Have You Met Your Quota? Or, Why I’m Glad We Stopped Counting Dead People For Christmas

Back in the day, the Texas Department of Public Safety — and most other state highway patrols, for that matter — used to participate in a program called “Operation Motorcide.”

Statisticians would review fatalities during previous holiday years at the same time and then project how many deaths could occur this year.

The intent of Operation Motorcide was to encourage traffic safety by cautioning drivers to be careful on the roadways, lest they become one of the estimated traffic fatalities expected to occur during a holiday weekend.

We would try to scare the bejabbers out of motorists, asking them to imagine themselves as one of the statistics. But instead of listening to the intended safety message, they seemed to take the number as a challenge.

I don’t think that OM was particularly effective (I mean, think about it — can you imagine someone thinking about the estimated number of deaths and deciding “Hey, this could be me, better slow down!” Seriously?), but it was a program that lasted more than 50 years, until I helped to kill it in Texas.

Every Christmas Day, as a public information officer for the Texas Department of Public Safety, I would leave my family and head into work…to count dead people. It was incredibly sad. All those lives, representing even more lives irreparably changed. And every year, I would think to myself, “We’ve got to stop doing this.”

And then one Christmas, it finally happened at a time when I could actually do something about it.

“Did you meet your quota?” the reporter asked me.

“What did you say?,” I asked.

“You know,” he said, “did you meet your quota of dead people?”

“IT’S NOT A QUOTA,” I huffed, and then I decided that Motorcide would have to die.

During the Motorcide period, all police agencies in the state were supposed to send in fatality notices for each of the fatality crashes they worked. But a lot of the agencies didn’t do it, so the numbers were skewed. And crash records at the time were months and months behind, further skewing the estimates.

After months of lobbying the director of the agency, he finally agreed: It was time to kill Operation Motorcide. No more Christmases (or New Years, or Memorial Days, or Fourth of Julys, or Labor Days, or Thanksgivings) spent counting dead people in a lost cause.

Sadly, the fatalities keep on coming, whether we’re estimating how many there will be or not. It’s been almost 20 years since Texas had a day — holiday or not — without a traffic fatality. And, every year since the death of Motorcide, I’ve been able to spend at home, with my family. I’m blessed, indeed.

Drive safe, y’all. Merry Christmas.