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This year is on track to be the deadliest on Washington's roads in decades

A view of Interstate 90 and 3rd Avenue in Spokane as seen from Spokane's East Central Neighborhood in spring of 2021.
Rebecca White
A view of Interstate 90 and 3rd Avenue in Spokane as seen from Spokane's East Central Neighborhood in spring of 2021.

State officials say this year is on track to be the deadliest on Washington’s roads since 1990. They’re asking drivers to be extra cautious this weekend, because of expected rises in travel and impaired driving.

Fatal crashes tend to increase around summer holidays, because more people drive while impaired.

Mark McKechnie, external relations director for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, said a significant portion of traffic deaths are caused by distracted driving, impairment, not wearing seatbelts, failure to grant right of way and speeding.

“We know that people are getting together, and celebrating and using alcohol, or sometimes other substances such as cannabis,” he said. “Now is a good time to think about if that's part of your holiday plans, how are you going to get home safely, and have a sober ride, or be sober when you travel.”

According to the Traffic Safety Commission, deadly crashes tend to increase around holidays. Drugs and alcohol are a factor in nearly half of fatal crashes during holidays.

McKechnie said speed is also a major factor in the increase in deadly crashes this year.

“I think it started when the roads were emptier, there was some people who decided they could drive as fast as they wanted because there wasn't traffic,” he said. “Unfortunately, those behaviors seemed to have continued with people driving much faster and more aggressively.”

He said speeding in populated areas, or school zones drastically increases the likelihood of a deadly collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian.

“Somebody who's struck by a vehicle is much more likely to survive, they have a 90% chance of survival if the car is traveling less than 25 miles per an hour,” he said. “Their chances for survival go down quickly as the speed increases.”

According to data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, there were 417 fatalities in the first seven months of 2023, compared to 413 in the same period last year. In total, there were more than 700 deaths last compared to the previous high of 825 in 1990.