There are more than 675,580 lane miles of highway in Texas. And though that’s more than any other state in the union, our highways aren’t the most dangerous—that’d be California (their 394,000 lane miles of highway saw 200 more deaths than Texas in 2014) and Florida (with 588 deaths over 271,000 miles). But anybody who’s traversed I-35, I-10, or I-20 through one of the busy stretches knows that there are plenty of collisions.
According to a study from the Austin-based Ross Law Group, 10 percent of the fatal car accidents that happened in the U.S. in 2015 happened in Texas—and 62 percent of those occurred on the state’s highways and interstates. The group went on to break down those accidents based on which stretches of highway they occurred on, ranging from a mile-and-a-half in length to more than sixteen.
On a per-mile basis, the deadliest stretch of highway in Texas is the 1.49 miles of I-69C in Edinburg, between FM 2812 and Monte Cristo Road, just north of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus. Over that section of 69C, there were twelve fatalities between 2013 and 2015, in seven fatal crashes. That’s an average of 8.05 fatalities per mile.
When it comes to the total number of fatal collisions, the more trafficked highways in the larger Texas cities proved themselves more dangerous. An eleven-mile stretch of I-45 in Houston, from Tidwell Road to the interstate’s south junction with the I-610 loop, saw 50 fatalities in 46 crashes. Those are the same numbers that you’ll find on the fourteen miles of I-410 in San Antonio on the northwest side of the loop, from the north to the south end of I-35.
I-35 appears on this list more than any other highway in Texas, with eleven different stretches of the interstate, as far north as Fort Worth and as far south as Cotulla. Another highway represented frequently is I-20—including three separate instances in Odessa alone.
Odessa seems over-represented on the list: five (six if you include Penwell) of the 78 highways listed are in the West Texas city, which is a shocking number considering its population is less than 120,000. In the three-year span analyzed, there were a total of 100 fatalities in 81 crashes in the six spots identified.
The conditions in Odessa have been a concern for authorities for some time. In 2014, NPR studied the issue of traffic fatalities in the city, noting that the wrecks tended to stem from drugs, drinking, and distracted driving. Those are conditions that exist in every city, of course, but Odessa’s position in the Permian Basin amid the oil and gas boom presents a unique situation: oil and gas companies hiring inexperienced drivers to haul tankers across the region.
“People that are moving into the community that think that the truck-driving industry is the best thing going, and they’re going to make a lot of money at it, and they don’t know how to handle a truck,” Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter told reporters in 2014. “It takes a lot practice to be able to what you call herd a truck, and drive a truck. It’s two different things.”
The stretches were broken up by the distances the group was able to cover without a fatality—at any point within a stretch of highway, if there was a 2.5 mile gap with no fatal collisions, it was calculated separately. To make the list, each stretch had to have at least ten fatalities over the three-year stretch.
Rankings like this have some utility. At the very least, they get us talking about traffic safety. Considering the dangerous stretches within our own cities and towns, we’d like to think, could have the result of getting us to drive more carefully. It’s worth remembering as we consider the list, though, that each fatal stretch of highway, and each statistic contained within, represents the someone whose death shook the lives of their families and friends. Knowing where those wrecks occurred, and how many others happened in that spot, is a good way to remind ourselves to pay closer attention, slow down, and be aware of the real risks of driving.