Texas is home to approximately 683,500 lane miles of road. More than any other U.S. state. In fact, that’s nearly twice as much as California, which is in second place with approximately 396,500 lane miles. In terms of population, the roles are reversed: California is the most populous state with Texas placed just behind it.
In 2021, the annual vehicle miles traveled in Texas was more than 288.227 billion, an increase of 10.61% over 2020. These statistics directly correlate to the number of fatal car accidents in the state in 2021, which was 4,489, putting Texas at the top of the list once again. California remained in second place.
Interestingly, the NHTSA reported that, nationwide, traffic collision deaths increased by 6.8% from 2019 to 2020, while traffic collision injuries decreased by 17%. The three major behavioral factors that contributed to the fatality increase were speeding, alcohol-impaired driving, and seat belt non-use. It was found that the COVID-19 pandemic affected vehicle miles traveled (VMT) significantly, with a decline of 11% between 2019 and 2020. This was the largest decline in VMT since the 22% decline between 1942 and 1943.
Dangerous Roads in Texas
As shared by the Texas DOT in their 2021 Crash Statistics Report, 1 person was killed every 1 hour and 57 minutes, while 1 person was injured every 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Frighteningly, there were no deathless days on Texas roads in the entire year, which means that the state continues on its more than 22-year streak. The agency is fighting to end this with the aptly named #EndTheStreakTX campaign. The city of Houston is joining them with their Vision Zero Pledge.
The most dangerous roads to travel on in Texas include:
- I-45 in Houston, which has been the most dangerous highway in the nation since 2011
- Stemmons Freeway (I-35)
- Marvin D Love Freeway
- Tomball Parkway (TX-249)
- Texas 12 Loop
- Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway
- US 285, also known as the Death Highway
Houston has three of the 10 deadliest stretches of road in the state:
- Tomball Parkway between Antoine Dr. and W. Greens Rd., which 14 fatal accidents between 2017-2019
- I-45 between Airtex Dr. and TX-249, with 12 fatal accidents between 2017-2019
- I-45 between Rte. 5 and Cavalcade, with 11 fatal accidents between 2017-2019
I-45 is the deadliest road in Harris County, as well as the nation. 25% of the state’s deadly accidents were related to drunk driving, which is 1 of the 3 major behavioral factors noted by the NHTSA. In Houston, that number was higher (30%).
In response to a proposed $7.5 billion expansion project that aims to expand I-45’s capacity, Harris County filed a lawsuit against TxDOT, urging the agency to take residents and the environment into consideration. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was among those heading the suit, going on record to say, “Stop putting cars over people.”
While the project would include managed express lanes and rerouting portions of the highway, as well as adding bicycle and pedestrian sections, sidewalks, and sound barriers, the lawsuit claims that the tradeoff is too high. These proposed changes would displace more than 1,000 homes and put that many more at risk of health problems due to air quality. Most of the neighborhoods that would be affected are historically underserved.
Also known as Death Highway, US 285 stretches across the Texas Permian Basin, and its crumbling roads cannot withstand the significant traffic increase that the recent oil boom has created. Not only is the road extremely busy, but it is filled with fatigued, overworked, and often inexperienced truckers trying to make a deadline. Oil companies are putting profits over safety, and people are paying the price.
In Loving County, the number of crashes increased from 18 in 2016 to 103 in 2018. In Ector County, more than 5,000 wrecks had been reported in 2018, which was approximately twice the number from 2016. The Permian Basin hosts a mere 1.6% of the Texas population, but it is responsible for 12% of the state’s traffic fatalities.
According to Texas DOT statistics, the most dangerous counties to drive in include:
- Harris County, home to stretches of I-45 and several other dangerous roads listed above
- El Paso County, home to El Paso Highway 10, one of the most dangerous roads for motorcyclists in the state
But why are Texas roads so incredibly dangerous to drive on?
Common Causes of Crashes in Texas
It stands to reason that driving on the highway might be more dangerous than driving on a road, and that a pedestrian or cyclist is more at risk of injury or death in a car accident than the vehicle’s occupants. However, knowing the most common causes of accidents can help in the quest to prevent them.
The most common reasons why crashes occur are:
- Inadequate infrastructure. Too many of these roads and highways are not maintained regularly and cannot withstand the amount of traffic they see each day.
- Traffic congestion. No matter how many lanes are added, the number of cars on the road is overwhelming.
- Distracted driving. Texting and driving is one of the most dangerous (and common) causes of accidents.
- Speeding. Especially in heavy traffic, this type of reckless driving puts everyone at risk.
- Severe weather. Approximately 10% of all car crashes in Texas are related to the weather. From rain and flooding to snow and ice, our roads see it all.
Rural Crashes vs. Urban Crashes
The danger isn’t only found on city streets and highways. In 2021, the number of fatal rural crashes related to drinking and drugs outweighed that of fatal urban crashes with the same cause, with 646 rural fatalities compared to 578 urban fatalities. And that’s just impairment. Speeding and distracted driving were also significant contributors to traffic fatality numbers in Texas last year. In fact, speeding was the top cause of death on Texas roads, both rural and urban, in 2021. 714 fatal urban crashes occurred while 648 fatal rural crashes were caused by speeding.