Austin traffic deaths down in 2017 in 2nd consecutive yearly drop


Austin police investigated 71 fatal crashes in 2017 that resulted in 76 deaths.

In 2016, 77 crashes resulted in 79 deaths — a significant drop from the 102 traffic deaths recorded in 2015.

On the afternoon of Dec. 21, 33-year-old Shane Goldstein of Buda was driving his 1997 Honda CRV in the 2100 block of Burton Drive in Southeast Austin when he lost control and slammed into a concrete retaining wall.

Emergency crews rushed to the scene of the crash, but they couldn’t save his life.

Goldstein became the 76th and last person to die on Austin roads last year, but the number of traffic deaths in 2017 fell for the second consecutive year, from 79 in 2016, following a record-setting spike in 2015, when 102 people died.

Although several of the crashes in 2017 had multiple victims, the total number of deadly crashes also dropped from 2016. Police investigated 71 fatal incidents in 2017, a nearly 8 percent decrease from 77 in 2016.

Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay told members of the city’s Public Safety Commission on Monday that crashes overall were also down roughly 7 percent in 2017.

Police records show that fatal crashes involving pedestrians, motorcycles and motor vehicles all were down last year, but more bicyclists were killed:

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• Twenty-three pedestrians died in 2017, compared with 28 in 2016.

• Eleven fatal crashes involved motorcycles in 2017, compared with 13 in 2016.

• Four bicyclists were killed in 2017, compared with two in 2016.

The numbers for 2017 were more in line with those recorded before an unprecedented rise in 2015 in which 102 people died on Austin roads.

Austin police counted 78 deaths in 2012, 75 in 2013 and 63 in 2014. Before that, Austin traffic deaths were even lower. The average number of deadly crashes from 2007 through 2011 was 57, with the lowest being 49 in 2010 and the highest 62 in 2009.

At least 35 of the 71 crashes in 2017 were believed to have involved an intoxicated person.

Francis Reilly, program manager for Vision Zero, a task force working to eliminate Austin traffic deaths by 2025, said that while a reduction in deaths is promising, it’s hard to say whether it is indicative of something more significant.

“Looking at crashes over the long term, there’s a lot of fluctuation in those numbers, so it’s hard to look at just one or even two years and say that we have a trend necessarily,” Reilly said.

Vision Zero examines crashes and tries to devise data-guided strategies and solutions through engineering, law enforcement, education and policies.

“We’re taking a longer-term view of this, certainly,” Reilly said. “It’s keeping in mind that these aren’t just numbers; these are people with families and loved ones who are dying on our roads.”

Jen Samp, a spokeswoman for Vision Zero, said authorities have worked hard to pinpoint specific danger spots, such as the intersections of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 35, North Lamar Boulevard and Parmer Lane, and Cameron Road and U.S. 183, as well as North Lamar between Rutland Drive and Rundberg Lane.

Improvements completed in 2016 and 2017 contributed to significant reductions in crashes at those intersections, city Transportation Department officials said.

At MLK and I-35, crashes were reduced 61 percent after the city added a southbound through lane, a right-turn island and raised crosswalks, among other improvements.

Crashes fell 57 percent at U.S. 183 and Cameron Road after the addition of a right-turn pedestrian refuge island, high-visibility continental crosswalks and an advance warning flasher on the eastbound frontage road of U.S. 183.

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Those improvements were completed in 2016.

In 2017, similar improvements contributed to a 22 percent decrease in crashes on Lamar between Rutland and Rundberg and a 43 percent decrease at Lamar and Parmer, city records show.

She said authorities also have pushed for education and enforcement to curb some of the behaviors that lead to deadly crashes, such as driver inattention and distraction, speed, alcohol or drugs, improper movements, failure to stop, and failure to yield the right of way.

Austin police officers posted on city buses have caught and ticketed people who use their phones while driving. In 2017, the department issued 10,446 citations for driving while using an electronic device.

Officers also targeted drunken drivers by expanding no-refusal periods to cover more weekends in 2017. During no-refusal weekends, officers have more legal resources to obtain blood alcohol samples from suspected drunken drivers who refuse to be tested. The department said crashes in which drivers were intoxicated fell 22 percent in 2017, and no-refusal efforts will remain the same in 2018.

“The main goal is behavior change — whether it be enforcement doing it, engineering doing it or education doing it,” Samp said. “Whether it’s one or the other. We are going to try all of them.”

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