Every kid in Texas deserves safe neighborhood streets to walk, bike, skate, scooter, ride in a car, use a wheelchair, or play in the yard.
Unfortunately today most of our residential, neighborhood streets are designed to encourage people to drive at speeds that could kill or seriously injure vulnerable road users and people traveling in cars in the case of a crash.
While transportation safety in general must focus on freeways and major arterials where most of our crashes occur, more children are killed or seriously injured while walking and biking in Texas on our 30 mph streets than on any other type of street. Parents are afraid of their kids playing in their own neighborhoods, leading to decreased physical activity, and contributing to our obesity crisis.
City transportation officials know how to design safer streets so we all feel comfortable driving at safe speeds of 20 or 25 mph, but the Texas transportation code is hindering deployment of modern, safe residential streets.
Nationally, the transportation engineering profession has shifted the way we think about the problem of speed and designing streets for safe target speeds. NACTO has called for slower design speeds for residential streets, and has recently been joined by AASHTO, with the new Green Book calling for using the concepts of target speeds to achieve safe streets.
The Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan calls for using safe design speed strategies and for thoughtful processes for the Texas transportation engineering community to work through this complex shift in thinking.
What would this bill do?
The Safe Neighborhood Streets bill would lower the statewide prima facie speed limit on residential streets from 30 to 35 mph, lower the speed limit that cities are allowed to use for targeted safety interventions from 25 to 20 mph, eliminate an impossible to meet reporting requirement, and set up a cost-effective alternative for cities to use public information campaigns instead of excessive speed limit signs on both ends of every block.
This will allow local traffic engineers and communities to use the design speeds they feel are appropriate for their neighborhoods, and would allow Texas kids the freedom of feeling safe to travel in their neighborhood.
Distracted driving in Texas takes at least 400 lives and seriously injures at least 2,800 Texans every year. Establishing a clear, statewide agenda targeting the growing problem of distracted driving is essential to reducing traffic deaths and serious injuries in Texas.
According to the National Safety Council, about 26% of all crashes involve cell phones - a much larger portion than recorded in Texas data. If this ratio is correct, we are potentially underreporting distracted driving deaths by 55%, meaning distracted driving may contribute to around 900 deaths in Texas a year.
Distracted driving reform should include a ban on driving while using a phone in your hand, market solutions by insurance or phone companies, education and enforcement, and improvements in data collection and analysis. Like all traffic enforcement, hands free should be implemented through an equity lens to avoid profiling and focus on actually achieving safer streets and roads for all.
The State of Georgia adopted a consistent, statewide hands free law in July 2018 and is reporting an 11% reduction in total traffic fatalities statewide. Texans deserve no less.
Police officers in Texas have been reporting that texting bans are difficult to enforce, while enforcement campaigns in cities currently with hands free ordinances appear to be working to change behavior of the driving population.
What would this bill do?
The Consistent, Statewide Hands Free Bill will upgrade the texting ban passed in the 2017 session to a more enforceable, safe standard, outlawing driving while you are actually using your cell phone, unless you are using a hands free device, or can safely stop outside a lane of travel to take the call or text or update an app.
The bill would preempt local rules related to driving while preoccupied using a cell phone, creating a consistent, statewide established norm for any operator of a vehicle to follow wherever they are in the State of Texas.
Follow this bill at Texas Legislature Online: SB 43
Stop for Pedestrians
Texas is among the most dangerous states for pedestrians, ranked the 9th most dangerous in 2016 in the Dangerous by Design report issued by Smart Growth America. An updated report will be released on January 24th and there are many reasons to expect Texas to rank worse.
In terms of total absolute number of pedestrian deaths, Texas saw the third largest amount of people dying while walking between 2005 and 2014, behind only California and Florida.
In 2017, 614 people died while pedestrians in Texas and 1,144 people suffered “suspected serious injuries” as pedestrians according to TXDOT. Every day about five pedestrians suffer death or serious injury somewhere in Texas.
Along with broader safety measures, the legislature must do something specifically to reduce pedestrian deaths in Texas. Every kid in Texas deserves to grow up with the liberty of walking or rolling a wheelchair without risking their own death. Every college student or professor deserves reasonably safe accommodation for using crosswalks. Families deserve the closure of clearer legal outcomes to crashes involving pedestrians.
A simple step forward that was recently done in the State of Illinois is to switch from a “yield to” to a “stop for” pedestrians state. Not only will this change save lives across the state by establishing responsible behavior for vehicle operators, it will provide a cleaner legal framework for police and courts.
What would this bill do?
The Stop for Pedestrians Bill would add two words in four places in the Texas transportation code, like this “the operator of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing a roadway in a crosswalk”.
There are different sections of the code applying to different types of locations where a person driving a vehicle would need to stop for a pedestrians. This bill would not change the general framework of where people are allowed to cross streets.
In places where pedestrians already specifically have the right of way and drivers must yield, they will also be asked to stop. For example, this rule would not apply to a person trying to run across a street mid-block where there is no crosswalk, although they don’t deserve to die or be hit by a car for making this decision.
Follow this bill at Texas Legislature Online: HB 1289
Crash Not Accident (HB 4243)
In 2017 1,617,597 people were involved in vehicle crashes in the Texas transportation system, killing almost 3,800 of them and severely injuring 17,956 of them. About 1,700 times a day people are involved in a crash somewhere in Texas - on average every 51 seconds. An average day in the Texas transportation system takes ten lives and leaves 50 people with life-changing serious injuries like brain damage or loss of a limb.
A problem with the Texas transportation system is the way we talk about it. Referring to crashes as “accidents” leaves mistaken impressions. It makes it seem accidents are inevitable and removes responsibility from individual decisions as well as decisions we as a society make through our transportation decision making system, especially road design.
The recent Crash Not Accident movement was launched in New York City by a group called Families for Safe Streets, led by several mothers and fathers whose children were killed in traffic crashes. They launched a pledge that explains their reasoning for replacing “accident” with “crash” and have worked extensively with media and public officials to change the way we talk about crashes.
However, this concept has a further back history, beginning at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a 1997 formal statement. This statement explained that several Federal agencies were collaborating together on a “goal to eliminate "accident" from the agencies' vocabulary. In this manner, attention will be focused on causes of crashes, and what can be done to prevent collisions and the resulting injuries.”
What would this bill do?
This bill would simply change every instance of the term “accident” in the Texas transportation code to “crash.”
We need to take collective responsibility for the dangers of our transportation system. Every use of the term “accident” when referring to a traffic crash in the Texas transportation code can and should be changed to “crash” to bring the code up to date to standards already in use by TXDOT and other states. There are substantial links available of media coverage of this concept. Families of victims of traffic violence deserve this fix.Follow this bill at Texas Legislature Online: HB 4243