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Austin explores increasing traffic enforcement to reduce growing fatalities

Friday, July 29, 2022 by Samuel Stark

In a memo sent Wednesday, Austin’s police and transportation departments updated City Council on strategies to reduce an increasing number of severe crashes and fatalities on the city’s streets and highways.

In 2021, there was the highest number of traffic fatalities on record, and 2022 is on track to surpass it, according to the memo. At the current rate, and without further intervention, they predict 50 more people will die and 250 will be seriously injured in crashes in Austin before the start of the new year, the memo said.

“This increase in local fatal crashes is similar to statewide and national trends of increased roadway fatalities over the past two years,” the memo read.

City Council passed Vision Zero in 2015 in an effort to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities by improving transportation infrastructure. Despite some improvements, the number of serious crashes has continued to climb. Last month, Council directed the city manager to explore strategies to increase safety enforcement in Austin to reduce the number of deadly and severe crashes.

The memo points out that staffing shortages are impairing APD’s ability to patrol streets and highways where crashes are common.

Nearly 15 percent of the available patrol police officer positions are vacant, and these positions typically come with traffic enforcement responsibilities. Because of shortages, some officers are needed to respond to 911 calls instead of patrolling highways and streets.

“Increasing overall staffing levels towards currently authorized levels will continue to be a challenge for APD,” the memo reads.

The authors said one solution to narrow the gap in staffing could be partnering with other city agencies that employ public safety officers for patrolling. ATD is also implementing more speed display devices to use in areas with a history of serious crashes. The purpose of the devices is not to ticket drivers but to make motorists aware of how fast they are going.

“We are seeing early positive results from evaluating the impact on crashes from the original installation of 14 devices in January 2022,” the memo said.

ATD and APD staff are also exploring an interlocal partnership with Travis County that could establish 30 new positions to monitor roadways. The new positions would cost $1.1 million to create.

As outlined in the resolution City Council approved last month, the strategies to reduce crashes and fatalities are intended to change behavior and increase safety rather than collect fines.

The complete traffic safety report is due to City Council on Dec. 1 and will include details on the following topics:

  • budget analysis on public safety resources used for crash response
  • the impact of No Refusal on impaired driving analysis
  • alternative strategies (other cities’ approaches, use of technology, changes in state law)
  • long-term plan for proactive traffic enforcement

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