Washington state’s auto fatalities surge in 2022, study says

Sep 8, 2022, 6:34 PM | Updated: Sep 23, 2022, 2:47 pm
car fatalities...
(KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly claimed that Washington state had the highest number of auto fatalities in the nation this year. That information is not correct. This was caused by a misunderstanding of data presented to us. Instead, the story now accurately reflects the surge in auto fatalities in Washington state, which are believed to be related to an increase in DUI cases. We regret the error.

Washington has seen an increase in auto fatalities during the pandemic, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This week, two DUI fatalities closed down State Route 101 and I-5 during morning rush hours.

With the fatal crashes and DUI arrests on pace to surpass last year’s numbers, it begs the question, what’s causing this high rate of fatalities in Washington state?

Someone working in law enforcement, who asked not to be identified, told KIRO Newsradio they think it’s political.

KIRO Newsradio Headlines: Two people killed, more injured in DUI crash

“We are no longer allowed to pursue someone in a car if they take off when we pull them over. We have to ask a supervisor for permission to pursue and sometimes it’s a no-go.”

Knowing that creates an atmosphere where drivers think they can get away from being chased, according to the law enforcement member.

But State Patrol Trooper Robert Reyer disagrees, stating, with supervisor permission, more times than not, troopers are quick to call and go after those who break the law.

“The word on the street, per se, is that we are not allowed to pursue cars anymore, and that’s far from the truth,” Reyer said.

This false narrative that’s being spread is dangerous, according to Reyer, because fatality crashes are up in Pierce and Thurston counties. There have been 33 fatalities in Pierce and Thurston counties combined. It’s set to surpass last year’s number (50).

The other law enforcement officer also notes that drivers aren’t just under the influence of alcohol. For instance, the driver who reportedly caused the crash in Mason county was under the influence of methadone. DUIs for Mason County have reached 1,088 for 2021. 2022 is not available as of yet.

The number of DUIs for 2022 has reached 1,505 compared to last year’s 2,082 for Thurston and Peirce Counties.

Another possible reason for DUIs? Drivers might not care anymore. Reyer believes drivers’ behavior has changed since the start of the pandemic. The roads during the height of the pandemic were practically empty. Now roads are almost back to pre-pandemic numbers and people have lost their patience.

Last but not least, troopers told KIRO Newsradio that they lost a lot of employees due to vaccine mandates. Because of this, state departments are short-staffed by more than 200 troopers. The lack of troopers on the street is another possible reason there are more crashes on the road.

A class of troopers are set to graduate later this month.

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Washington state’s auto fatalities surge in 2022, study says