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The Problem (Overview)
Based on historical crash data, 1) Texas traffic deaths are not decreasing year-over-year, and 2) The Texas Legislature and the Texas Department of Transportation (as the two primary stakeholders with power and resources to affect change) do not have strong organizational processes in place to effectively manage the state’s effort to decrease traffic fatalities year-over-year.
The underlying problem causing traffic deaths on Texas roadways cannot be limited to unsafe driver behavior alone. Unsafe roadway design and ineffective/insufficient traffic laws must also be held accountable.
The last year Texas had annual traffic deaths below 3,000 victims was in 1963, fifty-eight years ago. In comparison, California, with about 11 million more people than Texas, had less than 3,000 traffic deaths three consecutive years from 2010 to 2012, and has had fewer traffic deaths than Texas for the past 13 years in a row (2008 – 2020).
Unless you want to argue that California has safer drivers than Texas, the only conclusion must be the California roadway system is better managed (sufficient safe systems or more effective safe systems) to reduce traffic deaths, year-over-year, than the Texas roadway system.
The Problem (Specific Examples)
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The Texas Legislature
Problem 1: The State of Texas does not have (nor does it provide annual funds for) a statewide commission that has the sole purpose and resources to reduce Texas traffic fatalities and serious injuries year-over-year. Without this commission and its distinct job description, responsibility, and performance measures, the Texas Legislature and other State organizations are not held accountable for public safety on Texas roadways. An example of this type of commission is the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (for information, click on link), which is chaired by Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee and is made up of ten Commissioners representing the four E’s of traffic safety (Education, Enforcement, Engineering, and Emergency Medical Services).
Problem 2a: The Texas Legislative process has not passed sufficient or effective traffic safety laws that has effectively reduced traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Texas roadways year-over-year.
- For DWI laws, reduce the Blood Alcohol Concentration limit from 0.08 to 0.05%BAC
- For Distracted Driving laws, a statewide hands-free law with no loopholes that allows typing data into hand-held devices, while driving, for Navigation or Music Apps
- For Speed Limit laws, a ban on the use of the 85th Percentile Rule for setting speed limits
- For Speed Limit laws, using national peer-reviewed data on the (reduced) effectiveness of seat belts and/or airbags if speed limits are increased and its effect on public safety
Problem 2b: The Texas Legislative process has banned traffic safety devices or voted down laws that were recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the National Safety Council (NSC), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Strategic Highway Safety Plan, or other nationally recognized traffic safety organizations.
- Red Light Cameras
- Automated Speed Enforcement Devices
- Governor’s veto of HB448 requiring drivers to use rear-facing car seats for children under 2-years of age, child weight and height restrictions apply (June 2019)
The Texas Department of Transportation
Problem 1: TxDOT does not have a Safety Division with a Chief Safety Officer that has an equal seat-at-the-table as other division chiefs. TxDOT does not have a Chief Safety Officer that is held responsible, and that has the job description, stated mission, or performance measures to effectively reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries year-over-year. TxDOT does not provide annual funding (that is guaranteed and recurring) to a Safety Division to ensure success in its mission to effectively reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries year-over-year.
Problem 2: TxDOT does not enhance its organizational safety culture with a mission statement that mentions the word “safety,” nor mentions its primary mission of public safety.
Problem 3: TxDOT has policies and practices that likely create hazards to road-users. These hazards may create a higher risk to the safety and well-being of road-users and may increase the risks associated with property/vehicle damage. These hazards are listed below, but first, for better understanding of the hazards, here is the definition of Clear Zone.
Clear Zone: The total roadside area, starting at the edge of the traveled way, available to errant (off-the-roadway) vehicle drivers to safely bring their vehicle to a safe stop or safely return to the roadway, without crashing into any object or rolling-over due to steep engineered roadside slopes. This area may consist of a shoulder, a recoverable slope (driver is able to safely stop or safely return to the roadway), a non-recoverable slope (driver stops safely at the bottom of the slope and is not able to return to the roadway), and/or a clear run-out area (paraphrased from www.fhwa.dot.gov, click on the link for more information).
TxDOT Definition of Clear Zone: The unobstructed, traversable area provided beyond the edge of the through traveled way for the recovery of errant vehicles. The clear zone includes shoulders, bike lanes, and auxiliary lanes, except those auxiliary lanes that function like through lanes (Source: https://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/des/guides/roadside-safety.pdf, Pg 6, Glossary).
- Hazard 1: TxDOT Disregard of Clear Zone Principles.
- Hazard 2: TxDOT Guardrails in the Clear Zone, inches from the roadway.
- Hazard 3: TxDOT Concrete Support Pillars in the Clear Zone.
- Hazard 4: TxDOT Utility Poles, Culverts, Trees (& Other) in the Clear Zone.
- Hazard 5: TxDOT Ineffective Protection of Median Drop-Offs in the Clear Zone at Overpasses and Bridges.
- Hazard 6: TxDOT Placement of Median Cable Guardrails in the Clear Zone.
- Hazard 7: TxDOT Speed Management of Work Zones.
- Hazard 8: TxDOT Roadway Flood/Drainage Management and the TxDOT System that Allows or Does Not Allow Vehicle Drivers Entry or Access to Flooded Roadways.
- Hazard 9: TxDOT Use of “Traffic Volume” in Determining Clear Zone Distances (Reduces Safety Margins for Those Drivers on Less Traveled Roadways, Like Farmers or other Rural Roadway-Users).
- Hazard 10: TxDOT Use of “Linear” Distances of Fixed-Objects from the Roadway in Relation to “Exponential” Vehicle Speed in Determining Clear Zone Distances (Using the Kinetic Energy Formula in Relation to Vehicle Stop/Brake Distances During Vehicle Crashes).
- Hazard 11: TxDOT Use of the 85th Percentile Rule for Setting Speed Limits and the Rule’s Total Disregard for Human Survivability During Traffic Crashes.
- Hazard 12: TxDOT Increased Speed Limits on Undivided Roadways (Opposite-Direction Vehicles in the Clear Zone and its Affect on Human Survivability During Centerline-Crossing, Head-On, Vehicle Crashes).
- Hazard 12: TxDOT Increased Speed Limits and Its Affect on Human Survivability in Relation to the Effectiveness of Seat Belts, Airbags, and Vehicle Structural Integrity During Vehicle Crashes.
- Hazard 13: TxDOT High-Speed Limit (65-75mph) Work Zones; 1) Allowing high-speed traffic to flow within feet of unprotected construction workers (workers NOT protected with hardened barriers between traffic and themselves), and 2) placing guardrail crash attenuators within inches of high-speed traffic without mitigation of a A) slower regulatory speed limit in the work zone or B) engineering a flared guardrail system with crash attenuators 10 or more feet from the roadway (see Hazard 2, above).
TxDOT High Speed-Limit Work Zones
TxDOT Concrete Support Pillars
Trees in the Clear Zone
TxDOT Median Drop-Offs
TxDOT Flood Management
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