Washington state, most of US sees increase in fatal car crashes in 2021

Feb 6, 2022, 8:06 AM
Washington State Patrol at the scene of a crash on I-5. (Photo courtesy of Trooper Jacob Kennett, @wspd7pio/Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of Trooper Jacob Kennett, @wspd7pio/Twitter)

Washington — like other states — is seeing an increase in reckless driving and fatal crashes, potentially fueled, at least in part, by the pandemic.

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“Impaired driving is up, not wearing a seatbelt is up, speeding is up,” Staci Hoff with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission told KIRO Newsradio.

At the same time, Hoff says “traffic enforcement has declined substantially since COVID basically, since the early months of 2020.” She says that’s due to a variety of reasons, from budget cuts to recruitment and retention challenges.

But just because traffic enforcement is down, doesn’t mean reckless behavior is too.

“We have an over 50% increase in citations being issued to drivers traveling more than 40 miles per hour over the speed limit,” Hoff said.

“Over the last two years, when we talk about risk and safety, it’s very much been dominated by COVID,” she added, noting how traffic safety has simply dropped out of the conversation.

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This isn’t just a Washington issue either — federal safety regulators say U.S. traffic deaths surged in the first nine months of 2021 to 31,720 estimated deaths. That’s the highest nine-month figure since 2006.

The report comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Association, and shows the rate of people dying in vehicle crashes in the first nine months of 2021 was up about 12% from the same period in 2020.

Out of the 10 regions of the country that federal safety regulators looked at, the Northwest saw the biggest jump in fatal crashes, up 20%. Washington saw “just over” a 10% increase, but the increase in Oregon was 29%, and 36% in Idaho.

KIRO Newsradio’s Heather Bosch contributed to this report.

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Washington state, most of US sees increase in fatal car crashes in 2021