City of Austin begins new citation process for failure to yield, enforces court appearances

Article Originally Published 3/5/20 at The Daily Texan

With drivers often failing to yield while turning at busy roadways, Noah Vaughan said they were hit by cars various times while bicycling. Vaughan, a UT alumni, said while bicycling around the crowded spaces of Austin is convenient, it is unsafe.

With cyclists like Vaughan in mind, the city of Austin is now enforcing court appearances for drivers who fail to yield and cause crashes which result in bodily injury, according to a Feb. 25 press release. Now, Austin Police Department officers will document citations as failure to yield, failure to yield causing bodily injury or failure to yield causing serious bodily injury.  

Jay Blazek Crossley, director of Vision Zero ATX, said the previous process for failure to yield citations allowed drivers to pay their citations online.

The Austin Transportation Department, APD and Austin Municipal Court are partnering to enforce this new process for failure to yield citations. The process aligns with the city’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths and injuries, said David Gray, a community engagement specialist for Vision Zero.

“The new process ensures that cases where drivers fail to yield and cause injury are seen by a prosecutor in the court and they’re subjected to a fine that’s more appropriate given the severity of the crash caused by their failure to yield,” Gray said.

Fines up to $4,000 can be expected by drivers who fail to yield and cause serious bodily injury according to state law, Gray said. 

“Our hope is that by raising awareness about this process change, it will impact the behavior of every driver so that drivers are encouraged to follow the law,” Gray said. “Drivers who violate the law recognize there are consequences for severely impacting somebody’s life.”

Gray said in 2019, about 16% of fatal and serious injury crashes were caused by failure to yield. Other driver behaviors causing a considerable number of traffic deaths and injuries are speeding, distracted driving and driving under the influence, Gray said.

Vaughan said while they appreciate the new effort, they would rather see more promotion of driver safety education instead of what seems like further punishment for drivers. 

“I don’t think anyone before they turn right (while driving) is thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a $4,000 fine if I don’t check my blind spot,’” Vaughan said. “It would be more effective to put up more signage or protected bike lanes that are separate from the lanes of traffic.”

Crossley said he hopes officers do not target certain neighborhoods and groups and instead focus on dangerous driver behaviors. He also said Vision Zero should be a top priority in transportation funding. 

“We’ve been bad at enforcing dangerous behaviors in traffic in ways that generally led people to think it doesn’t really matter,” Crossley said. “It’s likely this failure to yield policy will lead towards a safer Austin.”

Austin residents, students and visitors share a responsibility in keeping the city’s streets safe, Gray said. 

“While the city does a lot, we can only do so much,” Gray said. “We encourage everybody to make sure you’re slowing down when on the roadways, put your phone in park while your car is in drive (and) look twice for others on the roadways. Make sure you’re doing your part to ensure everybody gets home safe.”

Cover Photo Credit: Stephanie Sonik, Daily Texan Staff

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