APD Campaign Aims to Cut Traffic Fatalities
By Era Sundar, KUT News
Traffic fatalities are on the rise in Austin – especially those involving pedestrians. There were 31 traffic fatalities at this time last year. So far this year, there have been 40.
The Austin Police Department is ramping up its efforts to reduce traffic fatalities. To do that, they are enacting three initiatives. The department’s so-called Operation Summer Sundays strategy is one way they hope to slow the deadly trend.
“A good number of our fatalities are occurring on Sunday nights and they involve drunk driving,” says Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. “Therefore, between June 24, 2012 and September 1, 2012 we will have extra officers on patrol on Sunday nights looking for DWI drivers to try to cut the fatalities – hopefully in half.”
Acevedo says drivers aren’t the only ones using Austin’s streets while intoxicated. More than half of the pedestrians killed in traffic accidents were also intoxicated. And more than half of the pedestrians struck were jaywalking – crossing in the middle of the block or against the permission light – which is against the law.
Edie Surtees is with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which works to raise awareness about the perils of driving while intoxicated.
“What I really like about this is their additional efforts to make our community more safe,” Surtees says. “We really hope this is going to be successful and save lives.”
The department will also employ something called Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety. This initiative uses detailed data analysis to identify and deal with public safety issues. For example, this system helped the APD identify Sundays as a high-risk period when a quarter of traffic fatalities occurred.
The third initiative is the Pedestrian Enforcement Safety Team – a program that focuses on enforcement, education and engineering. As far as enforcement, Acevedo says that more officers will be patrolling areas with crosswalks. If a driver fails to yield to pedestrians, they’ll be ticketed. There will be no warnings.
Acevedo says drivers who are ticketed for traffic violations often ask the ticketing officers why they aren’t focusing on real crime instead.
“When somebody has to notify 40 people – 40 families – that they’ve lost their loved ones because of driving behavior, that is criminal,” says Acevedo. “And that’s something I hope to change over the next few years.”
For the engineering aspects of the initiative, APD teamed up with the Texas Department of Transportation. Greg Malatek is with TxDOT.
“One of the ideas that the police department has proposed that we’re looking into is some type of barrier that you add into the center concrete barrier that’s already out there,” Malatek says, “to add something on top of that to keep people from crossing the main lanes.”
APD says it hopes to see these new barriers installed in the next few months. One proposed location is at 51st Street and I-35 – the location of a fatal accident just last week. According to TxDOT, about one pedestrian a year dies at that location.