an average year, 200 people are seriously injured in a car crash

According to Vision Zero, injury and fatal crashes cost Austinites over half a billion dollars annually. But the human toll is much worse.

Each year, relatives of victims host a vigil one Sunday in November to remember those lost in fatal traffic accidents. They shared memories of their loved ones, and what unfolded after their sudden and shocking loss.

One woman lost her partner, bicyclist Andrew Tilin, when he was struck by a car while changing a flat tire along 360. Shellie Oroshiba spoke of her loss, and expressed desire for change in the future.

Vision Zero Safety advocates point to the loss and say safety measures could cost less than the costly impact caused by loss of life. Safety advocates say the financial toll (one-half billion in Austin) would be the equivalent of approximately 800 new miles of sidewalks or 7,000 new pedestrian hybrid beacons.

History of Vision Zero: How Austinites Got in the Vision Zero Fast Lane

In Austin, it’s common to think that Vision Zero initiatives began as a response to a surge in traffic fatalities we witnessed in 2015. In 2015, a record 102 people died on Austin roads. But the work started earlier, in 2014 when a council resolution created a task force that represented a variety of viewpoints. City and state staff, academics and community advocates make up the Vision Zero Task Force. Their role is to move Austin’s traffic death number to zero by 2025.

Austin is working to eliminate traffic deaths, but it was not the first to do so. Read to see how Austin has kept up with this international movement toward zero fatal car accidents.

March 2, 2017
In the past two years, almost 60 pedestrians have died after being hit by a motor vehicle. A new study released by Smart Growth America has ranked as Austin has one of the most dangerous cities to walk in.

An analysis of 104 largest metropolitan areas of the U.S. revealed that Austin is 47th most dangerous for pedestrians. Since 2005, there have been 257 pedestrian fatalities in Austin. In the Houston area, there have been 1,026 pedestrian deaths in that time.

Authors of the study advise cities to look at street design as a way to keep pedestrians safe. Can Austin’s latest Prop 1 measure make a difference in curbing pedestrian injury? Read on to see how Austin officials are working to address safety issues.

 

1994 | Sweden Creates First Vision Zero Initiative

In 1994, Sweden became the first country to create a holistic approach to reduce traffic injury and death.

2003 | Utah Creates Vision Zero initiative

Traffic safety analysts say that compared to other places that have started traffic safety initiatives, Utah’s traffic and development patterns most closely resemble Austin’s. By 2014, traffic deaths were reduced by 48 percent in Utah.

2014 | New York City Adopts Its Own Vision Zero Plan

New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio announced a citywide commitment to save lives lost to car accidents.

June 2014 | Austin Adopted Complete Streets Policy

In early summer of 2014, the Austin City Council adopted a robust Complete Streets Policy. It is policy that makes roads useful for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and the disabled. It adopts policy goals such as creating sidewalks, bike lanes, connecting existing infrastructure, and accessible transit stops. A comprehensive measure requires robust attention from all City departments.

Nov. 3, 2014 | Pedestrian Advisory Council Recommends Vision Zero Task Force

In early Nov. of 2014, Austin’s advisory council recommended creation of a Vision Zero Task Force in Austin. Early on, the task force involved a variety of voices from community safety advocacy organizations, city departments, and Capital Metro. Between 2004 and 2013, 634 people were killed in Austin motor vehicle accidents. These groups got together to plan for a safer future.

Nov. 20, 2014 | Austin Creates Vision Zero Task Force

City of Austin officials voted unanimously to form a Vision Zero Task Force.

Jan. 2016 | New York’s Vision Zero Plan Protects Lives, Prevents Injury

According to traffic fatality numbers from 2015, the Vision Zero plan in New York City had already reversed the number of deaths. From 2014 to 2015, traffic deaths decreased from 257 to 230. This might be most significant because national traffic deaths soared in 2015.

