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City collisions cost more than $8 million over three years

Thursday, May 12, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council approved a payment last week of $82,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Sherri Davis against the city and Austin Energy employee Stephen Tucker. Tucker is identified in the lawsuit as the driver of a city vehicle that struck Davis as she was walking in the crosswalk at the intersection of Friedrich Lane and Teri Road on Oct. 5, 2017. According to the plaintiff’s pleadings, Tucker was attempting to turn left from Friedrich onto Teri Road when his vehicle struck Davis. “As a result of the impact,” the suit says, Davis “suffered serious bodily injury and harm.”

Davis asked the court to award damages of $200,000 to $1 million because of her physical and mental anguish, lost income and medical expenses. The case had been set for jury trial, but that has been called off.

According to an audit recently released by the Office of the City Auditor, city vehicles were involved in 1,855 crashes from Fiscal Year 2019 through FY 2021, costing the city $8.4 million in repairs and replacement vehicles. When the city recognized its drivers were responsible for wrecks, it paid out more than $1.4 million to pedestrians and other drivers over that period. The audit also says that the city recognized that a city employee was at fault in 47 percent of city vehicle collisions. In addition, the city spent nearly $3.3 million in repairs and vehicle replacement costs.

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison asked City Auditor Corrie Stokes to perform the audit, which was released last month.

Harper-Madison told the Austin Monitor via email, “More than 1,800 crashes costing taxpayers north of $8 million across three years is a startling finding. We have to reduce those numbers by making investments in safer infrastructure while also using every tool in the toolbox to encourage our city employees to buckle up and drive safely.”

The city does have a program to monitor whether employees are wearing seat belts while driving. However, some of the departments with the highest number of collisions are not scheduled to have the vehicle monitoring system installed until the first quarter of FY 2023.

Departments with the highest number of collisions were Austin Police Department, Austin Water, Austin Resource Recovery, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the Austin Fire Department.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, APD’s vehicles suffered the most damage in collisions, with repair and replacement costing close to $1.9 million. The city paid out more than $370,000 in liability claims for APD collisions over the same time period.

Repair and replacement vehicles driven by employees of Austin Water cost the city nearly $300,000, and payouts on liability claims due to collisions totaled nearly $90,000. At AFD, there were 109 collisions over the three-year period, costing nearly $200,000. The Public Works Department paid out more than $127,000 in liability claims and more than $170,000 to get its own vehicles repaired, according to the report.

The audit team found the city has training related to driver safety but only makes references to seat belt use. Looking at different city administrative bulletins related to driver safety, few referred to wearing a seat belt, even though it is a requirement for city employees.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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