Sharp increase in traffic fatalities in 2020 prompts federal ‘crisis’ response

San Antonio among regions getting more technical resources aimed at reducing crashes

SAN ANTONIO – Texas and the San Antonio region will receive a special focus from federal officials as they seek to reduce a growing number of traffic fatalities.

Texas will be among 15 states and territories receiving technical assistance resources to address common causes of fatal crashes. Those areas account for 50% of the nation’s traffic fatalities.

“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind. We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America,” said United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement.

The number of traffic fatalities in the first half of 2021 is estimated to have reached 20,160, the highest level since 2006. The number represents an increase of 18% over 2020.

Buttigieg announced the U.S. Department of Transportation will develop its first-ever National Roadway Safety Strategy in January 2022, aimed at reversing the trend.

In the meantime, the Federal Highway Administration is ramping up its Focused Approach to Safety Program. The program helps regions address the most common causes of traffic fatalities, including roadway departures and crashes between vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Texas will receive data analysis and other resources from the FHWA when it comes to reducing roadway departures and pedestrian fatalities. The San Antonio region will also receive resources aimed at reducing pedestrian fatalities.

“The approach of the federal government seems to be taking is the same approach that we’ve been talking about at the local level,” said Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, who is also the vice-chair of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Our emphasis has been, of course, to reduce speed and really looking at making our streets safer.”

FHWA also added to its list of Proven Safety Countermeasures, including bike lanes, wider edge lines and better lighting. San Antonio is already working to upgrade roadways across the city with new safety features.

“Designing the streets in a way that fosters that development of bike lanes and pedestrian mobility, making it a transportation system with them in mind and giving people options and making the system more people-centric, I think is what’s going to make the difference for us,” Havrda said.

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Division is currently reviewing the new federal guidelines.

If nothing changes over the next week, Nov. 7 will mark 21 years since the last day without a reported traffic fatality in the state.

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About the Author:

Samuel King anchors traffic during GMSA and reports on transportation and mobility issues across the San Antonio region. He joined the KSAT 12 news team in 2020 from KUT in Austin. Samuel was born in Queens, spent time growing up in South Alabama and graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.