Audit: City failed to fully use crash information to improve safety

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new City of Austin audit reveals the city has not fully utilized crash information to improve public safety. Traffic-related fatalities have increased over the past four years; a majority of which have preventable contributing factors, such as impairment, speeding and invalid licenses, to name a few. The council members were shown the findings at the Audit and Finance Committee meeting Monday morning.

The Transportation Effectiveness Audit also found traffic incident management is not fully coordinated, particularly when it comes to handling large vehicles and hazardous materials. The report went on to say, “not all crash information is being systematically analyzed which could identify targeted engineering, enforcement, or educational solutions to address safety and traffic flow challenges.”

Kelly Dailey knows the number of traffic fatalities all too well. Her youngest daughter, was one of them.

“This is the second time I’ve been to this intersection since the accident,” Kelli Dailey told KXAN, standing at the intersection of Red River and 15th Street. “The first time was the morning after her service.”

Dailey’s 26-year-old daughter Natalie found herself on the back of a motorcycle, at the cross section of a tragedy eight months ago, caught between an accused drunk driver and a driver police day didn’t yield turning onto Red River. The crash, August 16, 2015, was one of Austin’s record-breaking 102 traffic-related fatalities last year.

Robert Spillar, director of Austin’s transportation department, said one of the things the department is doing now to reduce that number, is the creation of an engineer division solely focused on traffic safety. Spillar also told KXAN the transportation department is in talks with the Austin Police Department to enhance traffic enforcement. He said the department is also addressing the audit’s finding that shows the city has not fully utilized crash information to help prevent traffic deaths.

“We are expanding our data capability to better analyze those fatalities,” Spillar said.

The goal is to move beyond the totals and focus on specifics. Like the crash details Dailey, and others who have lost their loved ones, will never forget.

“Every day is a new day. But every day I wake up and remember. What a preventable, senseless crash this was,” she said.

The transportation director said the city is also in the process of improving five dangerous intersections, including cutting off left turns across busy, high speed roads.

Other major findings included the following:

  • Despite recent improvements, the city has not effectively coordinated among city departments and external partners on transportation issues

    • The transportation system is not fully connected across transportation modes and does not provide sufficient options for safe and efficient travel.
  • The city’s transportation activities have largely been reactive. Resource challenges were consistently cited as barriers to meeting industry guidelines and proactively addressing issues.

    • Limited funding for identified needs
    • Limited staff

The audit also pointed to  drivers without a valid license. Earlier this year, a KXAN investigation found nearly one-third of the deadly crashes in Austin last year involved someone driving with a suspended or invalid license. Normally, someone caught driving without a valid license gets a ticket then gets released. The audit suggests stronger measures, like impounding the driver’s car, to keep them off the road.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who chairs the Audit and Finance Committee, spoke with KXAN after the audit findings were presented and said, “What I was most struck by is how well it fits into some of the existing concerns that we’ve been talking about at council and really, citywide. One would be the Vision Zero Task Force. There’s a lot of interest among council in the result of that stakeholder process.”

Vision Zero is a group working to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025.

“One of the areas they highlighted about using crash data more effectively directly relates to the work that the Vision Zero Task Force has been doing in conjunction with the transportation department and with our planning,” Tovo said.

Vision Zero says it’s preparing to release a revised draft on an action plan in the near future. The group is scheduled to present to the Pedestrian Advisory Council and potentially the Public Safety Commission on May 2. Then, there is a Council Mobility Committee May 9.

On the plus side, auditors noted several transportation-related initiatives, and found improvements in coordination among city departments and regional groups responsible for transportation-related activities.

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