AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new memo released by Austin Transportation Department’s Vision Zero program on Thursday reported a 50% decline in severe crashes on roads with dynamic speed display devices (DSDDs). ATD has used the devices since 2016 as a means of reinforcing speed limits in mainly residential areas.

Most crashes happening in Austin occur on state-owned roadways, like highways; however, Austin has identified high-injury roadway sections where a disproportionate number of crashes occur compared to other city-owned roads.

In early 2022, the Vision Zero program installed 14 devices across five different locations that have previously recorded frequent, severe crashes, per the memo. Annualized crashes and severe crashes decreased by 50% in the first six months since their installation, the memo added.

An additional 16 devices were installed in mid-November, with crash data to be evaluated over time. The DSDDs reflect a driver’s speed and “can provide messages to reinforce adherence to the posted speed limit,” per the release.

The DSDDs are one of several mitigation methods ATD and its Vision Zero program have turned toward, outside of in-person traffic enforcement efforts. The memo cited in-person traffic safety enforcement means are limited due to Austin Police Department vacancies, including 178 patrol police officer positions.

The memo added specialized units that are designed to assist in traffic enforcement — including the DWI Enforcement and Motors (motorcycle units) — have been reassigned to respond to 911 calls.

ATD and APD looked into a possible agreement to employ Travis County Constables to help with traffic enforcement. The memo said the Travis County Commissioners Court didn’t add new positions to the Constables’ budgets for the fiscal year 2022-23, and those additional in-person resources weren’t added.

Other non-in-person reinforcements on the market include speed safety and red light cameras, which are used in approximately 150 communities nationwide. Speed safety cameras can be used to help enforce speed limits; however, Texas law has restricted communities from “enforcing compliance with speed limits by an automated traffic control system” since 2007.

Red light cameras aim to decrease right-angle crashes and are used by approximately 340 communities nationwide, per the release. A 2016 Insurance Institute on Highway Safety study found cities that removed red light cameras saw a 30% increase in fatal red light-running crashes.

However, Texas law has disallowed local authorities from using red light cameras since 2019, the memo stated. Two of the concerns with automated enforcement are both the fine amounts and where cameras are placed, with studies in Chicago’s camera system reporting a higher concentration of citations tracing back to majority Black and Hispanic ZIP codes.

“Many automated enforcement systems have fees which are lower than standard citations to keep the focus on changing driver behaviors as opposed to high fines,” the memo added.

With fines and fees, the memo adds these have often disproportionately affected communities of color, adding fine structures need to be considered. The memo cited speeding fines used in Norway, which range from $230 to roughly $1,150. Norway drivers also run the risk of immediate license suspensions and possible jail time for “egregious speeding.”

Between 2010 and 2019, Norway’s traffic fatalities were halved and the country now has some of the lowest traffic-related fatalities worldwide.

“In several countries like Norway, high fines complement lower speed limits and automated
enforcement and safer roadway design, and citation costs can scale with speed and/or income levels,” the report read.

Here in Texas, the Texas Transportation Code states fines increase from the standard levels when drivers are responsible for causing a crash and related injuries, with higher fines involved when a crash causes serious injuries.

Some communities have developed alternate methods beyond fines for traffic violations. New York City’s Driver Accountability Program has worked with more than 3,500 people with non-fine or jail-related punishments, with 78% of program participants reporting safer driving habits.