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Vision Zero report highlights racial disparities in traffic fatalities and injuries

(Photo: CBS Austin)
(Photo: CBS Austin)
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The Austin Transportation Department (ATD) is highlighting ongoing racial disparities in traffic-related deaths and injuries. More than 3,300 people were killed or seriously injured in Austin between 2017 and mid-2022. The report shows people of color are more likely to become victims of a crash.

Severe traffic crashes that lead to death or serious injury have become all too common within the city of Austin and now ATD is studying who has been impacted the most.

“A lot of the disparities we see in the crash data really come down to the environmental variables throughout the city so where people live and what types of transportation, they have access to," said Joel Meyer, a transportation planner with the Austin Transporation Department.

The "Safe for All" Equity Report started in early 2021 as the city acknowledged that its historical transportation and land use decisions have caused racial inequities.

“We do see in the crash data pretty significant overrepresentation of Black pedestrians and Black road users especially," Meyer said.

According to the report, the most recent crash data shows that over the past five years, Black or African American people are overrepresented among serious injury and fatal crash victims by a factor of 2.3. That is slightly higher than the 2.2 ratios seen when the report was first published in 2021.

The report shows Black austinites make up nearly 16% of people killed or seriously injured despite being less than 7% of the city's population.

“We know that as communities of color get pushed out to the periphery of Austin, they’re more exposed to these risks," he said.

Meyer said about a quarter of crashes happen on I-35 but also in communities where there are no sidewalks, poor street lighting, and areas where people might be exposed to higher speeds or wider roadways.

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CBS Asked Meyer what ATD is doing to curb crashes and deaths as there have already been 11 deadly crashes in Austin so far this year and 64 serious injuries, according to the Vision Zero Viewer.

“The main focus of ours is to really redesign the street system to be safer for everybody. That’s for all modes," Meyer said.

In January, the city received $22.9 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program to make streets safer. That money will go toward major intersection safety redesigns, street lighting, and pedestrian crossings with at least 50% of the grant funding going toward underserved communities.

“These aren’t just random disparities, these are the result of historical policy decisions made by the city, by the state, and by the federal government," Meyer said.

The report also highlights the need for traffic enforcement and stronger penalties for dangerous driving behaviors. As the Austin Police Department is facing a staffing shortage, staff that is usually dedicated to specialized traffic units can't be staffed because they're needed for patrols.

CBS Austin asked Chief Chacon in November 2022 whether APD is being proactive when it comes to traffic enforcement.

“Not as proactive as I would like for us to be,” said Chacon, “the reason behind that is simple; it’s staffing.”

ATD says it has a partnership with APD to try and focus enforcement efforts on driving behaviors that lead to the most severe injuries. According to the report, this includes the No Refusal Initiative, which aims to reduce impaired driving on our streets, and Vision Zero in Action, which focuses on speeding and distracted driving on High Injury Roadways (HIRs) and freeways in the city limits.

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“That level of proactive traffic safety enforcement really isn’t happening as much as it has in the past and that’s why we think there are a lot more dangerous behaviors that we are seeing on the roadways right now," Meyer said.

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