Washington traffic fatalities continued to rise in 2023


Fatal car wrecks rose to a 30-year high for the second straight year across Washington in 2023, disappointing state officials who were hoping to reverse the deadly trend.

Statewide, 772 people were killed in crashes in 2023, up from 745 people in 2022, according to data from the Washington State Department of Transportation, which collects reports from police agencies statewide. Figures for 2023 are preliminary and will be finalized by March 1.

Washington's total crashes, however, fell to a 10-year low of 78,116, down from 103,315 in 2022. That means there were far fewer crashes, but more deadly ones.

Clay Peterman, one of WSDOT's experts on crash data, described the data as "surprising."

"We hoped that based on safety improvements we have made, we would be making a bigger impact," Peterman said.

Last year Washington received more $9 million in federal grants under the Safe Streets and Roads for All program intended to reduce collisions and deaths. Most of that funding went to cities, counties and regional councils.

Fatalities among bicyclists and pedestrians also rose statewide:

  • 138 people on foot were killed by cars in 2023, up from 131 in 2022, meaning 18% of all fatal crashes in Washington involve pedestrians.
  • 17 bicyclists were killed by cars in 2023, up from 12 in 2022.

Recent reporting by several news organizations blames larger pickup trucks and SUVs. Some 80% of pedestrian deaths happen at night, according to the National Safety Council.

Peterman, a member of WSDOT's Transportation Operations HQ Program Development and Performance team, said excessive speed and drug and alcohol use are key factors in the rising death toll.

  • Distracted driving accounted for a total of 144 deaths in 2023, up from 114 deaths in 2022.
  • Drug- and/or alcohol-related fatalities dropped to 160 in 2023, down from 200 in 2022.
  • Speed was cited as a factor in 212 roadway deaths in 2023, down from 225 deaths in 2022.

"This isn't something that's unique to Washington," Peterman said. "Personally and anecdotally, it does feel like people are driving differently than they did a few years ago but there's no data on that."