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Morrison, Spelman seek to halt increase in city traffic deaths

Monday, January 14, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Concern over a dramatic increase in Austin traffic fatalities has prompted Council Members Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman to ask City Manager Marc Ott to look at potential causes for the jump, and to find ways to bring the number down.


According to the resolution, Austin traffic deaths declined to 54 in 2011 from 73 in  2004. Then, last year, fatalities spiked back up to 78.


At this week’s City Council meeting, the pair will present a resolution that would ask Ott to work with the city’s Austin’s Transportation, Police, Public Works and any other departments that might have a stake in the issue. According to the resolution, this could also include state agencies.


The wide net cast by the Council members reflects their belief that the issue is multi-jurisdictional, which could add complexity to any solution.


Morrison told In Fact Daily that she believes that the city should “peel back the onion and figure out” the set of reasons behind the rise.


“A 40-percent increase in traffic fatalities doesn’t happen just by accident,” Spelman told In Fact Daily. “We need to identify the causes of the increases, and cast a broad net in the search for solutions, if we’re to reverse the trend and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”


The resolution notes that Austin’s traffic fatality numbers over the last decade or so mirror a national trend.


Indeed, according to an October New York Times story, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report projected that more than over 16,000 people died in traffic accidents over the first half of 2012. That figure, according to the Times, represents a 9 percent increase over the same period in 2011.


The Times story continues, “NHTSA called this ‘the largest such increase during the first half of the year’ since the agency began collecting the crash data in 1975.’”


Spelman and Morrison hope to get a handle on the issue. Though their resolution cites some potential causes – including, “drunk driving, distracted driving, warmer weather resulting in more pedestrian activity, an improvement in the economy leading to more discretionary driving” – it appears ready to leave it to Ott and the named offices to come up with a more accurate picture.


Though more traffic enforcement could be one tactic offered by police, the fact that the resolution specifically targets distracted driving could be an indication that Council members are looking for more than just more ticket-writing. A request for more ticket-writing could come with a request for more ticket writers.


Should the resolution pass, Morrison and Spelman would get a progress report on February 28. A final document would be before Council by April 15. The document specifically calls on all parties to develop an approach to that might counteract the increase.

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