Editor’s note: Since Nov. 7, 2000, Texas has recorded at least one traffic-related death every day. That’s 20 years of preventable deaths. Just last year alone, 3,623 Texans died in crashes. TxDOT and AGC are working to end the streak. For TxDOT, Texas Transportation Commissionner Laura Ryan is leading the charge. In this column, she outlines why she is challenging every Texan to take up the cause.
Fall has always been one of my favorite times of the year. The weather starts to cool. The holiday season is beginning. But about three years ago, this time of year became less cheerful for me. That’s when I became brutally aware that the season is also painful for thousands of Texas families. For them, those who have lost a loved one in a traffic crash, this season means an empty chair at their holiday table because Texas has failed to end the 20-year streak of daily deaths on our roadways.
Like you, I’d heard the statistics on traffic crashes, but three years ago, it hit me. These are not just numbers. We are talking about someone’s mother, father or child. We are talking about someone who could have been my loved one, if for no other reason than luck. At that moment, it became personal.
There are so many terrible things that can happen daily in our lives, and most of them are out of our control. But not traffic crashes. When I learned that the majority of serious crashes were preventable, I knew I had to be a part of the solution, or at least give it everything I could. Maybe this is where my stubbornness, that gritty side of my personality, will be put to the test.
So, I started asking questions. I started sharing information, any way to cut through the noise and get to the issue. I started to take ownership of the problem and become accountable for the solution. That’s something we all can do. It is not our heads that will make the difference, it is our hearts. We need every Texan to care about ending this streak.
What turned my engagement into a true passion? What took this to the next level for me? Having someone at a TxDOT meeting or other gathering, someone I’d never met, share their story of losing a loved one in a crash. I learned their loved one’s name, what they were like. I saw their pictures and realized that their families will have an empty seat at their holiday dinner table — forever. These conversations are etched on my heart.
That’s why I’m encouraging everybody I meet to do everything they can to help. We can bring everyone home safe at the end of the day when we make ending the streak a personal goal. If that’s hard for you, do one thing: Place an extra chair and place setting at your dinner table tonight and decide, with your other family members, how their lives would change if it were you who represented that empty chair.