Between 1999 and 2001, the eight county Houston region had more than a quarter of a million serious vehicle crashes. That's an average of more than 84 thousand. An average of 627 people were killed and nearly 94 thousand people seriously injured. More than one out of every four serious car crashes in Texas are in the Houston region. Not surprisingly, Houston also has the worst congestion in the state, and the highest motor vehicle insurance rates. These statistics inspired the Houston-Galveston Area Council to create the Regional Safety Council, to search for ways to make it less dangerous to drive. HGAC spokeswoman Pat Waskowiak:
"There's a range of things. Some things are simple, like improved signage in intersections, or improved lane striping. Some things are more difficult, like behavioral changes. People wearing their seat belts, or people not drinking while driving."
Waskowiak says congestion is a symptom of a much bigger problem -- it's not the disease -- which is unsafe driving. Houston City Councilman Adrian Garcia is one of the organizers of the Regional Safety Council, and he says local congestion isn't just a "Houston" problem -- it's everybody's problem -- but Houston can lead the way to solving it.
"Things like how do we improve safety on the roadways, by affecting the number of crashes on our roadways, on our highways. How do we improve other issues of safety on the roadways, like reducing aggressive driving. A big big issue you know, and I tell you that those are important goals that we're going to put out in front of this group."
John Baxter of the Federal Highway Administration told the Council's organizational meeting at the HGAC that the government can help with funding for safety programs, but decisions on what will be done must be made at the state and local level -- not in Washington.
"It's not something that the federal government can or should be telling state and local governments. It's an issue of looking at the data, and deciding based on the data that you have, what are the appropriate strategies for your area."
There's more information on what the Houston-Galveston Area Council is doing about traffic safety and congestion on our website KUHF dot ORG. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.