Traffic deaths in Austin are up 30% compared with this time in 2018, and Austin police are urging drivers and pedestrians to use caution going into the summer months, when traffic fatalities usually increase.
Thirty people have been killed on Austin roads so far this year, an increase from 23 traffic fatalities by the same time last year, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Friday. Impairment, distracted driving, failing to wear a seat belt and pedestrians crossing in unsafe areas were contributing factors in the deaths, Manley said.
Population growth also could be playing a part in traffic fatalities, he said.
“Austin continues to grow as a city. As the population grows, there’s more traffic on the roadways,” Manley said.
Austin reached a population of 967,629 people in 2018.
The annual number of traffic deaths in the city has steadily declined since peaking in 2015, when 102 people killed. Since then, fatalities on Austin roads has dropped from 79 in 2016 to 76 in 2017 and 74 in 2018.
The City Council passed the Vision Zero Action Plan in 2016 in response to the high number of fatalities. Its stated goal is to eradicate traffic deaths by 2025 by focusing on distracted driving, speeding, impairment, unsafe driving and failing to stop or yield the right of way.
July is typically the month with the most traffic deaths, Manley said. More than half of the deaths this year have occurred in the last six weeks, with 11 reported in April and five so far this month, he said.
Twelve of those victims were pedestrians, 11 of whom were homeless. Manley said most of them were crossing in unsafe areas, including on Interstate 35. He reminded pedestrians to use crosswalks.
“There is just simply no excuse. There are other ways to cross I-35. Just simply go to the north or the south, find the next bridge and cross I-35 safely,” Manley said.
The most recent pedestrian death on the highway happened April 21. Police said 46-year-old Aric Maxwell was trying to cross in the 5300 block of I-35, north of 51st Street, when he was hit about 10:38 a.m. by a silver 2016 Chevy Equinox traveling south. Maxwell was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center, where he later died.
The driver stayed at the scene after the crash and showed no signs of impairment. No charges are expected to be filed, police said.
Manley reminded people Friday that fleeing the scene of a crash, especially when a person is injured, could result in serious charges for failing to stop and render aid.
Police are still searching for the driver who hit and killed 48-year-old David John Medrano on May 2 in the 8700 block of North Lamar Boulevard, near Payton Gin Road. Medrano was crossing from west to east on the road about 6:10 a.m. when a small SUV or truck hit him, police said.
Police said they plan to identify the roads and intersections where the most crashes have happened and will step up patrols in those areas.
Manley said police are also targeting drunken drivers with no-refusal operations every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout the year from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. During no-refusal periods, officers can more easily obtain a search warrant for persons’ blood or breath if they refuse to take a blood alcohol test.
Crashes involving suspected drunken drivers resulting in serious injuries are up 180% compared with this time last year, Manley said. So far this year, 14 crashes have involved intoxicated drivers, compared with five at this time in 2018, he said.
“Do not get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking,” Manley said. “Do not become or do not create one of these statistics, because each and every one of these statistics is a human life, is a mother, father, a brother, a sister, a son or a daughter, and there just simply is no excuse.”
Manley also asked Austin residents to be aware of scooter users, children out playing or biking in neighborhoods, and an influx of summer visitors. He said most traffic deaths can be prevented if people use common sense and good judgment.
“Together as a community, we all need to come together so everyone can enjoy Austin this summer and to do so safely,” Manley said.
This article was originally published in the Austin Statesman.