State Traffic Deaths Reach 20-Year High


With record-high road deaths reported in Washington last year and preliminary data for this year showing the trend in fatalities continuing to increase, Washington officials are planning to embark on a public education campaign to reinforce safe road behavior.

Last year's total of 633 deaths on the road marks a 20-year high in Washington, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC).

That rate outpaces 574 fatal crashes in 2020 and 538 in 2019, according to agency data obtained by The Columbian. Of those killed in 2021, 300 of them were drivers, 141 were pedestrians, 108 were passengers and 93 were motorcyclists, the data show.

“The increase in deaths on our roads is tragic, but we all have the power to reverse the trend,” said Mark McKechnie, director of external relations for WTSC, in a news release. “We can turn the tide and make this a safe summer. Most of us use roads safely, and we can also influence the smaller number of people who engage in risky behavior. Take an extra step and help someone close to you be safe, too. It’s as simple as reminding them to buckle their seat belt or put their phone away when they drive.”

The “Together We Get There” summer ad campaign promotes a community-based approach known as “proactive traffic safety,” according to the news release.

The ad campaign is timed to coincide with the summer months June through August, three months which historically see higher traffic deaths than other times of the year, according to the news release. The campaign will run on social media, television and radio, video and audio streaming services and community-based media outlets in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean and Somali. 

“Research shows that reinforcing safe behavior with someone you know can influence them to change,” McKechnie said. “Community involvement and a willingness to encourage others to be safe will save lives on our roads.”

Historically, traffic safety campaigns focused solely on individuals engaging in risky behaviors, primarily through enforcement, according to the news release. Community-based traffic safety culture enlists the support of the majority of safe road users to effectively encourage others to be safe.

“That’s why simple things we each can do will have a big impact in saving lives,” said McKechnie. “We drive distraction-free, put away mobile devices, and encourage others to do the same. We fasten our seat belts, and make sure friends and family are buckled up too. We drive sober. And if we use alcohol, cannabis or prescription drugs that impair our judgment or reaction time, we avoid driving and plan a safer way to get home. And we make sure friends and family do the same.”

The Utah Department of Public Safety deployed a similar proactive traffic safety culture approach in targeting counties in that state with the lowest seat belt use with positive results, according to the news release. Implementing a program that fostered widespread community involvement, Utah achieved a 20% average seat belt use increase from 2012-2019 in their target counties, according to the news release. Analyses showed that the change in behavior was more notable among those who had heard or seen media promoting the program.

“If we build a community of traffic safety around us, we can create the safe and fun summer we all deserve,” said McKechnie. “So, let’s watch out for kids playing ball in our neighborhoods, and our neighbors riding their bikes. We’ll slow down and give them space. Let’s all do the things we enjoy safely so everyone gets home each night. Then we can get up and have fun tomorrow, too.”