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2021 saw the most annual traffic deaths on Washington roadways in nearly 2 decades

The Traffic Safety Commission reported 634 traffic deaths on the state's highways last year. 2005 was the most recent year with more at 649.

SEATTLE — The Traffic Safety Commission (TSC) released a report last month showing a clear rise in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington state roads over recent years, a trend that appears to be continuing into 2022, with three traffic fatalities on western Washington roads on Tuesday night alone.

First, one driver was taken into custody for vehicular homicide following a deadly multi-car crash on northbound I-5 in Arlington. Then, another crash in SeaTac left two people dead shortly before 9 p.m. The intersection of S. 154 Street and 24th Avenue S. near where the SeaTac crash took place didn't reopen until Wednesday morning.

The driver in the Arlington crash, who is a 21-year-old Burlington man, may have been driving erratically before the three-vehicle crash that killed one person, according to the Washington State Patrol (WSP). Another person was taken to the hospital with a broken leg and ribs, according to probable cause documents.

Police found an empty bottle of vodka behind the driver's seat of the suspect's BMW, and a WSP drug recognition expert determined the driver was possibly under the influence of narcotics, according to probable cause documents. Drug paraphernalia was also found in the driver's belongings.

When police told the suspect the crash was fatal, documents say he "did not even react, but was concerned about himself going home."

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In its report, the TSC showed how traffic fatalities had declined across the state through the early 2010s, reaching a 20-year low of 436 deaths in 2013.

However, those numbers quickly reversed, reaching at least 634 fatalities in 2021, the most since 2005 when the state saw 649 deaths.

The numbers are even worse for pedestrians across the state, with 2021 marking at least 121 traffic-related pedestrian deaths. It was the highest number in at least the last 20 years. 2020 was a close second with 110 pedestrian fatalities.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has seen an especially sharp increase in the number of serious traffic-related injuries, growing from 2,255 in 2019 to 2,437 in 2020 and then all the way to at least 2,888 in 2021. Last year was the highest number of serious injuries since 2006.

Some contributing factors the TSC points to include a decline in traffic safety enforcement, with all violations seeing at least a 15% decrease since 2019 other than speeding violations of more than 40 mph, which increased by more than 51%.

Additionally, the TSC reported things such as impairment, no safety belt use and speeding were all on the rise in 2021 compared to 2019.

These kinds of behaviors have also led to a greater proportion of crashes leading to deaths or serious injuries. In 2019, just 7.4% of crashes led to either death or serious injuries, but that number jumped to 10% in 2020 and then to 10.7% in 2021.

These increases come despite the state’s traffic remaining down about 8% compared to pre-pandemic, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. 

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