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2021 becomes second deadliest year on Texas roads

TxDOT says traffic fatalities are on the rise, an increase that reflects a deadly trend nationwide.

SAN ANTONIO — 2021 was a deadly year on Texas roads. We hit a grim milestone with the second-highest number of deaths in state recorded history.

More than 4,480 people were killed.

State leaders say these deaths are preventable. The Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDOT) shared tips on how all of us can work to save more lives.

"It's been seven months since my daughter was killed in a crash," said Michelle Taylor. 

August 7, 2021 Taylor's daughter, Daniela Lute, was driving with a friend, Diana Rubio, near I-35 and Eisenhauer. Around 2:30 a.m., police say both were hit and killed by a wrong way driver. 

Credit: KENS
Daniela Lute and Diana Rubio

Investigators say the man who crashed into them was driving under the influence. 

RELATED: Healthcare Hero killed in wrong-way driver crash

"We have these wonderful human beings that are just being destroyed by one man's choice or one woman's choice," said Taylor. 

Taylor spends every day educating others about the consequences of driving drunk.

Credit: Michelle Taylor
Daniela Lute, a nurse at Methodist Hospital, was getting her master's degree to become a nurse practitioner.

"I think the laws have to be stricter because we cannot change people's behavior and people's choices," she explained. "We cannot control them by telling them 'Don't do it'. We have so many people who have problems with alcohol and drugs. Even the ones that don't, don't really care because they think, 'It's not gonna happen to me'."

Over the past few months, Taylor turned her car into a memorial for crash victims. She brings pictures of her only child everywhere she goes.

Credit: Michelle Taylor

"If I go to the grocery store, if I go out and about, I wear my t-shirt that says 'Don't Drink and Drive'," said Taylor, showing apparel with Lute's photo on the front.

TxDOT officials say traffic fatalities are on the rise, mostly caused by driver behavior.

"Speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and not wearing a seat belt," said Laura Lopez, a spokesperson for TxDOT.

Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan notes, in 2021, 1,522 people were killed due to driving at a high rate of speed and 1,219 people died because they were not wearing a seat belt. 

"These were decisions made by people that could have potentially saved 2,741 lives," said Ryan.

The increase in deaths across the Lone Star State reflects a deadly trend nationwide. TxDOT says an estimated 20,160 people died in a car crash in the first half of 2021, up 18.4% from the previous year.

Through safety campaigns and partnerships with law enforcement, the agency is working to change drivers' habits.

"We have to be responsible for each other," said Lopez. "This is absolutely unacceptable and it's something that definitely needs to change."

TxDOT is also working with researchers to study new design features for roads. 

Using data, they will pinpoint areas where drivers are more prone to crash and make improvements as necessary.

"Touching up our pavement markings on the roadway, is there illumination, maybe rumble strips or even chevrons," said Lopez. "Depending on the road, is there anything we can do?"

TxDOT says change is up to all of us.

"If I could just save one life, maybe even two, oh my gosh. If somebody could tell me that, that would mean so much," said Taylor.

In the future, Taylor plans to share her daughter's story with students in middle school, high school and college.

"That's all I want. I want people to remember her beautiful soul," said Taylor.

Credit: Michelle Taylor
The San Antonio Indian Nurses Association gave six scholarships in memory of Daniela Lute. Lute was a member.

Here are three things you can do now to make our roads safer:

  • Obey the speed limit
  • Don't drive under the influence. If you plan to drink, get a designated driver
  • Put down your phone

TxDOT says 1981 was the deadliest year for traffic fatalities in Texas, with 4,701. November 7, 2000 was the last day Texas had zero deaths on the roadways.

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