Although vehicle safety has evolved with safety glass, collapsible steering columns, and airbags, Texas hasn’t gone one day without a traffic death since Nov. 7, 2000. Some roads – like Hausman Road in San Antonio – are more dangerous than others.

Hausman Road was so filled with traffic congestion and drainage problems that the city approved its most expensive roadway improvement project. Turns out, expanding from two lanes to four made it more dangerous. Crashes rose 62.5 percent, along with more crash-related injuries and fatalities.

More Than Human Error 

Nearly 250,000 people are injured every year on Texas roads. About 17,000 of them sustain injuries preventing them from continuing activities they could do before. 

Speed, regardless of the speed limit or speeding, is the biggest predictor in whether a crash will result in death or serious injury. It’s common to blame drivers for speeding or individuals for crossing mid-block. But they aren’t deviants. If they were, crashes would be random. Crashes aren’t random.

Cities across the country are analyzing distribution and frequency of crashes by location and identifying roadways with high concentrations of crashes. 

For example, in San Antonio, 33 percent of severe pedestrian crashes occurred on just 1 percent of roadways. Sadly, Latino communities like San Antonio are marked by transportation inequities, including unsafe streets, unstable walking and biking environments, and public transit that can be hard to access, unaffordable, and unreliable, according to a research review by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

Human factors are not responsible for this radical trend; thus, we can’t educate or enforce our way out. We need to engineer our way out. 

Design May Not Have Safety in Mind

Unfortunately, engineering has traditionally prioritized convenience and congestion relief over safety. For example, in San Antonio, there were 62.5 percent more crashes on Hausman road after a $74 million roadway expansion project to widen a 3.4-mile stretch. Not only are there more crashes but more people are being seriously injured on the most expensive roadway project in the city’s history. 

There were 144 reportable crashes in 2011 and 2012. That number reached 234 in 2017 and 2018, according to a query using the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Crash Records Information System.

Of all people involved in crashes, 6.2 percent were injured in 2011 and 2012 compared to 8.3 percent in 2017 and 2018. Of all people involved in crashes, 34 percent more people were injured post-expansion.

Of all crashes, 26.3 percent resulted in confirmed injury or death in 2011 and 2012 compared to 36.3 percent in 2017 and 2018. Of all crashes, 38 percent more had confirmed injury post-expansion.

Although the City passed a Complete Streets policy in 2011 and the project boasts connection to the Leon Creek Greenway Trail, the sidewalks on the westbound side are not divorced from the 45 mph roadway.  

Traffic safety requires better engineering.

“We can no longer allow planners and engineers to sell us infrastructure that relies on the false reality of fast-and-safe,” wrote the author of the forthcoming book Faith in Cities, Chris Lazaro, about the death of his friend.

The Move to Prioritize Safety

Countries that have prioritized safety over speed have seen a reduction in motorist and pedestrian fatalities.

For example, despite a significant increase in traffic, Sweden has drastically reduced traffic fatalities from seven per 100,000 residents to three. The vehicle crash death rate in Texas is 13 people per 100,000 residents.

Loss of life and serious injuries are not acceptable on our roadways, just like they aren’t acceptable if you travel by air, sea, and rail. Designing roadways to better safety standards could reduce the severity of crashes and prevent thousands of fatalities and serious injuries each year.

Beyond traffic safety, we must also consider the health, economic, and climate impacts of auto-dependence. How we move within and between our communities impacts our health and wealth.

Without frequent transit and safe routes to walk and bike, many families are disproportionately burdened by barriers to opportunity. Our transportation system must be designed to protect and improve mobility for all users.

Amanda Merck is a content curator/research area specialist for Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. She also is a VIA board member.