The Houston Chronicle is publishing a series of articles about why Houston’s roads are so dangerous and how we can fix this problem. The first article examines our most critical issues surrounding road safety in the Houston metro region. Sixteen years of federal highway data reveals that Houston is the most deadly major metro area in the nation for drivers, passengers, and people in their path.
Houston is the most deadly major metro area in the countryThe nine-county metro region that makes up Houston leads the nation for fatal crashes involving drugs and alcohol, according to the Chronicle’s analysis. Each of the largest twelve metro areas in the country have their own weak spots when it comes to accident data, however only Houston ranks in the top half in every accident category.Houston has the second highest number of fatal crashes per capita on federal highways in the United States. Houston also ranks second for fatal wrecks that involve speeding. We also trail only Dallas when it comes to crashes blamed on someone slamming into stopped congestion on the freeway.When nine out of ten wrecks are caused by poor decisions, you have to examine which poor decisions are being made. In Houston, one of the top poor decisions made by drivers is the failure to control speed. Of our most recent crashes, the Chronicle determined that drivers’ failure to control speed was a leading factor in a majority of those wrecks. Doctors interviewed by the newspaper describe how injuries are much more severe in crashes that occur at higher speeds.Crashes have increased by 50% in the Houston metro area since 2010. In 2010, there were 111,699 crashes and 12,065 serious injuries. In 2017, there were 167,578 crashes and 15,428 serious injuries. The death toll is higher in high speed crashes as well. The death toll of wrecks in the Houston metro area is the equivalent of “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard,” according to the Chronicle.
Several factors combine to make speeding in Houston unusually dangerous:
- Long commutes in the metro region have four out of five people driving alone for an average of 29.5 minutes each way. Data shows drives are getting longer, up more than a minute since 2013.
- Roads are designed for maximum speed to move as many people as possible.
- Underenforcement of traffic laws. Speeding tickets have dropped across the region in the past three years. The number of officers patrolling for speeders and traffic violators has remained the same despite an increase in population and miles driven in the region.
- Politicians oppose automated enforcement such as cameras to catch speeders. On top of that, state lawmakers restrict the use of speed cameras as well as video enforcement of red-light runners. Lawmakers also continue to enforce a ban on sobriety checkpoints.
- Roads that give cyclists or pedestrians no place to go other than right into traffic. Houston has fewer than 300 miles of on-street bike lanes in a city of over 6,200 miles of roads.