Several speakers at the 2010 Traffic Safety Conference shared the tragedy of losing a loved one with the 200 people attending the second statewide forum organized by the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Center for Transportation Safety (CTS). The conference, with the theme “Putting the Pieces Together,” was held in Dallas, March 29-31.
“One of the things that struck me in this conference is how easy it is to talk about over 35,000 lives lost [the number of U.S. traffic fatalities in 2008],” said TTI Agency Director Dennis Christiansen. “But the number of people we had at the conference who had the personal experience of loss in their family puts a very human face on this.”
Christiansen moderated the final session of the conference, which touched upon most of the topics that were examined during the previous sessions: distracted driving, motorcycle safety, changing the driving culture, wrong-way driving, red-light cameras and — the subject which seemed to dominate the discussion — drunk or impaired driving.
“My husband was killed by a wrong-way, impaired driver in 1991 about 15 miles from here,” Laura Dean-Mooney, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the attendees. “This is the reason I came to MADD and the reason I continue to do what I do…so other families don’t get impacted like mine was.” According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, impaired driving accounted for almost 40 percent of the total 2008 Texas fatalities.
“It’s an embarrassing thing to think we have so many fatalities related to DWI and at the same time knowing there is a remedy to this…but we are not willing to take the steps necessary to correct it,” Sen. John Carona said during the round table discussion about sobriety checkpoints. “This [legislation allowing Texas to conduct them] is long overdue.”
Speakers said that sobriety checkpoints could save an estimated 400 lives each year in Texas through deterrence.
“It’s quite offensive to me that the failure of state lawmakers to act prevents local communities from doing what we know works better than any other law enforcement tool in saving lives,” Rep. Todd Smith said during the conference. Smith has repeatedly authored legislation to allow checkpoints, but the bill never makes it out of committee for a vote. “We have a lot of people in this state who believe there is a right to drive while drinking. I don’t know how to explain that.”
The Traffic Safety Conference brought together traffic experts, policymakers, law enforcement and researchers with “a common interest in traffic safety but [who] bring very different approaches, skills, information and tools to solve the puzzle which is traffic safety,” Christiansen said.
The ultimate goal of the forum was to share the latest information about what is killing and injuring motorists in Texas and ways to reduce those numbers.
House Transportation Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Larry Phillips lost a college roommate in a traffic crash. “We have got to work together to change the culture of safety in Texas,” he said. “It’s a huge task. We’ve got to start sometime. How about now?”