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Road deaths are up by a lot in Washington state

Fatal crashes
KUOW Graphic/Kara McDermott

Traffic deaths are up in Washington state, and by a lot. Last year, 567 people lost their lives in crashes. That’s a hundred more than the previous year.

Highway safety in Washington has been improving steadily since the 1980s. Now officials say they are hoping it’s not part of a new trend.

“We’re hoping that it’s part of a blip,” said John Milton, WSDOT’s director of Transportation System Safety. In an interview, he said gas is cheap and people have money, so they’re driving more. “There’s more opportunity for these crashes to occur.”

But this is not just about statistical odds. The state data shows driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, separately and together, is fueling more fatal crashes.

And there’s a third influence: the mobile phone. Fatal crashes involving driver distraction are up by a third.

Dr. Beth Ebel is an injury prevention researcher at Harborview Medical Center. She said the state’s device distraction law is too limited.  

“Why should the law cover texting and not cover posting to Facebook or checking your stock portfolio?” she said.

Ebel also said the time for educating drivers about distraction has passed. She wants the law strengthened and enforced.

“Being able to get a ticket for this, something that gets reported, that makes a difference,” she said. Ebel is also working to lower speed limits in Seattle to protect people walking and riding their bikes.