Fatalities from traffic crashes in Austin are up this year – especially in incidents involving pedestrians.
After the deaths of three motorcyclists and one pedestrian over the weekend, the number of people killed in Austin crashes has reached 36 on the year. Those deaths coincided with the Republic of Texas Biker Rally.
Half of this year's 36 deaths have been accidents involving pedestrians. That’s up from 41 percent (22 deaths) in 2011 and 20 percent (10 deaths) in 2010. Austin Police say 10 of the pedestrians killed this year were under the influence of drugs or alcohol and one driver was impaired.
Lieutenant Troy Officer says the increase in fatal crashes may simply be growing pains. But the numbers indicate that might not be the case. The number of deaths was actually down the past two years. Fifty-four people were killed in collisions in 2011 and 49 died in 2010. Historically in Austin, the number of traffic deaths fluctuates between the mid-60s and mid-50s.
The Austin Police Department actually began a specific program to decrease the number of pedestrian deaths last October. It’s called PEST: the Pedestrian Enforcement Safety Team. A team of officers are dedicated to enforcing pedestrian laws, making sure not only that people cross at designated areas and at designated times but also that cars are yielding to pedestrians. Lt. Officer says it’s hard to tell if the program has made an impact.
“Obviously our pedestrian fatalities have increased,” said Officer, “but how can you tell if they wouldn’t have been higher if we hadn’t been doing it?”
PEST has received some criticism for targeting pedestrians. But they’ve cited 574 drivers total, compared to 365 pedestrians.
Lt. Officer says pedestrians need to take the defensive.
“As a pedestrian, even if you have the right of way, even if you’re right, you lose if you get hit,” says Officer. “Just because you have a green light, doesn’t mean it’s safe to enter the roadway. Even if you have the right of way, check both ways and make sure the driver sees you. Even if you have to wait another cycle of the light, it’s worth your life.”