Texas road congestion

Interesting Texas Traffic Stories for May, 2019

Check out some of the interesting news stories and developments affecting Texas drivers from the past month.

On this Texas toll road, drivers want to know why they’re paying $15 for just 5 miles (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Susan Forbes could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the price posted on the electronic sign, which pointed the way to an entrance for the TEXPress toll lanes on Texas 183 in Bedford.

She was about to enter a toll road that would charge her $15 for a distance of less than six miles.

“I paid it because I had already passed the exit,” explained the resident of Fort Worth’s Meadowbrook neighborhood. She commutes each day to an internet technology job in North Dallas. “I knew I had been paying a lot more since the TEXPress opened,” she said, “but Holy Cow!”

Some North Texas drivers are alarmed at how high the toll rates are going up on the region’s TEXPress lanes, which have been open in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for about five years now. The idea of the TEXPress lanes is to give motorists on heavily-traveled freeways a choice — stay in traffic on the main lanes toll-free, or pay extra to get on the express lanes and get around the congestion.

Toll prices can be raised as often as every five minutes, theoretically to limit the number of drivers willing to get on the TEXPress lanes.

But, as the operators of the TEXPress lanes are finding out, raising the prices on the TEXPress lanes doesn’t always have the intended effect of thinning out the traffic. In some cases, it seems the higher the toll rates go, the more motorists want to use the TEXPress lanes. [Read more…]

Texas Leads The Nation In Traffic Deaths – These Proposed Laws Could Make Roads Safer (Houston Public Media)

At least one person has died on Texas roads every day since Nov. 7, 2000. Despite efforts to “End the Streak,” as the Texas Department of Transportation puts it, the state still leads the nation in traffic deaths.

Fatalities did fall about 2% between 2016 and 2017, but more than 3,700 people died in 2017.

A slate of bills aimed at making a dent in traffic deaths has gotten mixed results at the Texas Legislature this year.

Statewide Vision Zero Plan

There does seem to be some action on expanded road safety efforts over at the Texas Transportation Commission.

Last month, the commission heard a presentation from TxDOT’s director of engineering and safety operations that indicated the agency may be moving toward a goal of having no traffic fatalities in Texas by the year 2050. Austin adopted a so-called Vision Zero plan in 2016, with the goal of ending deaths and serious injuries on Austin’s roads by 2025. Other major cities have adopted similar plans, which aim to address the problem through better road design, better enforcement of existing laws and education programs.

Washington state was the first to adopt a statewide goal of zero traffic deaths in 2000. Since then, more than half of states have set a zero-death goal. But Texas has not. [Read more…]

Ex-Texas official accused of imposing traffic ticket quota (KXII News)

Texas Rangers have arrested a former city manager on charges he abused his position by imposing a quota for the number of traffic tickets city police had to issue.

64-year-old Alan Grindstaff was being held Thursday at the Falls County jail on a charge of abuse of official capacity.

He was taken into custody Wednesday on the misdemeanor charge.

Authorities say as the city manager in Marlin, southeast of Waco, Grindstaff earlier this year developed a plan to compensate, discipline or promote the police chief based on officers issuing a predetermined number of tickets within a certain period.

State law prohibits a police department from using a quota system in writing traffic citations. [Read more…]

Texas Cops Arrest About 45,000 Drivers a Year for Minor Traffic Offenses (Reason)

The practice of arresting drivers for minor traffic violations in Texas first received wide national attention as a result of the 2001 Supreme Court decision in Atwater v. Lago Vista, which upheld the handcuffing, booking, and jailing of a woman who violated a state law requiring drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts. In 2016 such rough treatment of motorists became even more controversial when a 28-year-old woman named Sandra Bland, who was arrested after a state trooper stopped her for failing to signal a lane change, died of an apparent suicide in the Waller County jail. A new report from the Texas group Just Liberty, based on data reported under a 2017 state law passed in response to the Bland incident, estimates that "more than 45,000 Texas drivers were arrested at traffic stops for Class C misdemeanors last year" and were therefore unnecessarily exposed to the risk of injury as well as the trauma of being hauled off to jail in handcuffs.

