- November 6
- Vehicle Accidents
Austin Traffic Fatalities Report Reveals Contributing Factors
On Oct. 14, the Austin Police Department issued a news release about the 82nd traffic fatality of 2015. It was the 74th fatal crash since Jan. 1 – nearly double the number of fatal crashes measured in the same period last year.
Police want to understand why fatal crashes have increased in 2015, so they’re taking a closer look at contributing factors. APD’s recent Traffic Fatalities Brief reveals some insights about the 76 fatalities that occurred between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31.
Methodology and Commonalities
The APD report studied characteristics of each person found to be at fault for a fatal crash, regardless of whether that person survived, along with incident characteristics for three types of fatalities: pedestrian, motorcycle and motor vehicle.
In all three types of fatal crashes, the person APD determined to be at fault had either been arrested by APD in the past or had “previous involvement” with police, meaning the person had been questioned, but not arrested.
The report showed:
- 23 pedestrians died in traffic crashes; 20 of them had prior involvement with APD and 17 had been arrested at least once; eight had at least 50 previous APD involvements, and three had at least 100 APD involvements.
- 55 percent of the people who caused fatal motorcycle crashes had prior involvement with APD, and 27 percent had been previously arrested; four of the five people who were speeding at the time of the crash had previous speeding convictions.
- 61 percent of people who caused motor vehicle crashes had prior involvement with and had been arrested by APD; 31 percent of drivers had at least one previous driver’s license suspension, and 41 percent had a previous driving-related conviction – one driver had 24 previous suspensions and 6 previous convictions.
These statistics would seem to indicate that a pattern of unsafe or unlawful behavior is a precursor to many fatal crashes.
Impairment as a Factor
APD was still awaiting some toxicology results at the time it published the fatality report, but preliminary figures found impairment was a factor in 36 percent of motorcycle crashes, 55 percent of motor vehicle crashes, and 41 percent of pedestrian fatalities.
It’s well known that alcohol or drug use can interfere with the judgment, motor skills, and cognitive function necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle, but pedestrians may not think about how they put themselves in danger when they’re intoxicated. According to the report, most pedestrian fatalities occurred because a person incorrectly crossed a road or crossed a highway or high-speed road where pedestrian traffic is prohibited. An intoxicated person may be more likely to make judgment errors about whether crossing a road is safe.
Working Toward Change
Austin established the Vision Zero Task Force in 2014, with a goal of preventing pedestrian deaths, as well as eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries. The Vision Zero concept, which originated in Sweden, focuses on infrastructure improvements, vehicle technology development, and enforcement as the three most effective means of reducing traffic fatalities. Since the adoption of the Vision Zero policy in 1997, traffic deaths in Sweden have steadily declined, even as the population has grown, and pedestrian fatalities have fallen by almost 50 percent in the last five years.
Austin’s Vision Zero Task Force is set to reveal its action plan in November. Hopefully, it will lead to a safer environment for pedestrians and motorists.