The lives of 5,624 people were lost on Washington State roadways due to traffic-related crashes over the past decade – 20 percent of whom were killed either walking or riding a bicycle. Each one of these individual tragedies leaves behind countless loved ones affected by the loss. Each person killed leaves behind people who cared deeply about them – parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others. They are missed every day.
We pause to remember all of them on November 19th, as part of the World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims.
“The Washington Traffic Safety Commission works every day to prevent these tragedies. We do this by increasing our understanding of the underlying causes so that we can act before it’s too late,” said Shelly Baldwin, WTSC Director. “These are not accidents. Fatal crashes are preventable.”
“Obtaining a driver license requires knowing safe driving practices,” said Marcus Glasper, director of the Department of Licensing. “Injuries and fatalities can be significantly reduced by applying that knowledge every time you drive.”
In 2023, the Commission sponsored a statewide survey of adults on various aspects of traffic safety. Survey responses came from all Washington counties and major demographic groups by age, gender, race, and ethnicity. A total of 10,964 Washington adults completed valid surveys.
A majority (51 percent) of respondents said it was moderately to extremely dangerous to drive on public roads in Washington. The rates were higher for walking or jogging (55 percent) or riding a bicycle (80 percent). Public transportation was considered the safest mode of travel by 69 percent of survey respondents.
People who travel on our roads understand some of the risks more than others. Seventy-five percent said that it is “very or extremely dangerous” to drive after consuming potentially impairing prescription drugs, and 85 percent said that manipulating cell phones with your hands while driving was also very or extremely dangerous. Compared to previous decades, there is much greater recognition of the dangers of driving impaired or being distracted on the road.
On the other hand, a mere 32 percent said that driving 10 miles per hour (mph) or more over the speed limit is “very or extremely dangerous.” Speeding has remained more common and acceptable.
“Speeding and erratic driving are a growing problem on our roadways,” said Washington’s Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar. “We need to recognize the speed and safety tradeoffs and give a little on speed to save so much more overall. As long as higher speeds are the norm, we know more people will die and more families will experience the tragic loss of a loved one.”
Washington saw the highest number of pedestrian fatalities on record in 2021. They fell only slightly last year. Excessive speed contributes to serious crashes in fundamental and important ways. Speed narrows our vision and attention, reduces reaction time and stopping distance, and increases crash forces exponentially.
Speed literally kills, and the reasons come down to basic biology and physics. At 25 mph or less, 90 percent of pedestrians will survive a collision. Due to force increasing exponentially with speed, a pedestrian is five times more likely to die when struck by a vehicle travelling 42 mph, compared to a vehicle travelling 23 mph.
An encouraging sign from the survey was that 58 percent of Washington adults would be very or extremely comfortable asking someone who is speeding or driving aggressively to slow down.
“We can honor those we have lost by actively choosing to buckle up, slow down, drive sober, and be focused on actually driving,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste. “Any other choice can lead to the loss of someone we love, which is an outcome we all must work together to make come to an end.”