Class C misdemeanors are traffic and city ordinance violations that are typically handled with citations. Based on Just Liberty's analysis of 2018 data from cities with populations of more than 50,000, that is what happens more than 99 percent of the time. But because there are so many traffic stops—3 million in the data set used for this report—the absolute number of arrests is large.

Among traffic stops by local police departments, arrests for Class C misdemeanors were most common in Waco, at 451 per 10,000 stops (4.5 percent), nearly seven times the average of 67 (0.7 percent). Injuries associated with police use of force during such arrests were most common in Houston, where they were reported in 53 per 10,000 stops, three times the average rate of 17 per 10,000. The injury rate for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which was responsible for Bland's arrest, was more than double that average. Just Liberty notes that cases where injuries were reported are "likely a small subset of all force incidents at traffic stops." [Read more…]

Traffic Camera Ban Passes Hurdle in the Texas House (NBC DFW)

A bill to ban red light cameras is making headway in the Texas Legislature. The bill has already made it through committee and has strong support in the House.

House Bill 1631 would make it illegal for cities like Plano to have red light cameras at intersections like the one at Park and Preston.

"It really is an unconstitutional system and it needs to be taken down." Said Kelly Canon, a supporter of the bill.

Canon is passionate about the issue of red light cameras. So much so that she led a petition to have them banned in Arlington.

"I decided not to stop there...let's do this statewide." she said.

Red light cameras can be found in seventeen intersections across Plano. Police Chief Gregory Rushin says he's convinced the cameras save lives.

"The worst impacts we see other than head on are side impacts and those are the things we're trying to prevent and it's something that red light cameras do." said Chief Rushin. [Read more…]

Proposed Bill Would End Texas’ Controversial Driver Responsibility Program (Insurance Journal)

Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) would be repealed under a bill considered by the Senate Finance Committee, the state Senate reported.

The program has been heavily criticized for the financial burden it places on those affected, according to the Senate’s media release.

The program, known as the “points system,” adds compounding penalties to drivers as they are convicted of traffic violations. A driver who commits a moving violation can get two “points” on their drivers license, and three if the violation results in a car crash. Points stay on a license for three years and if a license accrues six points, the driver is assessed a $100 surcharge at the end of the year. That fine goes up $25 for every additional point above six.

There are additional surcharges for more serious violations: $1000 for a driver’s first intoxicated driving conviction and increasing for each subsequent conviction.

Driving with a suspended license or without insurance incurs $250 surcharges.

This program has been widely condemned for many sessions by citizens and lawmakers alike for putting unreasonable financial burdens on drivers, who can lose their license until they pay off all their DRP fines. [Read more…]

Texas System For Putting Holds On Driver's Licenses Creates 'Cycle Of Poverty,' Nonprofit Says (KUT 90.5)

A national nonprofit says Texas’ system for putting holds on driver licenses is unconstitutional and is threatening to take the state to court as lawmakers decide the program's future this legislative session.

In a letter sent last week to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Washington, D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law threatened legal action over Texas’ so-called Omnibase program. Courts use the program to put a hold on licenses of drivers who haven’t paid court costs or appeared in court for traffic-related offenses.

Offenders can't get their licenses back until they pay their fines and a reinstatement fee of up to $200. The nonprofit says, more often than not, the system doesn't actually recoup those costs – and many of the resulting suspensions are imposed on drivers who can't pay the costs.

"What we’ve seen with dozens of people across the state of Texas is that the Omnibase program is not successful in getting people actually to pay court debt," said Phil Telfeyan, the executive director of Equal Justice Under Law. "The vast majority of people who it’s affecting actually are too poor to pay court debt. So it’s only creating a cycle of poverty."

