A recent drunk driving accident in Amarillo caught my attention and led me to research the relevant accident statistics for the area. As it turns out, Amarillo packs something even more alarming than hubcap-size steaks: an inordinate number of drunk-driving crashes given its overall population.
The Accident That Prompted Me to Look Into The Numbers
On May 9, 2017, an early-morning crash in Amarillo sent one driver to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, while another was charged with intoxicated assault.
According to the Amarillo Police Department, the crash happened near the intersection of Southwest 34th Avenue and South Ong Street at approximately 1:24 a.m. 21-year-old Tristan Beezley was eastbound in a Dodge Charger when he struck a Toyota driven by 20-year-old Nicholas Martinez. Both cars spun out of control from the force of the collision. After rolling over, both vehicles came to rest having hit residential fences on 34th Avenue.
Authorities say that both speed and alcohol were factors in the collision. Nicholas Martinez was taken by emergency responders to a local hospital; his unidentified female passenger was also taken for non-life-threatening injuries. Tristan Beezley was arrested at the scene.
Obviously any such harmful collision is terrible, but it's certainly not the only one we've seen lately from the region. Was this just a one-shot accident or is it a symptom of bigger problems in West Texas? It made me wonder, so I delved into the numbers published by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
In Relative Terms the Statistics Are Worse Than They Seem.
Added together, Randall and Potter Counties are home to around 250,000 people. That's obviously a pretty small population compared to the larger urban centers in the state, like Dallas or Houston. The weird thing, and the one that's not immediately obvious from raw numbers, is that adjusted for inflation Amarillo's crash statistics are worse than Texas' most DUI-riddled area, Harris County (surrounding Houston).
Here's TxDOT's breakdown of DUI crashes in both counties from 2015, the most recent year with published statistics.
Just from a numerical standpoint, Harris County's numbers are daunting. Nobody can deny that; in fact, we dug a little deeper into the meaning of those numbers a short while back in another post. We can't directly contrast Houston with Amarillo at face-value, though; that's comparing apples and oranges. Harris County is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5 million people, so to make sense of such drastically-different numbers, we need to find common ground. A little math will work out how likely it is that a citizen of either county will be in a DUI crash.
Harris County: 2,880 total recorded DUI crashes / 4,500,000 people = 0.064% likelihood.
Randall/Potter Counties: 235 total recorded DUI crashes / 250,000 people = 0.94% likelihood.
Those percentages may seem relatively low to an observer, but we can bet they didn't feel negligible to the hundreds--thousands--of victims in those accidents.
It's easy not to look too closely at the information published by TxDOT. Viewed superficially, the relatively low numbers of DUI crashes in Randall and Potter Counties appear not to be a cause for concern, but that's if their context isn't considered. Seeing a few hundred accidents out west versus several thousand down south could lead an observer to feel things aren't so bad over in the Panhandle. However, comparing the areas' populations tells us that there are 18 Houstonians for every...Amarillan? Amarillite? Amarilloan. So there's a huge population difference, but that arithmetic reveals people in the smaller West Texas counties are almost fifty percent more likely than their eastern kin to be in a drunk-driving wreck.
Experimenting with Population Adjustment
So according to the numbers, Amarillo experiences more dangerous DUI wrecks per capita than Crashtown, U.S.A. (better known as Houston). What if, just as a thought experiment, we applied Amarillo's crash percentage to a Houston-sized population? How dangerous, DUI-wise, would "Houstarillo" be?
.00094 (.094%) x 4,500,000 people = 4,230 DUI crashes.
Oh dang. Sorry, Houstarilloans. Maybe it's best if Amarillo doesn't experience an insane population boom any time soon.
As long as we're on a roll, let's look at the inverse and find out what it'd be like to apply Houston's drunk-driving statistics to Amarillo's current population instead. For continuity's sake, I'll call it "Amariluston."
.00064 (.064%) x 250,000 people = 160 DUI crashes.
A significant reduction in accidents--perhaps an attainable goal with increased enforcement of dram shop law and DUI violations.
Math Aside, What's the Point Here?
The point is that Amarillo's unacceptably high drunk-driving rate carries a definite and measurable cost in human lives. People are hurt and killed because the area's residents seem to get loaded and take the wheel with a frightening regularity. I know from my time in West Texas that the low population keeps the impact of accidents from seeming as dramatic, but also that a disturbing number of the area's residents use alcohol as a boredom repellant. The sleepy pace of life out there compared to the more frantic energy of cities makes it seem as though everything is "fine as cream gravy," to borrow a Texas saying. Unfortunately, when the DUI numbers are compared more carefully, it becomes pretty clear that Amarillo has pound-for-pound a bigger problem than Houston.
It's unclear what about Amarillo drives its comparatively low population to so regularly overindulge and then drive. Maybe people in a city that feeds people four and a half pounds of steak in a single sitting don't really know their limits. Regardless, it creates a significant danger to its innocent residents, borne out by a deeper look at TxDOT's findings.