Dec 14, 2022 - News

Washington traffic deaths on track to hit 25-year high

Data: Washington Traffic Safety Commission ; Note: As of Oct. 31, 2022; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Traffic fatalities skyrocketed in Washington this year to a level not seen in a quarter century, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC).

Driving the news: WTSC officials gave lawmakers a grim report at a hearing Tuesday, noting that serious injury and fatality crashes increased both of the past two years.

By the numbers: There were 600 fatal crashes in the state by the end of October, a 9% increase over the three-year average, WTSC spokesperson Mark McKechnie told Axios.

  • With winter weather and an anticipated increase in impaired driving over the holidays, WTSC expects the number to reach or top 700 by year's end.
  • The last time we had that many traffic fatalities in a single year was in 1996 when Washington recorded 712 car crash deaths, McKechnie said. Washington saw the sixth-highest surge in 2022 traffic deaths among U.S. states.
  • Seattle had 30 traffic deaths in 2021, a 16-year-high, and 11 fatal injuries in the first five months of 2022, according to a Seattle Department of Transportation report.

What they found: Speeding is often accompanied by drunk or impaired driving, he added, noting that impaired drivers are also less likely to wear seatbelts.

  • Overall, more than half of all fatal crashes in Washington involve an impaired driver, WTSC data shows. Alcohol impairment specifically was responsible for 30%.

What we're watching: State Sen. John Lovick, a former state trooper, is proposing a bill to lower the legal blood alcohol driving level, from .08 to .05.

  • WTSC has not taken a position on the bill, but expects to present legislators with data from Utah — the only state in the U.S. to make such a change — and other countries that shows lower blood alcohol content laws reduce impaired driving and the crashes that result from it, McKechnie said.
  • WTSC is also asking lawmakers to find a way to make driver's education financially accessible to all teens in an effort to reduce the number of crashes among young drivers in Washington.
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