Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This morning the Washington State Patrol distributed a joint news release, collaboratively developed by WSP, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission: Highway Fatalities Lowest Since 1955—Deaths trending steadily toward “Target Zero” goal.

(Olympia)—Traffic fatalities in Washington have hit their lowest level since 1955, according to new data from the Washington Department of Transportation and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. The news is encouraging to state officials who are working toward “Target Zero,” the goal of having zero traffic-related fatalities or serious injuries by 2030.
To date, 522 deaths have been reported for 2008. That’s the lowest since 461 people died in 1955. The 2008 count will not be final until Dec. 31, and it’s possible a small number of delayed reports could still be received.

At least some of the good news is attributed to increased usage of seat belts. The number of deaths in which the victim was unbelted has dropped by more than a third since 2000.
“We have been strictly enforcing the state’s seat belt law, and that appears to be paying dividends,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste. “There’s no simpler way to protect yourself from ‘the other driver’s mistake’ than to buckle your seat belt.”

Washington has a 96.5 percent seatbelt usage rate, third-highest in the nation. Only Michigan and Hawaii have higher seatbelt use rates.

Along with enforcement, the other three components of Target Zero are education, engineering and emergency medical services.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission funds extra enforcement through grants to law enforcement agencies. The Commission also funds educational outreach, sometimes including radio or TV ads that alert drivers to ongoing patrols.

“To reach Washington’s goal of zero traffic deaths we need to use proven strategies,” said Lowell Porter, Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “Combining enforcement with education is just that—a proven strategy that moves the needle toward fewer traffic deaths.”

The engineering component of Target Zero involves occupant protection built into vehicles, and highway engineering. Well-engineered roads reduce fatalities by being more forgiving of driver error.

“We all see these trends as very encouraging and believe, with drivers’ help, we can meet our Target Zero goal,” said Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond. “Safety is our priority when we build, improve and maintain roads. We are committed to reducing collisions, one of the leading causes of congestion."

Chief Batiste also praised emergency medical responders for their success in the Target Zero effort.

“My troopers are witnessing miracles at the side of the road,” Batiste said. “Paramedics are saving people who just a few years ago would have certainly become statistics. We marvel at their ability to pull injured people back from the brink of death.”

There was initial concern that the recent sharp drop in fatalities might have been solely caused by a reduction in driving attributed to high gasoline prices and the recession. However when agencies measured the number of fatalities against total miles driven the news remained good. “Fatality Rate” is the number traffic deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT.)

Washington’s traffic fatality rate in 2008 was .94 (point-94) deaths per 100 million VMT. That’s down slightly from 1.00 in 2007, and about half the 1990 rate of 1.85 deaths.
Not only are there fewer deaths, but the number of collisions is also trending down. In 1990 there were nearly 2,500 fatal or serious injury collisions. By 2008, that number had dropped to just over 1,000, even though miles traveled increased by about a third.

All three officials were quick to caution that there could be bumps in the statistical road ahead. They warned against getting too alarmed, or too excited, by any individual year. All three will monitor long-term trends to determine if adjustments are needed in order to reach the goal of Target Zero.

Sgt. Freddy Williams, WSP, (360) 596-4014
Alice Fiman, WSDOT, (360) 705-7080
M.J. Haught, WTSC, (360) 725-9879

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