Jun 7, 2022 - News

Traffic deaths spike in Washington state

Percentage change in traffic fatalities from 2020 to 2021, by state
Data: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Cartogram: Axios Visuals

Traffic fatalities are on the rise in Washington state — and, if something doesn't change, 2022 will be even worse, state officials say.

Driving the news: Road fatalities in Washington spiked by more than 16% between 2020 and 2021, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • That marks a 20-year high, following a 7% increase in traffic deaths recorded the year before.

What they're saying: Staci Hoff, research director for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, said speeding is a large part of what has led to more fatal crashes.

  • She added that people seemed to drive faster during the pandemic when fewer cars were on the road — and, although traffic has returned to nearly 2019 levels, drivers have yet to slow down.

Between the lines: Experts expected improved road safety during the pandemic as people worked from home and drove less. But that didn't happen, per Hoff.

  • "Recessions have been shown to decrease fatalities, which is why that was kind of what we were expecting during COVID," she added.
  • "We were like, yes! People are going to survive! And it just didn’t turn out that way."

Threat level: Washington has seen traffic deaths rise even further in the first months of 2022, which could put the state on track to see 800 roadway deaths this year.

  • Those are numbers the state hasn't seen since the early 1990s, Hoff said.

Yes, but: There's still time for people to reverse the trend.

  • That means slowing down, avoiding drinking and driving, and putting down cell phones, Hoff said.
  • Passengers should also speak up if they are in a car with a driver who they feel is being inattentive or unsafe, Hoff said.

The bottom line: The state is unlikely to meet its goal of having zero annual traffic fatalities by 2030.

  • But, drivers (and passengers) can take steps to try to ensure they don’t end up as a grim statistic.
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