COVID-19 has managed to disrupt the day-to-day lives of people across the globe, and Texas is no different. With millions of Texans quarantining, the roads have cleared up and traffic has halved. Experts assumed that the drop in traffic would lead to a dip in the number of roadway deaths.
However, this has not been the case. While some suburban communities (such as Montgomery County and Fort Bend County) have reported fewer roadway fatalities, Texas’ death toll has remained constant.
Internal statistics from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department show that the number of collisions for March was 1,725, a noticeable drop from 3,035 in March of 2019 and 2,574 in 2018. In addition, the number of people sustaining serious injuries has fallen as well, dropping from 1415 in March of last year to 1090 this year.
While there has been a decrease in the overall amount of collisions as well as the number of injuries, experts say that the number of fatalities has remained fairly steady.
The Texas Death Toll
In March of 2020, the Texas Department of Transportation logged 241 accident-related deaths in Texas. In Harris County, fatalities totaled 32. In March of last year, there were 305 deaths in the state of Texas, 29 of which were in Harris County.
While that is a roughly 21% decrease from last year’s figures, experts were hoping for a more substantial drop in car accident fatalities because of the drop in traffic. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez stated that he would have expected the number to go down more; however, he also noted that there tends to be “a bad driving culture in our region” and that “less traffic doesn’t mean safer drivers are out.” He cites the fact that people continue to take unnecessary trips to the high number of fatalities.
That said, there are a number of other factors that may be contributing to these statistics as well. Gonzalez worries that because fewer people are on the roads, the people who are still driving are not subjected to Houston’s typical start-and-stop traffic, leaving them free to speed. This would in part explain how the death toll has remained largely the same despite the decrease in accidents; the drop in traffic has lowered the amount of minor fender benders, while serious accidents continue to occur.
One positive to note is that there has been a drop in drunk-driving accidents. Early data shows that of the 241 deaths in Texas last month, only 41 of those were due to a drunk-driving incident. This is a 45% drop from March of last year, which reported 74 deaths from alcohol-related crashes.
On the flip side, however, there has been an uptick in pedestrian accidents. Both Harris County and Bexar County saw an increase in pedestrian fatalities compared to 2019 and 2018. Gonzalez attributes the spike to drivers assuming the roads are empty. “Everybody that takes to the roadways thinks there is nobody out there and there are bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said.
The Importance of Driving Safely
While it is always important to practice safe driving habits, safety experts are aiming to emphasize the importance of being careful during this time. Lowering the number of accidents would reduce the amount of injuries people in Houston are sustaining, which frees up health services to focus on tackling the virus.
“If we can reduce demand on health services that’s a really, really good thing, because it frees up capacity to treat the virus and the other illnesses that continue,” says Robert Wunderlich, the head of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute Center for Transportation Safety.
This is extremely helpful to those in the medical field because it prevents them from having to “choose between saving a traffic crash victim and a virus victim.” Gonzalez agrees. “That bed we’re not using [on someone injured in a road accident], that could be used for that person infected,” he said.
A campaign done by the Texas Department of Transportation’s campaign to encourage road safety states that the last time Texas went one day without a single road fatality was November 7th, 2000. Since then, at least one person has died in an automobile accident every day in the state of Texas. Last month, there were at least two fatalities per day.
While the finalized death toll for the state of Texas won’t be known for a few months, it is apparent that despite the coronavirus-induced drop in traffic, Texas’s nineteen-year roadway death streak won’t be curbed anytime soon.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a car or truck accident, contact our Texas truck accident lawyers to speak to an attorney about your case today. Call 713-224-9000 for a free case consultation.