Recent findings indicate a concerning trend in Austin and other major cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Seattle: a decrease in traffic enforcement is potentially linked to an increase in fatal traffic incidents. This correlation is highlighted in a city audit which also observes that during a period with increased deployment of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers in Austin, there were notably fewer crashes and fatalities.
This trend seems to stem from a significant reduction in traffic citations, with Austin's Police Department's Highway Enforcement Command experiencing a drop of 70% in citations since 2019. This decrease in enforcement is partly due to staffing challenges faced by the police department, a trend mirrored nationally. These challenges have been exacerbated by the cancellation of cadet classes and a reduction in officers willing to work overtime, despite financial incentives.
In response to similar challenges, Seattle has shifted towards using automated speed cameras for traffic enforcement. This approach, however, is not permissible under Texas state law.
The audit further reveals that while the number of crashes resulting in serious injuries has remained consistent, traffic deaths have surged by 63%. Notably, state-owned roads have seen an 80% increase in traffic fatalities over the past four years, with a majority of the city's fatal crashes occurring on these roads.
Former Police Chief Joe Chacon's memo, sent in December last year, echoes these findings and suggests several measures to mitigate the issue. These include reprioritizing traffic stops to focus on public safety, implementing speed and red light cameras (currently banned by state law), and considering tougher penalties or driver education programs to deter dangerous driving behaviors