OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington transportation commissioners are proposing to create scholarships for new drivers to get driver’s education training.
The Washington State Transportation Commission, which discussed the idea Tuesday, wants Gov. Jay Inslee to back a plan to offer driver’s ed for free to low-income teens. The commission is working with the governor's office to get their plan included in the budget proposal this upcoming legislative session.
"I think it's an insurance policy for all of us to educate and build safer drivers that we're on the road with every day,” said Mark McKechnie, external relations director at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “So, it's not just their benefit. It's to the benefit of all of us and our families."
Driver’s ed is mandatory for drivers under 18 years old, but about half of the people in that age group can’t afford the classes, which can cost more than $500.
Making the classes available to all will make teens safer drivers for the rest of their lives, according to research done by the commission.
The proposal comes as traffic-related deaths have been increasing in Washington state since 2020. The figures had been flat or declining for several years before the pandemic.
In 2021, there were 670 traffic-related deaths in Washington, up from 574 deaths in 2020 and 538 deaths in 2019. The percentage increase in deaths from 2020 to 2021 was the highest ever recorded.
The top causes include impairment, speed and driver distraction. However, the commission believes the cost of driver’s ed could also be playing a role.
The most people killed in traffic crashes in the state was in 1979 when a record 1,015 people were killed.
Another idea that will be debated when legislators return to Olympia in January is lowering the state's blood alcohol threshold for drunk drivers from 0.08 to 0.05. Traffic deaths declined when Utah implemented that change, according to traffic safety commissioners.