May 19 2016 | Austin’s Vision Zero Task Force Releases Plans

Austin’s robust traffic safety plans revealed a five part action plan with evaluation, enforcement, engineering, education, and policy.

Aug. 5 2016 | Austin City Council Announces Mobility Bond

In the upcoming election on Nov. 8 Austin voters have the chance to approve a “mobility bond” proposed by the city. City council says that the bond would improve safety on Austin’s roadways, but critics note the lack of light rail system initiatives in the budget.


Can Laws Help Prevent Crashes?

A major issue facing traffic safety reform is the way that legislators and road makers most often think about road design. In Texas, the primary objective in creating roads has been to create a pathway for operators of motor vehicles to travel quickly. When road design prioritizes speed for motor vehicles, it becomes dangerous for other road users. Pedestrians crossing the street have fewer ways to cross high speed roads, and bicyclists face great risk riding alongside vehicles traveling at higher speeds.

Bill Filed in Texas Lege Would Reduce Speed Limits on Neighborhood Roads

A bill filed in the Texas House would lower the speed limit on roads that don’t otherwise have a speed limit marked from 30 mph to 25. According to Texas Vision Zero advocate and director of Farm and City, Jay Blazek Crossley, more children are injured on 30 mph roads than on any other road type.

The bill, which had bipartisan support, made it out of committee. The bill died in the chamber during the 2019 legislative session.

Limiting the speed to lower than 30 mph is about saving lives. Studies show that the difference between 20 and 30 mph can be the difference between life and death, according to a study by ProPublica.


Cases of True “Tragic Mistake” Under Review

In New York, an important component of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero law was ruled unconstitutional in late June. Since June, the “Right of Way Law” has been called into question. The law helps protect pedestrians by making it a misdemeanor crime when a driver fails to yield and kills or injures a person walking in the crosswalk with the right of way.

A judge said that penalizing drivers for failure to exercise due care puts them in the position of proving their innocence. That would violate their right to due process under the fifth and fourteenth amendment.

The ruling, by Queens Supreme Court Justice Gia Morris, came out as part of a case between a bus driver who hit and killed an 85-year-old woman crossing the street in Dec. 2015. Jeanine Deutsch was crossing the street in Forest Hills when she was struck by a yellow school operated by school bus driver Isaac Sanson. The fatal crash occurred just steps from Deutsch’s home.

A month following the crash, Isaac Sanson was arrested and charged with “failure to yield right of way,” a misdemeanor outlined in the city’s Right of Way law. Then on March 4, Sanson appeared in court where his charge of failing to exercise due care was assessed by judge Morris.

Who’s at Fault in an Accidental Pedestrian Crosswalk Crash?

So does the NYC’s vision zero provision violate a driver’s right to due process? Vision Zero and traffic safety advocates don’t expect the new ruling to hold up in court. And NYPD has stated that it is still enforcing the portion of the law that penalizes drivers for failing to exercise due care. After all, the law had already been upheld in a different court. Safety advocates say that if NYC’s law violates due process, so do offenses such as DWIs.

Under NYC’s Vision Zero “Right of Way” law, which was enacted in 2014, four things must be proven before a person can be charged:

(1) defendant operated a motor vehicle, (2) that defendant’s motor vehicle caused contact with a pedestrian or cyclist, (3) that the pedestrian or cyclist had the right of way at the time of the impact … and (4) suffered physical injury as a result of the collision.

Street safety advocates say that these standards are applied in long-established criminal driving laws such as drunk driving statutes. Or in another parallel: recklessness and negligence play a role when a gun goes off. Regardless of whether the safety catch was on, they didn’t know how to operate the machine, or if it was all a big accident. There’s some level of culpability, no matter the situation, in a gun “accident.”

Imagine a vehicle as a dangerous instrument (there were 102 car related deaths in 2015 in Austin alone) – then apply these standards of law to traffic safety violations. We can’t make the ruling, but there may be space for provisions such as New York City’s “Right of Way” law.


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