In April of 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order requiring all Texans to “stay at home except to provide essential services or for essential things like going to the grocery store” to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This stay-at-home order naturally had an immediate impact on traffic patterns in Texas. And despite allowing the order to expire at the end of April, traffic in Texas has continued to feel the impact of COVID-19, with many residents choosing to spend more time at home in 2020.
Here’s a look back over the past year in Texas road safety.
Fewer Vehicles on Texas Roads
With schools and customer-facing businesses closed and a large percentage of office employees working from home, Texas roadways saw an immediate decrease in traffic volume in April of 2020.
According to data from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), traffic dropped by 44% state-wide (comparing the week of February 22-28 with the week of April 4-10). San Antonio saw the largest drop with a 50% decline in traffic, and Austin came in a close second place with a 49% decline.
Sadly, and somewhat surprisingly, this drop in traffic did not lead to comparable drops in the rate of crashes and fatalities.
Unexpectedly High Rate of Crashes and Fatalities
With less traffic on Texas roads, TxDOT was hoping to see a corresponding drop in crashes and fatalities. Unfortunately, that’s not been the case.
From January 1 to April 15, the number of vehicle crashes in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston metro areas dropped between 11% and 15% compared to the same time period in 2019 (according to an analysis of TxDOT data by Community Impact Newspaper). While a drop in crashes is a great thing, this drop isn’t nearly as much as experts expected. Even worse, the number of crash fatalities dropped by only 3.35% in the same period.
And Texas isn’t alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is up nationwide. In 2019, the fatality rate was 1.06, but the rate increased to 1.25 for the first half of 2020.
Why Has the Percentage of Crashes and Fatalities Increased in 2020?
The NHTSA believes that the increase in fatalities is the result of risk-averse people staying home during the pandemic while those who are less risk-averse are more likely to be out and about. This means that a greater percentage of drivers are more likely to be speeding or driving while intoxicated (DWI).
DWIs are a key concern, as alcohol sales are up during the pandemic. In Houston, despite the drop in traffic, DWI arrests are only down around 4%. And in San Antonio, DWI arrests are on par with 2019 levels, despite the pandemic.
As Sgt. Don Egdorf of the HPD DWI Task Force notes in an interview with KHOU in September 2020, “The DWI numbers are still up here instead of taking a big drop. That should be concerning for everybody [...] There are so many victims of this crime and there doesn't have to be.”
Comparing the Safest Cities for Texas Drivers to the Most Dangerous
While 2020 data is still being compiled, TxDOT has released its 2019 Annual Crash Statistics reports, which indicate which cities generally have the safest drivers and which generally have the most dangerous.
To decide which cities are safest and which are the most dangerous, we looked at the number of fatal crashes as a percentage of the population (using US Census data for the 20 most populous cities in Texas).
Top 5 Safest Texas Cities for Drivers
Top 5 Most Dangerous Texas Cities for Drivers
Drive Safer in 2021
With the increased fatality rate in 2020, defensive driving is more important than ever. Defensive driving courses offer techniques for keeping you and your loved ones as safe as possible on the roads. And they can be taken online, so you don’t need to expose yourself to a classroom full of people in a pandemic. Let’s make Texas a safer place for drivers in 2021!