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City Investigation Aims to Reduce Traffic Deaths

For almost 10 years, traffic deaths were relatively low in Austin. Then last year they spiked. Now two city council members want a study to look into why so many people died on Austin’s roads in 2012.

Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison is certain that population growth cannot be the reason for so many traffic deaths. At least, not the only reason.  “We got to figure out why,” Morrison says. “That spike and that increase is actually a trend that we are seeing nationwide. So, I suspect there’s something going on much more generally across the nation that our increase might be related to.”

This week, when council meets for the first time this year, Morrison and Council member Bill Spelman will introduce a resolution asking city manager Marc Ott to investigate ways in which traffic deaths can be prevented in Austin.

Looking back, *80 people, including pedestrians, were killed in traffic incidents last year.

At a recent community meeting that number was in people’s minds. A man asked Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo what he thought should be done. Acevedo was frustrated. 

“The problem is that in the state of Texas we have a very permissive attitude,” Acevedo said. He said a couple of incidents really infuriated him. One took place recently, when a young police dispatcher on her lunch break was killed. She was waiting in her car at a light off of 51st Street. Acevedo said the other car disregarded signs that say you should go down to 35 miles an hour. “This guy is about 60.  Rolls his truck on the curve, lands on top of her and kills her.” Looking at the man who asked the question, Acevedo said, “Guess what he got for that? Nothing.”  Acevedo’s interaction with the crowd continued: “We just had a driver that killed two human beings. Drunk driver. Drunk driver!. And guess what that guy got? Probation! That’s sickening.”

Acevedo said he’s instructed all of his staff to be more vigilant in enforcing traffic laws.

Council member Morrison believes police attention could help.  But she wants a more comprehensive and, she called it, “creative” approach.

“If we pull together folks from our transportation department, our public works department, working with our police department, that’s what I’m really interested in, getting some collaboration to come up with some ways to deal with the issue,” Morrison said.

Nationwide, the majority of highway traffic deaths take place among young people, including children, who are not restrained in child seats, and inexperienced drivers. If the resolution is adopted, a final report will come to Austin City Council in April.

*Austin Police say two of the traffic fatalities have been ruled suicides so the number has been preliminarily reduced to 78. APD will release final numbers Jan. 31.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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