Andrew Traub

Even in pandemic, Austin roads still deadly

Austin roads were empty, or less congested than usual, for months this year as the coronavirus pandemic kept many workers at home and forced bars and restaurants to close. But the number of people killed in Austin traffic so far this year is nearing the total seen in 2019, which was the first time in four years the city marked an increase in such deaths.

According to Austin police records as of last Friday, 80 people have been killed on Austin roads and highways so far this year. In all of 2019, 88 people were killed in Austin traffic, marking the first increase of such deaths since 2015, when the city recorded 102 traffic deaths.

At this point in 2019, Austin police reported 72 traffic deaths.

In past years, local transportation officials have pointed to four main factors in traffic deaths: speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving or failing to yield.

This year, more drivers this year took advantage of the empty lanes to speed.

Roads with more opportunities to speed — including Interstate 35, MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Texas 71 — were typically where deadly crashes happened.

Faster pace of deaths

Before the pandemic intensified in Central Texas, Austin was already surpassing 2019’s numbers of fatal traffic crashes.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14., Austin had recorded 17 traffic deaths. During the same period in 2019, only seven people had died on city roads.

In one of the worst cases, in February a pedestrian was struck and killed in South Austin by a driver who police say was intoxicated. According to court documents, 24-year-old Paul Joseph Garcia traveled at least a half-mile with the body of 55-year-old Lee Martin Cagle in the windshield of his 2014 white Ford Focus before he stopped at a beer garden.

In March, the city canceled the South by Southwest festivals and issued stay-at-home orders because of the pandemic.

Four people were killed in traffic in March, and seven people were killed in April, according to police data.

According to data compiled by Vision Zero, 317 serious traffic injuries have been reported in Austin this year, which is down from 428 at the same time last year. The number of crashes is also down, according to Vision Zero. So far this year, there have been 9,120 crashes, which is down from 12,953 crashes at this time in 2019.

Just last month, 39-year-old Amber Thompson was charged with intoxication manslaughter after Austin police said she struck and killed 33-year-old motorcyclist Jessica Sears with her truck in South Austin.

Several men detained after fatal wreck that ejected, killed woman in Harris County

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