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Traffic Fatalities Spark Push for Speed Cameras in Washington

Gov. Jay Inslee is calling for more speed cameras across the state to combat the rise in fatal traffic collisions. Data shows a lack of progress in the state plan to eliminate fatal and serious injury collisions by 2030.

Firefighters respond to an automobile crash where the front of the vehicle has been destroyed.
(TNS) — Gov. Jay Inslee called for more speed cameras across Washington state in response to a rise in fatal traffic collisions.

"There's too many people not coming home to their families without taking a commonsense measure like this," Inslee said.

Inslee shared his support for the cameras and law enforcement during a meeting with agency leaders Wednesday morning. The leaders reviewed data that showed a concerning lack of progress for Target Zero, a state safety plan that aims to eliminate fatal and serious injury collisions by 2030.

Traffic fatalities in Washington state increased about 39% from 538 in 2019 to 750 in 2022, according to data presented by Shelly Baldwin, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. However, she cautioned that 2022 data was preliminary.

"We have not seen such a rapid increase since back in the '70s," Baldwin said. "We want to keep in mind that these are not just numbers. These are families and friends and co-workers whose lives have been lost and left the people around them grieving."

Baldwin said traffic fatalities declined starting around 2008 and dropped to a low of 436 in 2013 before stabilizing in the 500s from 2015 to 2019.

The data show eight counties account for about 60% of all fatalities. The top three are in the state's population center — King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Thurston County ranks seventh in fatalities, but is sixth in population.

The state's traffic fatality rate per 100 vehicle miles traveled reached 1.16 in 2021 compared to 1.37 at the national level, Baldwin shared. She said impaired driving, followed by speeding and distracted driving, were key risk factors in traffic fatalities.

State officials struggled to understand why fatalities increased during the pandemic when traffic volumes and miles traveled were down, Baldwin said.

"That's not how it's supposed to work," Baldwin said. "I think we'll be puzzling over that for a while, but one of the things that happened when volumes went down on our roadways, people were able to drive faster than they were able to drive at various times."

Baldwin said the state also has seen an increase in substance use in the past few years, including alcohol and marijuana use. Meanwhile, she said traffic enforcement substantially decreased during that time.


On a recent trip to Europe, Inslee said he saw first-hand how speed cameras help slow traffic. These devices typically work by taking pictures of a vehicle's license plate so the driver can be sent a ticket in the mail.

"If they say speed camera ahead, people slow down," Inslee said. "They don't just work by catching people speeding, they prevent people from speeding."

The state authorized the use of speed cameras in highway work zones with the passage of Senate Bill 5272 earlier this year. However, Inslee's proposal would go further.

"I believe Washingtonians now understand that cameras are almost ubiquitous in our lives," Inslee said. "It shouldn't be a concern if you have one on I-5 when you've got one in every store you walk into, every bank you walk into and every sidewalk you walk on."

John Milton, the transportation safety director at the Washington State Department of Transportation, said speed cameras could potentially reduce fatal and serious injuries by about a third.

When considering the number of fatalities, Inslee said speed cameras could save hundreds of lives.

"The fact, we're not doing that, frankly, is a little frustrating right now," Inslee said. "I'm glad we've taken the first step in construction zones, but we can't allow this carnage to continue when we have a technology that works."

Inslee said he would direct the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to work with his staff to develop a plan for increasing the use of speed cameras.

Additionally, Inslee said he supports recruiting more law enforcement personnel to enforce traffic laws.

"I'm glad our state is not defunding the police," Inslee said. "We're trying to train and hire more officers in multiple jurisdictions, including State Patrol."

Washington State Patrol had 212 trooper vacancies as of Wednesday, WSP Chief John Batiste said. He said 43 troopers graduated from training and were put to work about three weeks ago, and a class of 60 starts on Monday.

"Bonuses are associated with these hires, which makes it more attractive for folks to come on board," Batiste said. "So, we think things are trending in the right direction."

©2023 The Olympian, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.