Why Washington’s Traffic Fatalities Are Rising Despite Fewer Accidents

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Road safety in Washington State is a big deal. Unfortunately, motor vehicle collisions are consistently a leading cause of accidental injuries in our region. There is some good news and some bad news. 

  • The Good News: The number of motor vehicle crashes in Washington is falling. 
  • The Bad News: The number of traffic fatalities is nonetheless rising. 

At Premier Law Group, PLLC, we advocate for victims and families, including in wrongful death claims. Within this article, our Seattle car crash attorney discusses what is going on our roads, why deaths continue to rise as accidents are falling, and what can be done to improve the situation. 

Know the Data: Traffic Fatalities Rise Even as the Number of Crashes Fall

Recently, the Comisión de Seguridad del Tráfico de Washington (WTSC) sounded the alarm on “Washington’s Traffic Safety Crisis.” What is happening on our roads? While motor vehicle collisions are falling, the number of traffic deaths and traffic-related catastrophic injuries are rising. 750 people were killed in car crashes in Washington in 2022 alone. The preliminary data for 2023 suggests similar total traffic fatalities. 

The rate of traffic deaths is surging over the past few years, reversing a trend from the early 2010’s. Indeed, Washington State witnessed a 43 percent increase in the number of traffic-related deaths between 2019 and 2022. For reference, the total number of traffic deaths in Washington in 2022 was the highest in any year since 1990. It is an alarming and especially striking statistic considering the fact that the total number of car crashes is actually falling. 

Why it is Happening: The Causes of Increasing Traffic Fatalities

On the surface level, the total car accidents falling while traffic fatalities rise seems like a paradox. While a lot more research is required to determine exactly what is going wrong, there is strong evidence that risky driving behaviors have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are five specific factors that have been cited as contributing to more traffic deaths: 

  • Exceso de velocidad: Speeding remains a top cause of traffic deaths. Higher speeds than are appropriate for a given stretch of road both increase the likelihood of accidents and the severity of any resulting injuries. During the pandemic, empty roads led to a surge in speeding. Officials believe there is a direct link to increased traffic deaths. 
  • Distracted Driving: Distracted driving is dangerous. Smartphones and other in-car technologies have led to an increase in distracted driving. Texting, using navigation apps, or changing music can all distract the driver’s attention from the road. 
  • Impaired Driving: Impaired driving is on the rise in Washington. Impairment by alcohol, drugs, or both is involved in more than half of fatal crashes in Washington State. The impairing effects of these substances on judgment, coordination, and reaction times make intoxication driving one of the most critical factors in traffic fatalities. 
  • Aggressive Driving: Aggressive driving and accidents are another big issue in Washington. State highway safety officials believe that aggressive behaviors—including tailgating, erratic lane changes, disregarding traffic signals, and extreme speeding—have become more prevalent. These behaviors endanger the aggressive driver and also other road users. 
  • Not Wearing Seat Belts: Seat belt usage significantly reduces the risk of death in crashes, yet a notable portion of vehicle occupants fail to buckle up. The increase in fatalities includes a rise in deaths among those not wearing seat belts

How Does the Problem Get Fixed? State Lawmakers Considering Traffic Safety Reforms

It is clear that a lot more needs to be done in Washington to improve safety on our roadways. Some state regulators and state lawmakers are proposing traffic safety reforms that are aimed at reducing the total number of serious accidents. Here are the specific solutions that have been proposed: 

  • A Public Education Campaign: Education plays a crucial role in enhancing road safety. A comprehensive public education campaign can significantly impact driver behavior by raising awareness about the dangers of speeding, distracted driving, impaired driving, aggressive driving, and the importance of wearing seat belts. By targeting these key risk factors through educational programs, social media outreach, and community engagement initiatives, the campaign aims to cultivate a culture of safety among all road users. By putting a strong emphasis on the real-world consequences of unsafe driving practices, officials hope that they can encourage motorists to make better decisions. 
  • Increased Law Enforcement Presence: Another proposed reform is to put more cops on the road. Boosting the presence of law enforcement on the roads serves as both a deterrent to risky driving behaviors and a mechanism for immediate intervention when violations occur. Enhanced enforcement activities, including sobriety checkpoints, speed patrols, and targeted operations against aggressive driving, signal a zero-tolerance policy for unsafe driving practices. It is an approach that seeks to discourage unsafe practices by heightening a driver’s risk of being cited for a traffic violation.   
  • Expanding Speed Cameras: The deployment of speed cameras is a technological solution aimed at reducing speeding, a leading cause of severe and fatal accidents. By automating the detection and penalization of speeding violations, speed cameras extend enforcement capabilities beyond the direct presence of law enforcement officers. Notably, some Washington lawmakers are citing international examples—particularly Finland—as a model for how traffic cameras can improve highway safety. As reported by Bloomberg News, Finland put “traffic crashes on ice.” The total number of traffic fatalities in the country dropped by around 50 percent between 2001 and 2019. For reference, there has been virtually no improvement in the traffic fatality rate in the United States over the same period. 

Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorney in Washington State Today 

At Premier Law Group, PLLC, our Washington car accident lawyers are committed to providing results-focused, reliable representation. We advocate for justice for grieving families in wrongful death claims. If your loved one was involved in a serious crash, please do not hesitate to Contáctenos today for a free, no obligation, and fully confidential consultation. From our offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Federal Way, and Renton, we handle fatal accident claims throughout the region.