Why are there more wrecks in some places than others?

By Owen Conflenti - Anchor

HOUSTON - If you let the map tell the story, there are hotspots in Houston -- highway interchanges, feeder road intersections, etc. -- that are prone to accidents.  But are these clusters of crashes just happenstance on a map or are there tangible lessons in the data to make the roads safer for all of us?

A Houston lawyer has set out to kickstart a public conversation about driving safety.  Attorney Stewart J. Guss and his team of researchers compiled five years worth of publicly-available accident data from the Texas Department of Transportation.  From the data, they created an interactive map of where accidents have happened.  It's sortable by county, year and severity of the crash.  You can also click on specific accident locations and get data from the accident report.  The information is comprehensive and Guss said his firm is committed to keeping it updated.

KPRC Local 2 met Guss for an interview near the interchange of I-10 and state Highway 146, an area that has seen more than 400 accidents since 2007.  Guss talked about the cost of those crashes, not just financially (an estimated $25 million in damage done at I-10/146 alone in the last five years) but the emotional toll and the lives changed.

"The recovery from the injuries, the difficulty of doing household chores, the hassles of getting your car fixed ... and I'm sick and tired of seeing it, quite frankly." 

Looking at the data, Guss saw an improvement in accident rates near I-10 and 146 in the last few years.  He wonders if there's something to be learned there that can be applied to cut down on accident rates elsewhere.

Some hotspots around town won't surprise you.  Typically the busier the area, the more accidents we see.  Here are a few: 

  • Eastex Freeway near F.M. 1960
  • Beltway 8 near Fairmont Parkway
  • Southwest Freeway near Westpark Tollway
  • Northwest Freeway near Beltway 8

The information also reinforces things we already know about accidents: Speeding, alcohol and drug use cause the most severe accidents.  Distracted driving is a huge cause for crashes in general. 

But not everything is so easily explained. 

Take the busy highway interchange of the North Freeway near the 610 North Loop.  It's heavily traveled and there are plenty of crashes.  But just a mile up the road near Crosstimbers, an area with less traffic, there have been more deadly crashes in the last five years. 

"And that's one of the things that got me thinking -- why?" said Guss, "What's different about those areas and why don't we have those fatalities at the major intersections like you might logically expect?"

Guss wants people to look at the map and the places where they drive.  See if the data sparks a thought or an idea that could help identify a problem and a potential solution. 

"If we as a community can get together and look at the data spread out over the city, then maybe we as a community can start making some decisions and coming up with some ideas to make the roads safer for all of us," Guss said. "It's unreasonable to expect us to eliminate car wrecks, but even a 10 percent or 20 percent cut would be a great start. We can make a real impact in people's lives and in the economic well-being in our community."


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