With the theme of improving safety on highways in Texas and across the nation, the leader of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the retiring state legislator known as “Senator Safety” were featured speakers for the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) 4th annual Statewide Traffic Safety Conference, June 4-6, in San Antonio.
David Strickland, NHTSA Administrator, told the group of more than 200 that the nation now has its lowest number of traffic fatalities since 1949. “Those successes frankly pale to the fact of how many people we still lose. It is still vexing for all of us that when we do make gains we still have that many more people we have to reach. The job is never, ever done,” he told the group of traffic safety professionals, pointing to the fact that 33,000 people die in crashes annually nationwide.
Sen. Steve Ogden, who was the luncheon speaker later in the day, also acknowledged the decreasing fatality rate in Texas, but with a note of caution. “Over the last 10 years our fatality rate has dropped by 25 percent.” It’s still a lot. Ogden noted that more than 500 fewer Texans are dying on the roadways than just 10 years ago. “We have made a lot of progress. But, obviously we are not done.”
Ogden, who announced his retirement months earlier, said he began vigorously supporting traffic safety legislation 12 years ago when he realized that it did not seem to be a priority. At the end of his speech, Ogden was honored by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Transportation and TTI.
“Very few of our elected officials have really been dedicated or given a high priority to safety in our state,” TTI Agency Director Dennis Christiansen said during his tribute. “Senator Ogden clearly has.” Among other measures, Ogden is credited with safety improvements on rural highways, supporting the installation of cable barriers in highway medians, and creating the Center for Transportation Safety at TTI. “He consistently kept roadway safety in the minds of everyone in the legislature,” Christiansen said.
In fact, the conference slogan for 2012, “Saving Lives: Nothing’s More Important,” was borrowed form a speech Ogden gave several years earlier.
The conference attracts law enforcement, transportation safety researchers, policy makers, public health officials, traffic engineers and other safety professionals from around the state. This year, conference goers attended sessions that focused on impaired driving, distracted driving, teen driving, motorcycle safety, wrong-way driving, Texas speed limits changes and numerous other topics.
“I don’t know of anything more tragic than that knock on the door in the middle of the night when somebody’s got to tell someone their loved one just lost their life. All of you in this room that are involved in protecting the public, thank you. It’s a big deal,” Ogden said, receiving a standing ovation following his speech.