Transportation Point

The Road to Zero

TxDOT’s mission to ensure every motorist gets home safely

By Michael A. Chacon, PE, Traffic Safety Division Director | Texas Department of Transportation

Safety is the highest priority for the Texas Department of Transportation. Whether walking, riding a bike, traveling by car or through other modes of transportation, our goal is to enhance quality of life by safely and efficiently connecting people in Texas.

After the anomalies of 2020 and 2021, when states across the country saw traffic fatalities spike, Texas has regained traction. We saw fatalities on roadways and in work zones decline for two consecutive years in 2022 and 2023, inching us closer to our ultimate goal of zero.

To build on our progress, we launched Road to Zero, an ambitious, comprehensive program to #EndTheStreakTX by cutting traffic fatalities in half by 2035 and recording zero deaths by 2050.

Road to Zero, adopted by the Texas Transportation Commission in 2019, directs TxDOT to develop and implement strategies to achieve those goals. Our response is the Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan, a comprehensive document that integrates all the strategies and countermeasures we intend to implement to make our roadways even safer.

Road to Zero acknowledges that most motor vehicle crashes in Texas can be prevented through safety engineering, education and enforcement. When we learn of an area experiencing an increase in crashes, we immediately seek to understand if future crashes could be prevented through engineering applications, public education, increased law enforcement or a combination of those. Below are some of the life-saving best practices we have launched in each category.

Safety engineering

To reduce the number of fatalities on our roadways and work zones to zero, our engineers have designed a series of tools or safety mechanisms into our system, including:

  • 6-inch-wide road striping to enhance visibility
  • Cable and concrete median barriers to prevent head-on crashes
  • Wider shoulders as a refuge for motorists and law enforcement
  • Turn lanes to remove stopped vehicles from through traffic
  • Roundabouts and diverging diamonds to minimize conflict points at intersections

In 2020, we had our first all-district safety plan review, where TxDOT districts shared some of their best practices in reducing fatalities and crashes. One good practice that was piloted at seveveral districts was to introduce a centerline buffer on undivided roadways to reduce head-on collisions. So, we developed and issued a new standard sheet to provide a wider 2 – 4 foot space and a rumble strip between the yellow lines. The rumble strip warns a motorist if the vehicle begins to drift across the centerline. The increased space between the lines provides more reaction time to correct the vehicle’s course.

To measure the effectiveness of the pilot and all of our programs, we perform a before-and-after comparison of crash counts. If the total for three years following the pilot is lower than the counts leading up to implementation, we consider it a success. Depending on the specific improvement and its widespread application, we may roll out the initiative statewide and incorporate it into our standard lane design, as we did with the centerline buffer concept.

Finally, we equip our roadways with dynamic message signs, vehicle detectors, video cameras and weather sensors that tie into our traffic management centers. Operators at the TMC use the data to identify crashes or potential crashes and warn approaching motorists. When cameras reveal a crash has occurred or a stalled vehicle is creating a bottleneck, they can dispatch first responders or TxDOT Highway Emergency Response Operators to remove the vehicles before they cause a secondary crash.

Safety education

TxDOT is committed to achieving zero fatalities, but we can’t do it without the public’s help. That’s why we have traffic safety specialists in each TxDOT district. They assist with public education and outreach by creating safety coalitions with city and county officials, local law enforcement, school districts, universities and business owners – anyone who wants to be a safety partner. The coalitions dig into the data, discuss community safety issues and collaborate to reduce crashes.

We also hold safety summits and collaborate with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which provides federal funding for our education and enforcement partners, the American Automobile Association, the Associated General Contractors, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Transportation Security Administration to find solutions to hazards such as impaired driving crashes.

In addition, we raise awareness of safety issues through public education campaigns that acknowledge and address the human factors of traffic safety, such as not wearing seat belts, driving impaired or distracted, speeding and ignoring roadway conditions, which cause most traffic fatalities. We hope to eliminate these behaviors by educating citizens about safe driving behaviors.

One of our bigger challenges is getting drivers to slow down and not drive when impaired. In Texas, many traffic fatalities are college-aged students driving while impaired. We are trying to bring that number to zero by taking our impaired goggle simulation on the road to college campuses across the state.

The special goggles distort the student’s vision, similar to what they might experience after consuming alcohol. After donning the goggles, the student takes the wheel of a driving simulator to help them better understand the danger they put themselves and others in, if they drink and drive. It’s one of TxDOT’s most impactful initiatives.

Pedestrians and bicyclists are another group we want to educate about safety. We are working to decrease deaths among vulnerable road users through efforts like our walking billboards, as part of our “Be Safe Drive Smart Campaign” to raise intersection safety awareness among motorists. At the same time, we need pedestrians to do their part. That’s why we created pedestrian safety commercials offering safety tips at crosswalks to prevent potentially dangerous scenarios from unfolding.

Safety enforcement

TxDOT works closely with local and state law enforcement partners. We provide federal funds to increase traffic safety patrols and discourage unsafe driving behaviors. We also work closely with the TxDOT Safety Task Force, which includes members from local and state law enforcement, sharing data on crash trends and problem locations.

Soon, TxDOT will implement AASHTOWare software, giving us greater insights into specific safety applications and greater efficiency in analyzing the 600,000 crash records and data we receive from law enforcement each year. We are first rolling out the software internally and then externally to each district.

Road to Zero goal

With more than a half-million crashes a year on Texas roads, people often ask if zero fatalities is a realistic, achievable goal. When we respond by asking them what number would be acceptable if we were talking about their loved ones, the answer is always zero.

We believe the Road to Zero is possible, not only because of the engineering, educational and enforcement tools we have now, but also because of the tools and technology we will have in the future to ensure every motorist gets home safety. Each person can also do their part by making responsible decisions while behind the wheel, like buckling up every day, driving a safe speed and driving sober.


Michael A. Chacon, PE
Traffic Safety Division Director
Texas Department of Transportation

Chacon oversees all aspects of the Traffic Safety Division, including Texas’ Traffic Management System, traffic engineering, policy and standards, speed zoning, crash records and crash data analysis and the Texas Traffic Safety Program.

Contact him at michael.chacon@txdot.gov.