The Houston Chronicle reported on September 21 that Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton asked for help from Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) planners in addressing the state’s increased traffic fatalities and commercial vehicle crashes. Houghton’s remarks came in response to a Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media News 88.7 investigation that documented how “Texas has become the deadliest state in total traffic fatalities during the last five years of the state’s ongoing drilling and fracking boom.”
While traffic fatalities in most other states declined between 2009 and 2013, the Chronicle and News 88.7 found that overall deaths on Texas roads increased 8 percent from 3,122 to 3,378. Additionally, the number of commercial vehicle accident fatalities rose 51 percent in that same time period, going from 352 to 532. The Chronicle found that “triple tragedies”—accidents in which three or more people were killed—have increased statewide from 72 in 2010 to 101 in 2012, 148 in 2013, and 81 through mid-July of this year. Houghton called the stories of fatal accidents in the investigative series “gut-wrenching.”
“We don’t need to be the excuse,” Houghton said. “There are issues with the transportation sector and with the equipment, but we do not need to be the excuse. … We cannot run from this issue any longer.”
Some of the common causes the investigation found with commercial truck crashes included:
- Driver Fatigue — The Chronicle cited several cases in which workers got behind the wheel of company vehicles after working tremendously long hours. Some drivers had worked shifts as long as 24 hours, and another man had logged 190 hours while working 14 consecutive days. After getting off of work and having no place to sleep, many workers attempted to get on the road and make long drives home. Without any on-site rest areas being provided, many of these exhausted workers fall asleep at the wheel and cause fatal crashes.
- Speeding — One TxDOT official told the Chronicle that the agency may consider lowering speed limits in an attempt to reduce fatalities, although speed limits were recently increased on highways with the biggest increases in catastrophic crashes, such as Interstate 20. Legislation passed in 2011 raised maximum speeds from 70 mph to 75 mph on nearly 19,000 miles of Texas highways, abandoned night-time speed limits, and prevented officials from imposing lower speeds on trucks anywhere in Texas.
- Equipment Violations — Sergeant Jason Reyes, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), told News 88.7 that the department was seeing a lot of equipment violations. “Brakes being out of adjustment, tires not having enough tread,” Reyes said. “We’re also seeing some overweight violations—those are the most common infractions that we’re seeing.” According to News 88.7, about 30 percent of Texas vehicles pulled over for the special “road check” inspection program designed to catch such violations flunk and are pulled out of service. However, one woman was killed this past April when an 18-wheeler ran a red light on Old Beaumont Highway. DPS had ordered the Houston-based trucking company to cease operations last December after multiple tickets and safety violations that included a cracked frame and a driver smoking marijuana behind the wheel, but the company ignored the order.
Any one of these safety issues can result in a devastating crash. If you sustained catastrophic injuries or your loved one was killed in an accident caused by a commercial vehicle, you should immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can investigate your accident and hold all negligent parties accountable.