Is it really possible to have zero fatal accidents on Texas highways? That is the ambitious goal that the Texas Department of Transportation plans to set at a meeting later this month.
Its a tall order. 3600 people died on Texas highways last year, and the last time Texas went an entire day, just a single day, without a traffic fatality was in November of 2000.
Texas Transportation Commission Chairman and San Antonio businessman J. Bruce Bugg says it is a tough goal, but not an impossible one.
"94 percent of all deaths are preventable," he said.
Bugg says almost all traffic fatalities are the result of what he calls 'the four evil cousins,' drunk driving, distracted driving, speeding, and not wearing a seat belt.
He says advances in technology, from the move toward driverless cars to better roads, will also help make that goal attainable.
"We are working on how to engineer roads that are more safe, that are more intuitive, for how drivers might react," he said.
We tend to forget, but the most dangerous time for highway fatalities was actually the sixties and seventies, when, in some cases, double the number of people who are killed now in traffic accidents were dying then.
An entire list of safety improvements, from safer cars to more useful highway laws, to a new awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, helped bring that fatality rate down, until 2010, when highway deaths bottomed out and began to rise again, due largely to distractions from the new mobile technology that began making its way into cars.
Bugg says one incident a friend told him that she saw happen on a Houston highway speaks volumes about why the state has so many traffic fatalities.
"The driver was weaving, she passed, and looked over, and the driver had a big screen right by the steering wheel, and was watching a movie," he said. "This is nuts."
Bugg says the goal will be to cut the 3600 annual highway fatalities in half by 2035, and then eliminate highway deaths in the fifteen years after that.