AUSTIN (KXAN) — Saturday could mark 20 years of daily deaths on Texas roads. It’s a milestone those with the Texas Department of Transportation hope to avoid. In October, TxDOT officials reminded the public of its End the Streak campaign in an effort to put a stop to the daily deaths.
“Last year, 20 Texas counties actually had zero deaths on their roadways – that tells me we can end the streak of daily deaths in Texas,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said in a virtual news conference last month.
For one TxDOT employee, the campaign hits close to home.
“She was my partner in crime,” Diann Hodges, one of the transportation agency’s spokesperson said about her best friend Barbara McCarley.
For the last four years, Hodges has been one of the voices for TxDOT, but before she was discussing the future of roads, she was the voice of KLBJ-AM News Radio. McCarley was by her side as a breaking news and city hall reporter.
“Things can change in an instant,” Hodges said as she recalled the day tragedy struck.
On Feb. 12, 2013, McCarley was heading to a news story in a radio station Toyota Sienna when a driver on Ranch to Market Road 2222 heading westbound in a green Saab lost control and crossed into the oncoming lanes hitting McCarley head-on. The 48-year-old mother of two would die the next day at the hospital.
“We didn’t need the story as much as we needed her,” Hodges said. “Why should we lose someone with so much light?”
McCarley is just one of the more than 70,000 people killed on Texas roads over the past 20 years. As of October, around 180 deaths have taken place in Central Texas across Bastrop, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties just this year alone. That number is up three deaths since this time last year.
“We were very hopeful that when we were in the midst of the pandemic that we would actually be able to have a day where we didn’t have someone die on Texas roads, unfortunately, that did not happen,” she said.
In Austin, Hodges said the number one contributing factor is speed. That’s an issue transportation officials reported earlier this year when people went on lockdown, started working from home and traffic dropped off.
“If you don’t have bumper-to-bumper traffic slowing you down, people are taking advantage of that,” she said.
Other contributing factors include distracted driving, driving under the influence and people not wearing seatbelts. Hodges is urging drivers to pay attention and slow down. She said on average 10 people die on Texas road each day.
“We need to find a way to stop this because you don’t get a chance to say goodbye when somebody dies very suddenly and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Hodges said.