Traffic deaths in Washington reach 50-year lows

Last year marked the safest year on Washington’s highways since 1955. According to Washington’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, there were about 30 fewer highway deaths than the 521 in 2008.

The currently known 490 deaths of 2009 represent the lowest number of deaths since 1955 when 461 people lost their lives, yet road travel has increased fivefold. A person traveling from Wenatchee to Edmonds in 1955 was five times more like to die on the road than someone making that trip today.

“Due to the efforts of the men and women of our law-enforcement community and the smart safety investments we’ve made, the number of traffic deaths in our state is at a 50-year low,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “While our highways are safer, there is still more to do. We must continue to educate our citizens and enforce traffic laws to protect our families.”

Washington has set a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030 as part of its Target Zero plan. Developed in 2000, Target Zero identifies traffic safety needs and provides an inventory of proven, effective strategies to meet them. The reduction in traffic deaths last year represents a significant step toward meeting the goal of zero traffic deaths.

“The lives saved are a true testament to the strength and abilities of Washington’s approach to traffic safety — the Target Zero plan” said Lowell Porter, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “Organizations are working cooperatively on traffic safety by using data to set priorities, investing in strategies that work and aggressively evaluating outcomes through effective performance measurement.”

Using the Target Zero plan as a guide, Washington focuses on public education, innovative safety engineering to improve roadways, emergency medical services and strong enforcement of traffic safety laws.

“Police agencies at all levels made traffic law enforcement a priority in 2009, and this great news is the payoff,” said Chief John Batiste of the Washington State Patrol. “Our three biggest killers are impaired driving, speed and the failure to wear a seat belt. We will continue to focus on those very risky behaviors with the hope of even better news for 2010.”

Batiste also praised those in the emergency medical service.

“Paramedics and emergency room doctors are saving people who just a few years ago would have surely become fatalities,” Batiste said. “We do our best to prevent collisions. But when that isn’t enough, we know our partners in the emergency medical service will be right there with us to save as many lives as possible.”

Paula Hammond, Washington Transportation secretary, said highway improvements play a key role in traffic safety.

“We know that while we have made great strides in improving highway safety, our work is not finished. Our approach is a three-part strategy that includes driver safety education, enforcement of traffic safety laws and engineering safer roadways,” Hammond said. “We, along with our partners, are committed to the work necessary to increase highway safety.”

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