Wash. Highway Safety Improves; Fatalities Drop Below 600 for First Time Since ’61

February 28, 2005

For the first time since 1961, traffic fatalities in Washington State dropped below 600, according to Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Highway safety has reportedly shown great improvement in the past two years as the number of traffic-related deaths has dropped more than 16 percent from 658 fatalities in 2002 to an estimate of 558 last year. The reduction in deaths is the result of tougher laws, reinforced by safety education and enforcement, as well as safety improvements to Washington State Highways.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission and Washington State Patrol introduced the “Click it or Ticket” campaign in 2002, the same year that not wearing seatbelts became a primary offense. Washington has one of the highest seatbelt use rates in the country at 94 percent.

Washington State Patrol has reportedly been aggressive in enforcing the seat belt law, as well as the tough package of anti-drunk driving laws passed in 1998.

Deaths involving drinking drivers have also seen a downward trend. Before the law, from 1994 through 1998, there were an average of 301 deaths each year that involved a drinking driver. Between 1999 and 2003, the average death toll dropped to 243.

Also included in WSDOT’s Gray Notebook is an update of 21 highway safety projects first evaluated a year ago. WSDOT’s before and after analysis shows that the average number of all collisions is down 43 percent and fatalities and injury are down 47 percent compared to pre-construction conditions at the project locations.

“This is great news for the people of Washington State,” said Gov. Gregoire. “The reductions in traffic deaths result when our state agencies work directly with the people to address a problem. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission leads the way with successful education campaigns such as ‘Click it or Ticket.’ The State Patrol has done a great job enforcing the new laws. WSDOT has saved lives by improving dangerous highways, and the people of Washington State are adopting safer driving habits.”

“As far as we’ve come, even one death on Washington’s roads is too many” she added, noting the increase in motorcycle deaths. Between 1994 and 2002 there were, on average, 42 people killed while riding motorcycles. In 2003, the death toll was up 40 percent with 59 motorcycle deaths, and in 2004 the death toll was up 71 percent with 72 motorcycle deaths.

Steve Lind, acting director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, encouraged drivers and motorcyclists to pay more attention on the road. “Drivers must watch for motorcycles when changing lanes or making turns,” he said. “Cyclists and all drivers must drive defensively. Please, pay attention to others on the road.”

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