Smoky skies over the Pacific Northwest will soon give way to rainy winter weather which is among the factors that experts say increase fatal crash risks for drivers. To prevent catastrophic crashes, drivers need to understand the factors influencing fatalities including where they occur and how to avoid them.
Nine of the top 10 deadliest stretches of highway in Washington State are in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area according to a 2022 survey of federal data. Car accident statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration point out that two sections of SR-99 – Aurora Ave in Seattle and Pacific Highway between Des Moines, Tukwila, and Kent – have among the highest rates of fatalities per mile.
According to an analysis of 819 Washington roadways, out of the nearly 168,000 highways, county, and local roads in the state, the study looked at 1,518 fatal crashes from 2017-2019. It explored a variety of contributing factors. Notably, speeding, driving under the influence, driving while distracted, and driving in inclement weather conditions were among the most common factors.
Aurora Avenue (SR-99) has among the highest road traffic injury and death rates in Washington. Vehicle and pedestrian crashes happen with regularity. The four-mile portion of Aurora Ave (SR-99) between North Winona Avenue, Seattle, and North 155th Street, Shoreline saw 9 fatal accidents, with a fatal accident per mile rate of 2.2 in 2017-2019.
The Pacific Highway stretch of SR-99 from South 252nd Street to South 176th Street through Des Moines, SeaTac, and Kent was the second most deadly in the state, with 1.8 fatal crashes per mile. I-5 from Tacoma to Lakewood Center was the third most deadly, with 1.6 fatalities per mile. The corridor between Tukwila to Puyallup experienced a high concentration of fatalities and rounded out the remaining 9 deadliest stretches.
Among the leading factors in these fatal crashes are driving under the influence of alcohol, and speeding. Two-thirds of these fatalities were attributed to one or both of these influences. Distracted driving was involved in one-quarter of the incidents.
- Drunk driving was involved in 500 of the 1,518 fatal crashes. Driving abilities require judgment and perception which can be impacted by a relatively small amount of alcohol. In Washington, an individual is legally intoxicated when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher. Besides a potentially fatal outcome, driving while intoxicated can lead to costly insurance rate increases and legal proceedings including a suspended license or jail time.
- Speeding contributed to 468 of the 1,518 fatal crashes. Speeding can result in more than a traffic ticket. Speeding increases the potential for serious or catastrophic injury when a driver loses control of their vehicle or is unable to stop after perceiving a danger. Speeding can increase the degree of crash severity leading to more severe injuries and death.
- Distracted driving was attributed to 367 of the 1,518 fatal crashes. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving such as sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving all of which are potentially dangerous. Washington was ranked as the sixth-worst state for distracted driving.
- Winter conditions contributed to 37 of the 1,518 fatal crashes. Wet-weather road conditions and poor visibility in the month of December was a factor. Wet pavement reduces tire traction and vehicle maneuverability. Driving during heavy rainfall reduces visibility. Most weather-related crashes could be prevented by safe driving and proper vehicle speed.
The Seattle Times cited a recent study that shows Washington has experienced surging traffic fatalities in 2022 even as the number of deaths has begun to decline to pre-pandemic levels elsewhere in the United States. Statistics from NHTSA and the National Safety Council indicated “there were 327 deaths on Washington roads in the first half of 2022, up from 249 for the same period in 2021, according to a new study on traffic fatalities. That’s 78 additional deaths, or a 31% increase — the sixth-highest jump among states. These numbers include all traffic fatalities — drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and so on — but a breakdown isn’t available because the data is preliminary.”
The presumption that the spike in vehicular fatalities during 2020 was an anomaly, and that numbers would decline in 2021 as traffic volume increased has proven false. Experts are unclear about why this is occurring in Washington. It may be that local drivers are slower to return to work and pre-pandemic traffic norms than drivers in other states.
All drivers have a duty to practice traffic safety and avoid causing injury to others. Safe driving is about conscientious choices. Knowing where and when car crashes more commonly happen is useful information to help lessen your chances of sustaining a personal injury or property damage. Since a car crash can happen anywhere and at any time, you should always be vigilant behind the wheel and use safe driving skills.