Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Record low traffic fatalities celebrated by law enforcement, community partners

New cell phone law marks next safety step, starts June 10
Press Release from King County Public Health
Contact: James Apa 206-205-5442; Matías Valenzuela 206-205-3331
KING COUNTY, WA – Local law enforcement and community partners in traffic safety were honored Tuesday for their contributions to making King County residents safer today on the roads than ever, and their commitment in working to reduce traffic fatalities even further.

On average, 24 fewer people died annually on average in 2007 and 2008, compared with the 2002-2006 period, a drop from an annual average of 118 deaths annually to 94. This downward trend appears to continue in 2009, with preliminary data showing a further drop to 76 deaths from crashes.

“Safe streets are critical for a safe community, and I want to thank our all our partners for their important work in helping save lives,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “This drop in traffic fatalities is a great sign that tools like strong enforcement, public education and traffic engineering improvements are working and I look forward to helping King County build on its success.”

Several factors may be contributing to the drop in fatalities, including strong enforcement of driving under the influence (DUI) laws, better automotive safety equipment, seat belt usage, changes in driving habits, and traffic engineering improvements. While traffic fatalities are dropping nationally and statewide, King County’s traffic fatality rate is the lowest in the state.

As key partners in traffic safety, DUI patrol officers from 28 local law enforcement agencies were recognized for their work in contributing to safe roads by arresting drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Impaired driving is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in King County. Since 1999, officers working X-52 DUI and other impaired driving emphasis patrols have made 22,575 driver contacts and arrested 6,123 impaired drivers.

“I could not be more pleased to see that the hard work of Sheriff's deputies and all law enforcement officers has helped to reduce traffic fatalities,” said King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. “Traffic safety is just one component of overall public safety, but an extremely important one. My pledge is to continue this hard work for added success well into the future.”

Even with recent successes, traffic safety remains a serious concern. From 2004 to 2008, 568 people died in traffic crashes in King County, and another 98,000 were injured. Crashes kill and injure all road users: drivers and passengers as well as motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

“Traffic safety is a public health issue that affects everyone who wants to move on our streets and sidewalks,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Giving people easily accessible options where they can feel and stay safe on foot and by bike are key to healthier communities.”

New cell phone law goes into effect June 10

As a next step toward the statewide Target Zero goal of no traffic fatalities by 2030, a new cell phone law will go into effect on June 10. Under the new state law, holding a cell phone or texting when driving becomes a primary offense and teen drivers with an intermediate driver license are not allowed to use any electronic device while driving.

State Senator Tracey Eide and State Representative Reuven Carlyle, sponsors of the legislation in the Senate and the House, were recognized for their leadership, as was the community-led Driven to Distraction taskforce that advocated effectively for the law.

“Studies show that talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is equivalent to driving drunk, and drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be in a crash compared to those who don't,” Eide said. “It’s time to park the phone and drive the car.”

For over a decade, the King County Traffic Safety Coalition (now known as the King County Target Zero Task Force) has brought together law enforcement, public health and community partners to reduce traffic deaths and injuries. In partnership with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, they are working towards the Target Zero goal of zero traffic fatalities by the year 2030.

Facets of these topics were presented at the 2010 Washington Traffic Safety Conference last month. For highlights of the presentations, visit the ESC website, or for the photo album visit ESC's facebook page. If you or your employees drive in Oregon, mark your calendars for Tuesday, September 21st for the Oregon Employers for Traffic Safety Conference.

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