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In 'vexing' trend, traffic fatalities in Washington state continue to rise

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Jimmy Woo / Unsplash

Washington has reached another grim milestone. The state’s Traffic Safety Commission says Washington had at least 800 traffic fatalities last year.

If that preliminary estimate holds up, 2023 would go down as the deadliest year on Washington roadways since 1990.

That's especially troubling because the state has an ambitious Target Zero goal to eliminate serious traffic injuries and fatalities by the year 2030.

Traffic fatalities began to increase during the early days of the Covid pandemic.

"As things have kind of somewhat returned to whatever this semblance of normal is after Covid, it's vexing that we see this increase," said Ryan Avery, the interim director of the Washington State Transportation Center.

Avery said that the size of cars and an increase in speeding may be behind the rise in fatalities. He also pointed out that there may be more pedestrian traffic. Though, he said, there wasn't enough data on pedestrian or cyclist movement to draw a definite conclusion.

"Let's not forget that 17% of these fatalities are pedestrians," said Anne Vernez Moudon, a professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington. "That's a very nasty statistic that we have in Washington state."

In response, legislators are considering bills they say could limit traffic fatalities, including lowering the legal limit for driving drunk and allowing cities to expand the use of speed cameras.

"Whatever we're doing is not working," transportation consultant Paulo Nunes-Ueno said. "We need to take a much more systemic approach to making our roads safer, making it possible for people to trust that they are going to go to the store, and they're going to come back and be well. It's a complicated problem."

Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with Rick Avery, Paulo Nunes-Ueno, and Anne Vernez Moudon by clicking the play icon at the top of this story

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