Earlier this month, the Dallas Police Department released figures that seemed to be encouraging for Dallas motorists. The DPD's data showed that police have been slowly scaling down on traffic tickets over the years. In the most recent fiscal year, from October 2012 until September 2013, the DPD issued 37,000 fewer tickets than the year prior.
So does that mean that we've all gotten better at driving? As it turns out, no. Data provided by the Texas Department of Transportation from the last three years suggests that Dallas drivers have gotten both worse at driving, and also a little meaner.
Streets within the city of Dallas have counted 25,429 total car crashes in 2013, a big increase from last year, and we haven't even gotten to New Year's yet. In 2012, there were 23,803 car crashes. In 2011, that number was slightly lower still, coming in at 23,343.
The numbers also paint a grim pictures of what drivers do after they hit something or someone. This year, 21 percent of crashes in the city were hit-and-runs. Again, that's a jump from last year, when just 11 percent of drivers fled the scene.
In total, TxDOT has recorded 5,388 hit-and-runs within the city limits this year, compared with 2,766 in 2012 and 2,194 in 2011.
The Dallas Police Department has insisted over the recent, ticket-declining years that police presence on the streets hasn't gone down, even though the tickets have. "We're more interested in traffic stops, not necessarily citations," Dallas Police Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence told The Dallas Morning News last year.
It's difficult to prove whether or not more traffic enforcement improves motorists' driving. A study published in July looked at data from Dallas and concluded that two days of "high intensity stationary police presence" could immediately reduce accident rates by 9 percent. Yet presence of moving police vehicles had the opposite effect, increasing the accident rate by 8.6 percent for each cop car on the road. So, parked police cars may make roads safer, but cops tailing drivers may make roads worse. Sounds about right.
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Meanwhile, pedestrian and bicycle advocates say that an overall problem is that police in most major American cities still approach fatal car crashes with the mentality that it's just an accident, rather than something worthy of a murder investigation.
"Unless there's alcohol involved or somebody flees the scene, there's typically not even a ticket," says Bike Texas Executive Director Robin Stallings.
Here is TxDOT's full crash-data table:
And here's the one for hit and runs: