Rising Fatality Rates: While some of the pandemic’s interruptions have subsided this year, the increase in traffic fatalities has not abated. There is a wide range of responses being explored by policymakers.
Rising Fatality Rates In Traffic Accidents Persist In Western States
The death toll on the roadways reached a 20-year high last year in Oregon and Washington state. The number of traffic fatalities in Oregon has decreased just marginally so far this year, down by roughly 6% from last year’s murderous pace through the month of November. According to Shelly Baldwin, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the number of fatalities in the state has continued to rise and is now expected to top 700 for the year.
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“To put it another way, those figures will be the highest we’ve seen since the 1990s. It’s a worrisome place to find ourselves,” she told members of the Texas House Transportation Committee during a briefing Thursday.
“The cost of living, “Baldwin elaborated, referring to collisions brought on by excessive speeding, intoxication, distraction, and the lack of a seatbelt.
Baldwin also brought up the topic of the sluggish and delayed recovery of traffic enforcement. At the start of the epidemic, when many drivers stayed home and authorities avoided making personal contact, the number of citations issued dropped dramatically. While traffic levels have returned to normal since then, citations have not.
Data shows that there are problems with hiring and retaining police officers, as Baldwin put it.
A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, Chris Loftis, has stated that the agency ideally would have 683 troopers working regular, on-the-road patrols throughout the state. However, there were only 521 available road troopers as of the last count.
According to Loftis, the state police have been suffering from a persistent shortage of 150-200 troopers for quite some time. The COVID vaccine mandate, retirements, attrition, and transfers to departments that pay more have all played a role.
Loftis said in an email Monday that the department, “like other law enforcement organizations in the state and country, is stretched thin” and that “we must devise recruitment, training, and retention methods that can address these expanding gaps between demand and capacity.”
Captain Kyle Kennedy of the Oregon State Police reported that out of a total of 530 authorized posts for road troopers and sergeants, only 450 are now occupied.
Many state capitals are reviving debate over reducing the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for driving.08 to.05 in an effort to stem the rising tide of traffic fatalities.
During a committee meeting in late September, Washington state Senator Marko Liias, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said, “We have witnessed a huge increase in traffic fatalities in our state and around the country and feel some need to take action.”
The legal blood alcohol level was proposed to be reduced to 0.05 in both Oregon and California in 2019, but neither state’s legislature ultimately adopted the measure. Senate President Peter Courtney did not run for reelection this year, but the bill he was primarily responsible for in Oregon could see new life in the next legislative session in 2023.
Pandemic aid packages provided additional funding for collision prevention initiatives in both Oregon and Washington, which were overseen by respective traffic safety commissions. The money was partly designated to fund officer overtime to perform high visibility emphasis patrols for speeding, distraction, and impaired driving. Both Baldwin and her counterpart in Oregon acknowledged the strategy’s value but noted that it was occasionally hampered by persistent officer shortages.
One “startling” component of current traffic fatality figures is the large increase in the number of pedestrians and bikers killed. Baldwin reported that the 145 pedestrians killed by vehicles in Washington State in 2021 were the greatest number ever recorded and an increase of nearly 32% from the previous year.
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More pedestrians were killed in Portland last year than in any year in the city’s modern history. A report from the Portland Bureau of Transportation documented that about 70% of the victims in 2021 (19 out of 27) were homeless at the time.
Cities often reduce the speed limit on dangerous roads, install speed bumps, and reorganize traffic patterns in an effort to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities.
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