High Houston Crash Rate Drives Up Insurance Costs

April 20, 2004

The Houston area far exceeds the national average in the number of serious traffic collisions, contributing to skyrocketing medical costs and giving Harris County the most expensive auto insurance rates in Texas, according to the Associated Press.

County officials said one reason drivers in Harris County are at greater risk of collisions is because the area is growing faster than roads can be improved or patrolled. Now area drivers are even crashing into the new MetroRail trains, putting Houston on course to top the national high for light rail collisions.

“We lead the state in crashes no matter how you define them,” said Ned Levine, transportation safety program coordinator for the Houston-Galveston Area Council. “We are among the worst in the country. I haven’t found a metropolitan area that’s higher than ours.”

The HGAC has spent nearly three years gathering collision statistics from several local, state and federal agencies.

Among the findings: The eight-county Houston region has an average of 242 serious crashes every day. For every crash involving a death, injury or property damage of at least $1,000, there are two to three times as many minor ones. Houston drivers also are 21/2 times more likely to be hurt or killed in a traffic collision per mile traveled than the national average. Nearly 600 people a year die on the region’s highways, and about 90,000 are injured.

The data is has been compiled through 2000, and officials are working on data for 2001, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Safety experts say engineering and enforcement are needed to limit the number of crashes.

Houston’s population boom has resulted in more cars on the roads. Highway builders are unable to keep up with the growth and there is not enough mass transit to handle the population. The area also has a large number of illegal immigrants with no driver’s licenses or training, the newspaper reported.

Gridlock causes the most accidents on freeway. Experts say as traffic backs up drivers’ stress levels build resulting in and increased number of rear-end collisions.

The gridlock-inspired crashes are a statewide phenomena, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“In the large metropolitan areas, people are in a big hurry to get where they are going, and they feel a lot of pressure to be places,” said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange. “They don’t leave themselves enough time to get there, so they drive too fast and take a lot of risks that end up contributing to or causing wrecks.”

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston District has 22 ongoing safety projects, including adding paved shoulders and turn lanes, placing dedicated merge lanes at freeway connectors, constructing new overpasses and replacing signs with a new material that is easier to see at night.

The city and the Transportation Department also are instituting a ban on trucks in the left lane of some freeways.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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