Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, alongside Gov. Jay Inslee, pledged Thursday to throw their weight behind solving Washington's traffic safety crisis, a show of bipartisan solidarity that the legislators said reflected the urgency of the need.
The event at the state Capitol was billed as a Democratic unveiling of safety-themed legislation, but Republican transportation leaders joined as well, standing beside law enforcement, construction workers and family members of people killed on the roads.
Details of many of the legislative proposals will be made clearer in the coming days and weeks, at which point promises of cooperation between the two parties are likely to be tested. While Republicans and Democrats voiced support for recruiting more state troopers to patrol the roads and increased enforcement in work zones, changes to jaywalking laws, rights on red, blood-alcohol limits and others could take more political wrangling to push to the governor's desk.
Still, for at least a day, the elected officials agreed something needs to be done about what Inslee called the "carnage" on the roads.
"It is such a painful thing to know that 745 people did not get home safely last year," Inslee said. The number of deaths on Washington roads in 2022 was the highest in more than 30 years.
Traffic deaths in Washington are starting to stand out; where previous years' increases were in line with national jumps, the state's toll continued to climb last year as the rest of the country flattened.
"While yes our roads across America need to be addressed, here in Washington we've got a crisis that we can't ignore," said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
The area of the most shared focus is around enforcement, which is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Legislators on both sides of the aisle are likely to propose a signing bonus for state troopers of $10,000 for new hires and $15,000 for transfers from other departments, a tactic already used by many large agencies across the state.
John Batiste, chief of the Washington State Patrol, said the department is down nearly 250 officers and that applications are off by almost two-thirds. Republicans, in particular, see the issue as central to reversing the rising death count, but one former state trooper, Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, also spoke forcefully in its favor.
"We need more officers on our streets," he said.
Both sides also seemed to agree on a proposal to put enforcement cameras in work zones; Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the matter was brought up to him in nearly every meeting about traffic safety.
Perhaps the top-line safety proposal in this year's session is one to lower the state's blood alcohol limit to 0.05%, down from 0.08%. The bill has already cleared one Senate committee, with both Democratic and Republican votes, and has the support of Inslee. In the House, Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said there may be some concern from his colleagues about the implications for restaurants and bars.
Lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would ban right turns on red lights near elementary schools, child care centers, parks, libraries and other places that might attract a lot of walkers. The bill would also give leeway to cities and towns to ban rights on red.
Barkis said he "can see where it makes sense" from a safety perspective, but said he expects the proposal to receive heavy pushback from lawmakers and residents.
Lovick agreed it would face some resistance, but said it's worth doing. "There's always pushback, but pushback doesn't mean we can't try it," he said.
In addition to lowering the blood-alcohol limit, Liias said some of the most significant legislation could relate to younger and older drivers. Backed by data showing drivers who go through a traffic safety course get in fewer crashes, one proposal would subsidize courses for people who can't otherwise afford them, while also layering on more requirements for young drivers.
Another proposal could require older drivers to check in more often in order to renew their license, although the details of that bill haven't yet been released.
Two other bills, pushed by advocates for more equity in the transportation system, would eliminate jaywalking laws and ban police stops for low-level crime, both of which are believed to disproportionately affect people of color.
Among those advocating at the press event for safer streets were Amber and David Weilert, whose son Michael was hit and killed in Parkland last summer. He was hit while riding his bike across Highway 7, a busy, five-lane road through the heart of the town.
"We can't change the past, however these legislators and these new proposed safety laws can change the future," Amber Weilert said Thursday. "My son is gone, but we can save the life of another mother's child."