Claire Kowalick – Wichita Falls Times Record News (Source – Lubbock Avalanche Journal)
Despite a rigorous campaign by the Texas Department of Transportation to “End the Streak,” the state experienced the highest number of traffic fatalities in 40 years last year.
In 2021, there were 4,480 people killed on Texas roads – the highest since 1981 when there were 4,701 deaths.
One of those fatalities in 2021, was tow-truck driver Isaac Simmons. He was killed in May 2021, while responding to a stalled vehicle.
“You don’t realize how much somebody impacts your life until they’re gone,” said Simmons’ friend Nathan Bryant. “He was ripped away from us violently and it’s not right.”
TxDOT began tracking traffic fatalities in the state in 1940. The highest number of traffic fatalities was in 1981, followed by 2021.
Sadly, the increase in traffic fatalities in the past year is similarly seen across the rest of the country.
In the U.S. in 2021, there was an estimated 20,160 motor vehicle crash deaths in the first half of 2021, an increase of more than 18 percent over 2020.
In Texas, traffic fatalities were up 15 percent from 2020 to 2021.
Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said all Texans need to do their part to curb this trend.
“Driver behavior is one of the causes, but also one of the most important solutions,” Ryan said. “This is not blame. These are facts. We all have a role. TxDOT can do more, and we accept that responsibility. The driving public can do more. For instance, in 2021, a total of 1,522 people were killed because of speed, and a total of 1,219 people were killed because they were not wearing a seat belt. These were decisions made by people that could have potentially saved 2,741 lives.”
At their annual forum, TxDOT leaders heard from University of Texas psychology professor Dr. Art Markman who said pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic are adding to the disastrous outcomes on our roadways.
“We have to remind people that they are part of a community,” Markman said. “We have to start considering everyone as part of our community. If we don’t do that, there are going to be all sorts of negative consequences, and those are going to include negative consequences on the road.”
On top of their continued safety campaigns, TxDOT is working with researchers to study and use new roadway design features that are proven to save lives. For instance, the agency is using crash data to pinpoint areas where drivers are more prone to wrecks and focus improvements on those areas
With multiple focuses on data, engineering, enforcement and the public, TxDOT believes they can help end the streak of daily deaths on Texas roads.
They cannot do it alone, however, and need the help of every driver.
“This is an urgent call to action for all of us behind the wheel,” Ryan said, “We can do better. We should do better. We must do better – for ourselves, our loved ones and our larger community of fellow Texans. Not a single death on our roadways is acceptable. Let’s end this streak.”
The End the Streak campaign by TxDOT is an effort to bring awareness of the need for safe driving and helping drivers make better choices behind the wheel. In Texas, there has been at least one traffic-related death every day since Nov. 7, 2000.
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