While the state does have an option to waive or reduce fees for those who can prove they can't pay, Telfeyan says it's mired in "impenetrable bureaucracy." Texas law doesn't allow people to pay fines at a DMV when they renew their licenses, for example. [Read more…]

Houston and Dallas Lead the Nation in Distracted Driving (Texas Monthly)

Distracted driving is a scourge of our hyperconnected age. The nationwide statistics are shocking: More than 6,000 pedestrians were killed last year by drivers—many of whom, the Governors Highway Safety Administration suggests, were under the influence of a smartphone. The National Safety Council found that distracted driving was the cause of at least 1.6 million traffic collisions that same year. In 2016, the last year for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data is available, 3,450 fatal collisions were directly linked to distracted driving. That last number is likely underestimated. Unlike drunk driving, no tests exist to determine whether a person was using his or her phone at the time of a collision. (Though some states are considering legislation to allow them.)

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that, despite public awareness campaigns, the rate of distracted driving is rising. According to traffic analytics and data firm ZenDrive, more than 60 percent of drivers use their phones during at least part of their commutes each day, with an average of two minutes of phone use per hour. The heaviest users—representing about 1 in 12 drivers and projected to be 1 in 5 by 2022, if the current growth rate persists—spend nearly one-third of their driving time engaged with their phones.

For Texas, there’s good and bad news in ZenDrive’s study. We score tenth-best among the 50 states in the percentage of time people spend on their phones while driving—a still-not-great 7.23 percent. (In Virginia, the worst offender, it’s nearly 10 percent.) But when the company looked at the data for nineteen U.S. metropolitan regions, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth drivers were on their phones the most: 9.44 percent and 9.23 percent, respectively. Austin runs in the middle of the pack, with 7.97 percent, worse off than megalopolises like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. [Read more…,/a>]

Does your driver's license have a gold star? To fly in 2020, you're going to need one (CBS Austin)

If your driver's license doesn't have a gold star on it, you may not be able to use it to get past the TSA checkpoints to fly commercially in 2020.

The REAL ID Act is a federal law passed by Congress after 9/11 that establishes specific federal requirements for state-issued driver license and identity cards to be accepted for certain federal purposes, like entering a federal building or boarding a domestic flight.

Although it was passed in 2005, it will not fully go into effect until 2020.

Beginning October 1, 2020, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States.

Texas began issuing REAL ID-ready driver's licenses and identity cards in October 2016.

Texans can continue to use their standard licenses until they expire or until October 1, 2020; whichever comes first. [Read more…]

AAA Texas: Regular exercise and stretching can help older drivers keep the keys longer (Everything Lubbock)

New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that increased fatigue and poor physical functioning are leading factors that can result in older adults limiting their driving. But simple steps, like weekly exercise and stretching, can improve safe driving abilities and keep older adults on the road longer.

The AAA Foundation commissioned researchers at Columbia University to evaluate eight domains- depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbance, pain interference, physical functioning, pain intensity and participation in social activities - to determine how changes in physical, mental and social health affect driving mobility for older adults.

The report found that fatigue and poor physical functioning are most common among older drivers who spend less time behind the wheel.

“Older adults who give up the keys are more likely to suffer from depression than those who remain behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It is important that we find ways to keep older drivers in good physical health in order to extend their mobility.” [Read more…]

Digital driver’s license test program approved by Texas House (The Daily Texan)

Texas has moved one step closer to launching a pilot program for digital driver’s licenses and personal identification certificates after the House of Representatives voted in favor of the program by a wide margin.

Of the lower chamber’s 150 members, 147 voted for House Bill 181, which seeks to follow the lead of states, such as Colorado and Maryland, that have already approved pilot programs for digital IDs. Authored by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, HB 181 instructs the Department of Public Safety to create a smartphone application where the digital ID could be accessed and tested by focus groups and law enforcement.

Canales spoke to The Daily Texan in November when he introduced the legislation, saying digital IDs have the potential to be more secure than physical copies. He said new technology such as 3D imaging and biometrics have the potential to be included in drivers licenses, making licenses more advanced.

But he also said he had no intention of replacing physical copies of state-issued IDs any time soon.

“The intention is to have a secondary convenience source that’s not necessarily replacing the physical card,” Canales told the Texan in November. “Nothing about the bill or the idea of a digital license is meant to replace the original. It’s meant to give users an option if they would like it.” [Read more…]

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