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Texas leads nation in deadly roadside crashes

One Houston company is pushing a creative solution to the problem.

TEXAS, USA — AAA expects record-breaking travel this weekend with an estimated 3.2 million Texans hitting the road for the Fourth of July holiday.

But, as you pack your bags and head out for your vacation destination, be aware of highway dangers.

KHOU 11 Investigates discovered Texas leads the nation in deadly roadside crashes and the Lone Star state falls short of other state laws to protect stranded drivers and their disabled vehicles.

It only takes a second for things to go wrong on the side of the road.

"That’s all it took ... changed some lives forever," said Michael Huffman, a retired officer with the Pasadena Police Department.

Huffman was coming back from a hunting trip on I-10 with friend and colleague Larry Candelari. They two were off duty when they spotted an accident north of Kerrville and stopped to help.

"At that time, an 18-wheeler was coming into the accident scene," Huffman said.

An investigation found that the big rig driver didn’t slow down and didn’t move over in time.

"Crushed a little Honda car, ran over me, and eventually threw my buddy off the bridge," Huffman said.

Candelari, a fellow SWAT officer, died at the scene.

"Great dad, great father, great husband," Huffman said. "Just a tragic loss."

Texas had more fatal roadside crashes than any other state -- 105 in 2021 --according to the latest available data from FARS, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. California had 81 deadly crashes off the roadway or on the shoulder in 2021, followed by Florida with 25.

The 105 fatal crashes were the most in Texas in a decade, up from 64 in 2012.

Texas does have a Move Over or Slow Down law, but it only requires motorists to yield for emergency and maintenance vehicles on the side of the road. A KHOU analysis found that in 18 other states, the law also includes any disabled vehicle, such as a motorist changing a flat tire.

Half of those states -- Colorado, North Dakota, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Delaware, Maine, Utah and Florida -- passed legislation this year to expand their laws.

"Being on the side of the road is an extraordinarily dangerous environment," AAA Texas spokesperson Josh Zuber said.

Zuber said the auto club supports expanding the law in Texas.

"If you’re driving at 65 miles per hour, your vehicle has actually traveled almost 100 feet in just one second," Zuber said. "So certainly, a lot can happen in that one second."

David Tucker had a close call on the side of the road while checking a flat on the vehicle towed by his RV.

"An 18-wheeler came in so close that it took out my side-view mirror on the left side, and I crawled underneath and dove out of the way," Tucker said. "It almost killed me, I was just like, 'Wow this has got to stop.'"

Tucker later stumbled on a potential solution while looking for firewood on a camping trip. He pulled out a flashlight, clicked it twice and it rapidly flashed.

"And that’s what gave me the idea," Tucker said.

It was a true light bulb moment that led to countless hours of research and a revelation -- vehicle hazard light systems are basically the same as those invented in the 1950s -- flashing about one or twice per second.

"Because of incandescent bulbs and mechanical relays that’s all they could do," Tucker said. "And it hasn’t changed since."

The longtime oil and gas services entrepreneur came out of retirement and started the company Emergency Safety Solutions, or ESS. He developed a software upgrade that increases the frequency of emergency flashers to five cycles per second. When he tested the technology on the open road, Tucker said driver behavior changed.

"Fifty percent more of the vehicles are slowing down and moving over," Tucker said. ."And here’s the big one -- they’re doing it four football fields away."

His company couples the enhanced flashers with a dashboard digital alert system that warns oncoming motorists of a disabled vehicle. ESS has dozens of patents and the green light from the U.S. Department of Transportation to proceed. Tucker said Tesla is the first automaker to sign on.

"It’ll happen overnight for everybody that has a Tesla in the United States by the end of the year," he said.

The Houston entrepreneur also is pushing for Texas to expand its Move Over law to curb the spike in roadside crashes.

They are accidents that victims like Huffman are reminded of every day with every step he takes. The crash that killed his friend left him with an amputated left leg above the knee. He walks with a prosthesis today.

"I think everybody’s at risk," Huffman said. “If there’s a vehicle on the right, move over. Any vehicle, period."

Texas lawmakers did enhance the state’s law this legislative session, increasing fines for failing to move over or slow down. But it still only applies when emergency or construction vehicles are on the side of the road.

Jeremy Rogalski on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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