OPINION

Capital highlights: Traffic deaths spike in highway work zones

GARY BORDERS

The Texas Department of Transportation wants motorists to be aware of dangerous conditions in road construction zones after crashes in those zones killed 244 people last year.

The death toll is an increase of 33% over 2020 and is the highest in 40 years. The majority of those who died were drivers or their passengers, according to TxDOT.

Gary Borders

“It’s important for drivers to remember that driving conditions in work zones can be especially challenging because of extra congestion, slow-moving heavy equipment, temporary barriers and vehicles that make sudden stops,” Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director, said. “That’s why it’s crucial for everyone to give driving their full attention and drive a safe speed in areas where construction and maintenance are underway.”

Among the tips offered by the agency to cut accidents:

• Slow down and follow the posted speed limit.

• Pay attention, put down the phone and keep your mind on the road.

• Watch out for road crews and follow flaggers’ instructions.

• Don’t tailgate.  Allow enough room to stop safely.

• Plan for extra time to reach your destination, since road construction can slow traffic.

Traffic fines double in work zones when workers are present. 

Wildfire risk continues with dry, windy conditions

The risk of more wildfires continues this week with much of the state under drought conditions.

“Critical fire weather includes above-normal temperatures, increased wind speeds and low relative humidity levels,”  according to a Texas A&M Forest Service news release. Wildfires that start under these conditions may be difficult to control, the agency said. The risk is nearly statewide, as virtually all of the state remains under drought conditions.

During the first week of April, the forest service and local fire departments responded to 117 wildfires that burned 23,560 acres.

Texas history instruction expanded

The State Board of Education decided last week to expand instruction in Texas history to six grade levels, meaning students in those grades will have their knowledge of the state’s history tested on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills exam.

For decades, Texas history has been taught in fourth and seventh grades. Now it will also be taught in kindergarten through second grade, and sixth and eighth grades.

“With this significant increase, students will study Texas and the people and events that define it in most grade levels prior to high school,” according to an SBOE news release.

The board will consider proposed revisions to the social studies aspect of TEKS at the June meeting to include Texas history content. Final revisions are scheduled for November.

Please don’t touch the wildlife

With the balmy weather of a Texas spring, more folks are enjoying the outdoors. Experts at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urge people who encounter wildlife to avoid lending a helping hand.

Often, the young offspring of wild animals can be mistaken as having been abandoned. Many of these human-animal encounters are unnecessary and can be detrimental to wildlife.

Newborn fawns, for example, are often left for hours at a time by the doe as she forages for food. “During that time, people may spot a fawn lying alone in tall grass or in a brushy area. Many people interfere with the fawn, thinking it has been abandoned by its mother and needs help. This is rarely the case,” according to TPWD.

TPWD experts advise folks to leave all young animals alone unless obviously injured. Spend some time observing from a distance to determine if the animal truly is injured, since the mother may not return if humans are close by.

The same principle applies to young birds. “If the bird’s eyes are open, it has feathers and is hopping around, mom and dad are likely nearby. Grounded fledglings will usually be up and flying within a few days,” according to TPWD.

If a wild animal is sick or injured, people are encouraged to contact a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, which can be found on the TPWD Wildlife Division website: tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/rehab/.

COVID-19 cases rise while deaths, hospitalizations decline

The number of new Texas cases of COVID-19 reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University jumped by more than 100% in the past week to 46,375, though deaths dropped to 252 during the same time period.

Lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas have dropped to 875 patients, the lowest level in months. The highly contagious subvariant of Omicron, dubbed BA.2, has become the dominant version worldwide and is accounting for the majority of new cases.

Like the original omicron variant, this strain is more transmissible but generally has less-severe symptoms, according to health experts. The best protection continues to be getting vaccinated and getting a booster if already vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

DSHS says unvaccinated Texans are eight times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 42 times more likely to die of a COVID-19 associated illness. 

As of Sunday, 17.479 million Texans — or nearly 60% of the state’s population — were fully vaccinated, with 6.6 million getting a booster dose. 

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.