Picture driving south on a brisk, winter evening in Austin. You are meeting your friend for dinner downtown at Iron Cactus, then catching a band at Stubb’s. It looks like it’s going to be a great start to the evening, right?
Wrong. You are drawing close to the 51st street exit on IH-35 and that means your car is no longer in motion. You are now late because everyone knows “five o’clock traffic” really means bumper-to-bumper traffic from 4:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. As it turns out, there is yet another wreck on IH-35 miles ahead of you. At this point, you are probably wondering, as we have all wondered, why you bothered taking IH-35 in the first place. Oh, right – this is Austin traffic and there is no escape from it.
Austin Breaks Its Own Record in Number of Traffic Accident Deaths
Anyone who has lived in Austin for at least a year has noticed the traffic situation seems to be getting a lot worse over time. So, it may be no surprise the total number of vehicle accidents for 2015 are at a record high. However, the subsequent number of deaths that occurred as a result of these accidents has drawn recent attention to the severity of the problem.
This past year, a total of 83 collisions claimed the lives of 102 victims, making it the deadliest year for Austin drivers. The death count is almost double the amount of deaths that occurred in 2014 and includes the following types of collisions:
- 55 motor vehicle deaths
- 30 pedestrian deaths
- 15 motorcycle deaths
- 2 bicycle deaths
Some residents (okay, most residents) blame the worsening traffic conditions on the city infrastructure and the alarming number of people moving to Austin. While these may be contributing factors to traffic congestion, data pulled from the Austin Police Department (APD) found the causes of traffic accident fatalities are simply due to irresponsibility and are entirely preventable if drivers simply paid more attention or managed not to drive after having a few drinks on Sixth Street. Even so, APD and the city council are taking steps to help Austin drivers.
City of Austin Takes Action to Reduce Traffic Death Rates, but Will It Work?
This past November, the Austin City Council met to hear a proposal from Vision Zero Task Force, a planning and zoning department dedicated to completely eliminating injuries and deaths resulting from traffic accidents in Austin.
How Vision Zero plans to reduce the number of Austin traffic deaths to zero is a different matter. The initiative, which has been adopted by several states, employs principles of educating, creating culture changes, restructuring enforcement of traffic laws and making changes to transportation engineering. However, Vision Zero representatives admit making the changes necessary to eliminate traffic deaths in Austin is going to be a long process.
Is Vision Zero’s Proposal to Eliminate Traffic Deaths Flawed?
So far, Vision Zero’s plan is to expand data sharing between city and county agencies in and around Austin, increase media awareness campaigns, and increase enforcement. While these are all good ideas in theory, Vision Zero’s proposal was met with skepticism from city council members, one of which even made the comment that the objective was based on a “flawed utopian premise.” The council will meet again with Vision Zero this month to present its proposal to the Austin Public Safety Committee.
Despite skepticism about the initiative, one thing is clear. The traffic situation in Austin has become more dangerous in this past year and needs to be addressed. Hopefully, city council members will come to a conclusion that will steer Austin in the right direction of reducing unnecessary accidents and deaths on roadways.
Aaron Allison is a personal injury lawyer who helps Austinites involved in car accidents, pedestrian accidents and bicycle accidents in the Austin area.