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Texas road fatalities drop in 2018

By Ken Stickney

ken.stickney@panews.com

Traffic fatalities fell in Texas last year for the second time since 2010 and the first time since 2015. But the lethal combination of alcohol and driving continues to endanger those on the state’s roads.

The Texas Department of Transportation reported Monday that 3,567 people died in vehicular accidents in 2018, down 4 percent from the record-setting 3,720 killed in 2017. Despite the decrease in fatalities, 2018 marked the second-highest number of road fatalities since 2003.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding continue to be the leading causes of fatal traffic crashes,” said Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. “Together, both of these factors make for a deadly combination.”

Fatal auto-pedestrian accidents also dropped in 2018, from a record high of 676 auto-pedestrian fatal accidents in 2016 to 597 pedestrians killed last year — a 12 percent drop.

In an issued statement, ICT said traffic fatalities rose 34 percent since 2010 before declining last year.

Public awareness campaigns and stronger laws concerning highway traffic safety work, ICT said.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says drunk-driving crashes have fallen by a third in the last three decades, but the number of people killed remains high.  Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes.

In 2012, ICT said, 42 percent of speeding drivers had blood alcohol concentrations of .08 grams per deciliter or higher. In every state, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher.

State Sen. Judith Zaffarini, D-Laredo, has introduced legislation this year through Senate Bill 43 that expands the prohibited activities of cell phone use in Texas.

“Distracted driving is a nationwide problem with more than 3,400 fatalities in 2016 and insurers have worked hard to draw attention to the problem,” James Lynch, chief actuary for the Insurance Information Institute, said in the issued statement. “The presence of a distracted driving law lets people know the behavior is dangerous. Enforcing it makes people respect the law.”

Hanna said Zaffarini’s bill would tighten up restrictions on distracted driving laws.

He also said it might serve as “an awareness campaign.” The more people know about distracted driving, the more they oppose such behaviors as texting while driving.

Hanna said determining why highway deaths fell is difficult. One possible reason, in addition to the change in cell-phone use while driving law: new safety features on vehicles.

“Certainly safety features that tell you that you are too close, not to waver in lanes, anti-skidding features … Every one of those have some effect,” he said.

The Insurance Council offers these tips for safer driving”

For advice on driving safely, follow these recommendations:

  • Keep your attention on driving at all times – no multi-tasking.
  • Be aware of what other drivers around you are doing, and expect the unexpected.
  • Build time into your trip schedule to stop for food, rest breaks, phone calls or other business.
  • Avoid driving when you’re tired. Be aware that some medications cause drowsiness and make operating a vehicle very dangerous.
  • Always wear your seat belt and drive sober and drug-free.