- March 2
- Vehicle Accidents
Looking at crash statistics can reveal a lot about the most important traffic safety issues in Texas. And when statistics indicate a certain factor is to blame for a growing number of deadly crashes, existing laws may need to be strengthened, or new laws developed, to reverse the trend.
Historically, it often takes years of serious and fatal accidents before legislators create laws intended to improve safety. For example, it wasn’t until 1968 that automakers were required to install seat belts in all new cars, and Texas didn’t have a primary seat belt law until the 1980s. Those laws came about because government officials recognized the important role seat belts play in saving lives.
So what do Texas statistics tell us now? Read on to learn more.
Texas Department of Transportation data from 2014, the most recent year for which fatality reporting is complete, shows a slight uptick in fatal crashes from the previous year. Roughly 3.7 percent more traffic fatalities occurred in 2014 than in the previous year; however, the number of fatal crashes that year – about 3,400 – was lower than in 2003, 2004, or 2005.
The rate of driving deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was also slightly higher in 2014 than in 2013. But there’s one statistic that jumped significantly from 2013 to 2014: The number of alcohol-related fatalities.
In 2014, 1,446 people died in alcohol-related crashes on Texas roads. That’s an increase of 7.74 percent from the year before – the same year when MADD’s Texas chapter reported the state led the nation in the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers.
The number of people killed in 2014 drunk driving crashes is about equal to the entire population of Edgewood, Texas, about 60 miles east of Dallas. It’s also the highest number of DUI-related fatalities in the 10-year span beginning in 2005.
Texas has laws intended to prevent drinking and driving. But statistics raise questions about whether those laws are effective.
A Change for the Better
While many states have struggled with how to reduce teen driving fatalities, Texas has been able to significantly reduce such crashes in recent years.
According to crash fatality data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration:
- In 2005, 14 drivers under age 15 and 622 drivers aged 15 to 20 were involved in fatal crashes.
- In 2014, 4 drivers under age 15 and 445 drivers aged 15 to 20 were involved in fatal crashes.
That means fatalities for all drivers age 20 and younger dropped 29.4 percent between 2005 and 2014.
So what explains this dramatic – and welcome – decline in young driver fatalities? It can be attributed in large part to the Texas Graduated Driver’s License law. The law was implemented in 2002, which was the second year in a row that the number of teen driver fatalities in the 16-19 age group peaked at 625. After the law went into effect, fatalities began immediately decreasing year to year, until hitting a 10-year low in 2007, of 419 fatalities.
Two researchers with the Texas Transportation Institute say the Texas GDL law has received only a “fair” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and it’s surely not the law alone that’s reducing teen driving fatalities. They surmise that the state’s Teens in the Driver Seat program, which debuted in 2002, has had a measurable impact on the falling number of teen driving deaths. The program advocates peer-to-peer education and accountability as a means for reducing crashes.
Perhaps tougher laws and peer-to-peer programs could result in fewer alcohol-related crashes and fatalities in Texas.