WA Traffic Safety Commission

G4: 2.4 Traffic Fatalities

In 2015, Washington experienced a 23% increase in traffic fatalities from the previous year, the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2007. This upward trend occurred nationally and has been attributed to a rebounding economy.

The North-western region experienced the highest fatality increase in the U.S. through 2015Q3

National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2016, January). Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Nine Months (Jan-Sep) of 2015 (Crash Stats Brief Statistical Summary. Report No. DOT HS 812 240). Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


Annual percent change in WA population, GDP, Gas Prices, VMT, Licensed Drivers. Reg Veh, etc and the change in fatalities


Factor proportion analysis of 2015 fatalities

What are we doing about the increase in fatalities?
  • The updated Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Target Zero, will be released in the fall.
  • The WTSC Commissioners have approved a comprehensive funding package with new traffic safety projects, most being implemented at the local level.
  • The WTSC has identified a statewide Law Enforcement Liaison who began work April 2016

2.4.a - Impaired Driver Involved Fatalities

The Washington Impaired Driver Advisory Council (WIDAC) completed the White Paper on Sobriety Checkpoints in Washington State. The White Paper was approved by the Commissioners in April 2016.

Washington State Patrol


The State of Washington State has strict laws for drunk driving and driving under influence of drugs or marijuana.
Washington’s drugged driving law is located at Revised Code of Washington Section 46.61.502. It prohibits driving while “under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug."
We know the two primary causes of fatality collisions involve driver impairment and speed.  Both of these factors contributed to respectively 46% and 28% of the state's 567 traffic fatalities in 2015

Over the past 5 years, the percentage of  fatalities involving impairment have remained near 50%.  Fatalities involving a d.

We continue to see impairment in three broad categories:  alcohol, drugs, and the combination of both.  As we have anticipated with the legalization of marijuana, the presence of THC in suspected impaired driving cases has increased to represent 21% of all fatalities in 2014 and 17% of all fatalities in 2015. 
Fatalities related to only drug positive drivers increased 27% in 2015.  This is the biggest increase in that category in the last 10 years.

While these impaired driver fatalities have increased, we have actually observed an overall decrease in the number of DUI arrests statewide.  The five year average shows a 31% decrease.  Total WSP DUI arrests decreased to 14K in 2015.  

One reason for the decrease in overall arrests is the increase in time required to process a DUI arrest.

While this processing time has gone up significantly, the number of officers out detecting and apprehending DUI drivers has decreased.  Statewide, all agencies are looking at a retirement bubble and significant recruiting challenges. 

2.4.b - Speeding Driver Involved Fatalities

Speed related fatal collisions decreased 4% in 2015

The photo below is from a recent mock crash at Winlock High School in partnership with our local agencies.

2.4.c - Fatalities Involving Young Drivers Age 16-25

20% Increase in 2015

  • 176 fatalities involving young drivers in 2015, compared to 147 in 2014
  • Highest loss since 2009
  • Downward trend since 2005 may be reversing, five year rolling average is up, trend toward zero is at risk
  • Proven strategic actions are being taken, and more are needed 

Fatalities By Age Groups

Different Laws for Different Age Groups

  • 21-25 year olds remain the age group of highest risk, involved twice as often as 18-20 year olds. They have legal access to alcohol and marijuana. 
  • 18-20 year olds remain twice as likely as 16-17 year olds to be involved in a fatal crash.  They can earn their first license without driver education.  
  • 16-17 year olds involved in fatalities trended down for several years following the 2001 Intermediate Driver License law, but stopped trending down by 2008.   

High Risk Behaviors

Impairment and Speeding Remain Top Factors

  • Impairment remains the highest risk factor with 53% involvement in 2015, compared to xx% for older drivers
  • Speeding remains the second highest risk behavior with 34% involvement in 2015, often higher than for older drivers
  • Distracted driving remains third, ranging from 18-27% over the years, trending slightly up
  • In 2015 when the number of fatalities went up, the percent of these behaviors went down
  • Several other causes increased slightly in 2015, but none were statistically relevant increases
  • Continued focus on the two highest risk behaviors will save more lives than shifting focus to lesser risks

Young Driver Risk Behavior # 1:  Impairment

Impairment By Type

  • Alcohol remains the most prevalent form of impairment, has stopped trending downward, and was found three times more often in 21-25 year olds than in 18-20 year olds involved in fatal crashes
  • Marijuana remains the second most prevalent form, returning in 2014 and 2015 to numbers not seen since 2005 and 2006
  • Marijuana involvement as a percent of all impairment decreased from 27% in 2014 to 18% in 2015
  • Drugs other than marijuana were found more often in 2013 to 2015 than in the four preceding years

Young Driver Risk Behavior # 2:            Speed

Trending Down 

  • Speeding as a high risk behavior is trending down.  But 55 speeding young drivers were involved in fatalities last year.
  • Speeding as a percent of ....
  • Distracted driving is the third most prevalent risk behavior found among young and older drivers, and is trending up slightly

Young Driver and Passenger Risk Tolerance

 Drinking, Texting and Emailing

  • Riding with a texting or emailing driver rose from 47% in 8th graders to 59% in 12th graders
  •  Driving while texting or emailing tripled between the 10th and 12th grades
  • Driving after drinking almost doubled between the 10th and 12 grade

Young Driver Action Plan

Strategies, actions and legislation proposals validated by research, national to local.

Young Driver Policy Recommendations

16-17 Year Olds

  • Expand permit period from 6 months to 1 year to allow more practice time
  • Expand behind-the-wheel driving practice with parent from 50 hours to 80-120 hours
  • Expand nighttime driving restriction to begin at 9pm instead of 1am (exceptions for school and work)
  • No passengers during the first year of driving
  • One passenger after first year and until age 18

18-20 Year Olds

  • Establish a permit/practice driving requirment for new license applicants of this age group
  • Expand driver training requirements to 18-20 year olds
  • Expand cell phone use prohibition till age 21

Driver Training Subsidy for Low Income

  • Establish a traffic safety education subsidy program for low income students

WA State Liquor and Cannabis Board

Reducing Impaired Driving Through Enforcement of Over-Service Laws


  • From 2014-2015, nearly one in four traffic fatalities involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher.
  • According to national data, approximately 50% of people arrested for DUI consumed their last drink at an on-sale licensed establishment (NHTSA, 2005).
  • Research shows that 65-79% of alcohol establishments will serve alcohol to patrons who appear obviously intoxicated (Lenk, Toomey, & Erickson, 2006; Toomey et. al., 2004)

National Transportation Safety Board Recommendation

November 2012 - To reduce impaired driving, agencies should focus on identifying the 'place of last drink'.
'Place of last drink' (POLD) data allows increased oversight on establishments that are serving intoxicated patrons.


  • Businesses identified as being a high 'last drink location' on average have 25 visits per year, compared to three or fewer visits per year.
  • Average business reported as last drink location had 2.8 incidents per year.
  • The top 20 reported businesses in FY2014 had an average of 27 incidents. In FY2015, the average number of incidents was 23.25.
  • Only 14% of DUI arrest data include the last drink location.

Over-service Reduction Strategy

Ensure officers continuously engage in over-service enforcement, education, and intervention.
Hold consumers accountable in and around licensed locations for over-consumption, and associated irresponsible and illegal behavior.
Partner with city, county, and state law enforcement agencies to foster mutual efforts on reducing impaired driving, and other associated harms with over-consumption.