McMullen County’s percentage increase for crashes is the largest in the entire state, the next closest being La Salle County with a 211.7 percent increase after having 60 crashes in 2008 and 187 crashes in 2011.
McMullen had 22 crashes in 2008 and 87 crashes in 2011. Live Oak had 253 crashes in 2008 and 281 crashes in 2011.
“This county and La Salle and Dimmit counties, have increased outrageously, especially on fatalities and accidents,” McMullen County Chief Deputy Bernando Guerrero said.
Of those 87 crashes in McMullen County, 55 did not have injuries and 37 had serious injuries, and four people died. Of Live Oak County’s 281 crashes, 182 crashes did not cause injuries, 93 crashes resulted in serious injuries, and nine people died.
Part of the reason why Live Oak County didn’t see the same increase in wrecks as McMullen County is because there was already a high volume of traffic and the area was better equipped for an increase, according to Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby.
“The influx of traffic caused by the Eagle Ford, number one, only involves I would say the upper one-fifth (of Live Oak County),” Busby said. “Number two, our roads were probably better prepared to handle the increase in traffic than McMullen was.”
Although crashes are on the rise locally, the statewide average for deaths caused by crashes has decreased in recent years. There were 3,015 deaths attributed to crashes in 2011 compared to 3,822 in 2003. That number decreased each year with the exception of 2008, when deaths increased by about half a percent but then dropped by 10.38 percent in 2009.
“The fatal accidents have increased in the congested Eagle Ford area, where the oil activity is,” Busby said. “I would be surprised if it didn’t show an increase in McMullen.”
Neighboring counties Goliad, Karnes, Jim Wells and Duvall saw increases as well. Karnes County increased by 78.5 percent, going from 172 to 307 crashes. Goliad increased by 15.1 percent, going from 93 crashes to 107. Jim Wells increased by 10.4 percent, going from 702 to 775 crashes. Duvall increased by 42.5 percent, going from 80 to 114 crashes.
“There are more vehicles on Texas roads than ever, and that tends to lead to an increase in crashes,” TxDOT spokesperson Becky Ozuna said.
Meanwhile, Bee, Atascosa and Refugio counties saw a decrease in crashes from 2008 to 2011. Bee County decreased by 1.4 percent with 366 crashes in 2008 and 361 in 2011. Atascosa County decreased by 18.5 percent from 639 to 521 crashes. Refugio County decreased by 19 percent with 168 crashes in 2008 and 136 in 2011.
Ozuna said TxDOT does not have official information on why some counties that are right next to each other have such different crash rates.
“The Eagle Ford Shale is moving off (of Bee County) and most of the big businesses are moving our way,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said the flow of traffic doesn’t decrease at night either, but instead of a mix of commercial and small vehicles, it’s mostly 18-wheelers on the road. He advised drivers in the area remain vigilant and keep up with traffic to help prevent crashes.
“A lot of it is truck congestion; they have increased so much and take up more room on the road, and the demand for truck drivers has a lot of inexperienced truck drivers on the road too. That’s one of the main things too – inexperienced truck drivers,” Busby said.
The Texas Department of Transportation estimates the economic loss of all crashes in 2011 was $21.9 billion. Guerrero speculated that turning Highway 72 and Highway 16 into four-lanes would lower the number of accidents by creating a more fluid flow of traffic.
“Avoid (Highway) 72 any way you can,” Busby said.
In an effort to combat the increase in wrecks, McMullen County had gone from having two or three officers on the road to having nine with an additional 40-50 officers from the Department of Public Safety in rotation with other counties heavily impacted by the Eagle Ford Shale, according to Guerrero.
“Some days, we are just saturated, but it works,” Guerrero said.
Alcohol was not a significant factor in McMullen or Live Oak County’s crashes. In McMullen, only one crash in 2011 involved a driver under the influence of alcohol. But in Live Oak County, a dry county, there were 27 crashes in 2011 where a driver was under the influence of alcohol.
Commercial vehicles accounted for 46 of McMullen County’s crashes in 2011; 30 did not cause injuries. Nineteen people were seriously injured, and there was one fatality.
Commercial vehicles accounted for 54 of the crashes in Live Oak County in 2011; 32 did not have injuries. Twelve people had serious injuries, and there was one fatality.
The totals for Texas in 2011 were 381,463 crashes with 226,949 that did not cause injuries, 79,573 with serious injuries, and 2,751 people died. That’s a rate of one death every two hours and 54 minutes, one injury every two minutes and 29 seconds, and one crash every 83 seconds.
On a statewide level, there were 14,449 crashes with 1,039 fatalities where a driver was under the influence of alcohol in 2011. This represented 34.5 percent of the total crashes for that year.
Some of the more common contributing factors for crashes included failure to control speed, driver inattention and driving under the speed limit. There were 100,036 crashes in Texas in 2011 caused by drivers failing to control their speed. Inattention was attributed to 75,561 crashes throughout the state in 2011, and driving under the speed limit caused 21,234 crashes.
“A lot of folks like to stay below the speed limit to save on gas, but in Houston, if you don’t keep up with traffic, you’re going to get hit,” Guerrero said.
Cellphones were attributed to 3,194 crashes, speeding had 3,477, and failure to drive in a single lane caused 24,339 crashes.
“Don’t mess with your phone; even drinking a cup of coffee takes your hands off the road,” Guerrero said.
Distracted driving saw an eight percent increase in 2012 with 90,378 crashes throughout the state. This caused 18,468 serious injuries and 453 deaths.
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s observations of drivers at 190 intersections in 22 counties, 10 percent of drivers in Texas are using their cellphones at any given time.
“There are more distracted drivers on the road now than ever, and the safest bet is to put it away,” Ozuna said. “We can build safer highways, but at the end of the day, it is the drivers that hold the key to driving safely.”