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Pedestrian, motorcycle fatalities outpace 2021

Pedestrians and motorcyclists died at much higher rates in Austin traffic than automobile drivers in the first half of 2022, with police investigators blaming the uptick on more people speeding and fewer patrol officers handing out tickets.

Austin in the first sixth months of the year tallied 58 deaths because of traffic-related injuries. That’s just two fewer than what was logged during the same period in 2021, when the city eventually saw a record 120 deaths by the end of the year.

While the traffic death toll appears to be keeping pace with last year, pedestrian and motorcyclist deaths this year are outpacing 2021’s numbers.

Just six months into the year, Austin police have reported that 14 motorcyclists have died while driving in the city. That’s not only an increase of 75% compared with the eight deaths tallied during the first six months of 2021, it’s also already almost equal to the 15 motorcycle deaths Austin tallied for all of last year.

Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths have increased by 32%. A total of 25 pedestrians have died on Austin roads as of June 30. Austin police at the end of June last year had tallied 19 of what would become 45 pedestrian deaths by the end of 2021.

The combined deaths of pedestrians and motorcyclists made up two-thirds of the 58 traffic deaths recorded as of June 30, with pedestrians making up 43% and motorcyclists making up 24%, according to Austin police data.

What’s to blame for the rise in pedestrian, motorcycle deaths?

Many signs point toward speeding drivers left without traffic cops to keep them in check.

An increase in speeding-related fatal crashes isn’t just an Austin issue, but is a worsening trend seen throughout the nation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

In 2020, the United States had a total of 11,258 fatal crashes in which at least one driver was speeding, which made up 29% of all deaths on roadways that year, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was a 17% increase from the 9,592 speeding-related fatalities the previous year.

Speeding-related fatalities climbed again to 11,780 in 2021, this time increasing by 5%. The NHTSA data show speeding deaths made up 27% of all traffic fatalities in 2021.

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In Austin in 2020, speed played a factor in 20 traffic fatalities, making up 21% of the total number of road deaths that year. That was on par with the number of speeding-related traffic fatalities reported the previous year.

Serious injuries not resulting in death from traffic crashes have also decreased in Austin over those years. The rate of serious traffic injuries per 100,000 residents was 56.5 in 2019 and dropped to 42.1 in 2020 before reaching 51.2 in 2021.

Serious injuries not resulting in death from traffic crashes have also decreased in Austin over those years. The rate of serious traffic injuries per 100,000 residents was 56.5 in 2019 and dropped to 42.1 in 2020 before reaching 51.2 in 2021.

In all of 2021, 13 of the 120 total road deaths were linked to speed, according to data provided by Austin police. In just the first six months of 2022, Austin is already up to 11 speed-related traffic deaths.

Austin’s death toll has been rising since 2018 when 74 were killed; 88 died in 2019; 94 in 2020; and 120 in 2021, according to police data. For the past few years, officers in the Police Department have pointed to an officer shortage as the reason behind the spike in traffic deaths.

The department is currently about 238 officers short of the 1,809 it has budgeted for 2022, with a few dozen vacancies more than what was reported in 2021. The shortage comes after the City Council voted to eliminate three cadet training academy classes in 2020.

The staffing shortage led to a ballot measure last November that sought to bolster the force by requiring the city to hire hundreds of additional officers and maintain two officers per 1,000 residents. The proposition failed by more than 56,000 votes, with 68% of voters opposed.

Austin police leadership has suspended one unit dedicated to cracking down on drunken driving and another to catch speeders — two factors commonly linked to wrecks.

In fiscal 2021, which ended Sept. 30, the Austin Municipal Court handed out 4,351 citations for speeding. That was down 43% from 2020 (7,751), 69% from 2019 (14,399), 80% from 2018 (22,598) and 88% from 2017 (39,179).

Since fiscal 2022 began in October, the court has handed out 3,299 citations for speeding.

Speeding and drunken driving were each factors in 11 of the 58 fatal crashes from January through June, according to police data.

Pedestrian, motorcycle fatal crash factors

It appears that many of the pedestrian and motorcycle deaths could have been avoided.

For example, 13 of the 25 pedestrian deaths so far this year involved them failing to yield or pedestrians not using a crosswalk. In a dozen of the pedestrian deaths, the drivers who hit them failed to stop and render aid.

Of the 14 motorcycle-related deaths, five of them hit a fixed object or ran off of the road, rather than crashing with another vehicle, police data show.

Of the first 53 people who died in Austin this year, 42 of them were on TxDOT roadways, according to the agency’s online data system. Of the first 285 seriously injured in traffic crashes this year, 163 of them were on TxDOT roads.

When looking at the first 20 pedestrians who died in Austin this year, 14 of them were on TxDOT highways, according to that data.

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