Top Traffic-Death Rate Stems From Houston’s Commuting Culture And Infrastructure

A Houston Chronicle investigation found that about 640 people a year die from traffic-related accidents in the Houston metropolitan area.

By Jill AmentSeptember 10, 2018 11:08 am|

A Houston Chronicle investigation has found that Houston’s highways – and the drivers who use them – are the deadliest in the nation. The death toll from car crashes in the Houston area every year is “the equivalent of three fully loaded 737s,” the Chronicle reports.

Steve Riley, deputy managing editor of investigations at the Houston Chronicle, says the story first came about through the paper’s transportation writer, Doug Begley. Riley says Begley had noticed a spike in traffic-accident deaths a few years ago, and decided to investigate. What he found was elevated rates of traffic deaths in the entire Houston-metropolitan area.

“When you take the federal data and dice it and slice it, as Doug did, in several different ways, every way that we looked at it – by per capita with population, according to miles driven – …Houston just sinks to the bottom as far as number of deaths in all sorts of different categories,” Riley says.

Riley says one of the contributing factors is that Houstonians drive a lot because the city is so spread out. People often live in one area and work in another. Riley says drivers spend an average of 30 minutes commuting to and from work every day. What’s more, the highways are designed for maximum speed to move people around faster, which Riley says contributes to the deadliness.

“The design of the roads, the wide lanes, the many lanes…there is a lot of speeding that goes on here,” Riley says. “When you put all that together, what you get is a recipe for a disaster that unfolds one crash at a time, two deaths a time.”

Riley says it’s easier to ignore the consequences of these traffic accidents because they happen piecemeal, as opposed to the airplane-crash metaphor used in the story.

“It’s easier to ignore. But When you add it all up, and it’s 640 people a year, on average, that’s a lot of carnage,” Riley says.

Written by Caroline Covington.