The City of Austin attempts to reduce traffic fatalities

Lauren Girgis

The number of traffic fatalities in Austin this year is already higher than it was at this time last year, but Vision Zero hopes to turn that around.

The official City of Austin website states that 57 traffic fatalities have happened this year, which is nine more fatalities compared to thid time last year. Vision Zero, an international movement started in Sweden and introduced to Austin in 2017, has set the goal for working towards zero fatal crashes in Austin by 2025. 

“(Vision Zero) is a collaboration between police departments, city leaders, transportation departments, DA’s offices … everybody within the whole community to eventually try to do whatever we can to bring fatalities down to zero,” APD detective Patrick Oborski said. 

David Gray, Austin Transportation Department’s community engagement specialist for Vision Zero, said Austin’s population growth needs to be taken into account. 

“If you look at the number of fatal and severe crashes per thousand Austinites, we’re actually seeing a decrease in the rate of fatal and severe crashes,” Gray said. “That being said, our goal is not the rate. It’s the absolute number.”

Gray said part of Vision Zero’s goal is to change the discourse surrounding fatal crashes.

“Traffic-related severe and fatal crashes are a preventable public health issue,” Gray said. “For far too long, our community has considered traffic deaths and serious injuries to be an inevitable side effect of modern life. In fact, people often refer to crashes as accidents and not as preventable tragedies.”

Oborski said Vision Zero’s communications committee, which is comprised of APD, the Austin Transportation Department, the Texas Department of Transportation, the District Attorney’s office, Austin Independent School District and CapMetro, is pushing Vision Zero’s message through commercials, billboards and social media. On social media, city officials have posted videos promoting the Vision Zero movement, including Mayor Steve Adler and APD Chief Brian Manley.

Oborski said drivers should be alert, never drive impaired and drive defensively. He said it is important for all drivers to expect the worst on the road.

“Pedestrian fatalities are one of our biggest issues here in the city of Austin,” Oborski said. “While you don’t expect somebody to be trying to cross I-35 on foot, it happens on a regular basis.”

Gray said the city has been working with APD to enforce laws on Austin’s “high injury network,” a small percentage of city streets where about 70% of all severe or fatal traffic fatalities occur. Gray said the Austin Transportation Department will also be making recommendations to Austin City Council later this year about holistic
speed management.

Jamie Byers, a civil engineering graduate student, said she appreciates how Vision Zero connects engineers to the public and introduces them to how users interact with roads.

“I believe the city is doing the most they can, but of course, we all wish it could happen on a faster timeline,” Byers said.

Jacob Barrett, Austin Transportation Department public information specialist, said it is vital that every part of the city of Austin is working together to achieve transportation safety.

“The UT student body is definitely a demographic that we really care about,” Barrett said. “They are a part of our transportation network, and everyone has to do their part.”