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Fewer collisions in 2011 due to multi-agency education effort

Drivers on Washington roadways are safer than ever before because of a multi-agency effort to reduce traffic collisions in the state.

Fewer than 99,000 drivers crashed on Washington roadways in 2011, down from 101,887 in 2010, according to data from the Washington State Department of Transportation. In 2010, there were 425 fatal collisions compared to 582 collision related deaths in the state five years prior in 2005.

The improvements fall in line with the shared goal of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol, the Department of Licensing, Department of Health and several cities, sheriff's offices, counties and tribes to implement Target Zero, a strategic, statewide highway safety program to eliminate all traffic collision fatalities and injuries on the state's roadways by 2030.

As part of the program, law enforcement routinely conduct DUI and seatbelt emphasis patrols that are announced ahead of time through newspapers, radio, television and highway reader boards. Officers and deputies then reinforce this message with a heavy presence in target areas where they make arrests and issue citations.

Washington Traffic Safety Commission Communications Manager MJ Haught said that one of the main reasons that collisions are decreasing in Wash. State is that drivers are becoming more educated through the information efforts of the mass media.

“We have strong support from journalists in Washington, who are interested in data rather than anecdotes," she said. "They help us get the message out. Every state has a strategic traffic highway safety program but no other state has the outreach to get everyone on the same page. Our program is the envy of other states.”  In addition to conducting DUI and seatbelt emphasis patrols that encourage safe driving behaviors, and enlisting the support of journalists to communicate the message of safe driving to the general population, law enforcement agencies make outreach efforts to local schools and the military through various education efforts that ensure people will get the message that safe driving is the only acceptable form of driving on Washington's roadways.

Wash. State Patrolman Russ Winger reaches out to military in Kitsap County and said that this is necessary to make sure that sailors in the Kitsap region are attuned to the Wash. State driving laws and safe driving tips since many are from other parts of the country or may recently have returned from a conflict area across the globe where the intensity of the situation might make smaller town communities seem tame by comparison.

"Being deployed, they are not driving on our roads. A lot of them are young and are stationed on ships," Winger said. "Lots of them are not driving at all. The USS Stennis had a long deployment in the Middle East for seven months. They're cooped up on the ship. Lets say you're on a carrier that is launching an aircraft with hydraulics--these guys are on heightened alert. Some of the ships even have nuclear reactors. Then, they come back and their awareness drops down, so they don't always feel that they have to be as safe. We say, 'keep that level of awareness.' We reinforce the idea of, 'be aware of what you're doing because there's consequences.' After being deployed, they want to experience freedom. We give them education on state laws, safety factors, safe driving, combating impaired driving. They invite us out."

In addition to educational efforts, The Washington State Department of Transportation has completed several projects to make the roads more safer for drivers in Kitsap County. In 2009, engineers completed the Burley-Olalla interchange project, which modified the at-grade intersection on State Route 16 where Burley Olalla Road intersects with the highway and replaced it with an overpass to make the driving experience less deadly for motorists. The intersection was particularly prone to accidents because motorists traveling on Burley-Olalla Road were attempting to cross State Route 16 after coming to a complete stop at a stop sign and oncoming traffic was often traveling at speeds exceeding 50 miles per hour.

Winger, who has worked with the state patrol since 1989, remembers several injury-collision accidents and fatalities at this South Kitsap intersection and is glad that the changes were finally implemented so that motorists traveling on Burley-Olalla can drive under State Route 16 rather than across it.

"I saw a lot of T-Bone high speed, high impact accidents. We did have fatalities.  I personally saw several high-speed, high-impact crashes," Winger said. "Sometimes you had people who made poor decisions--bad decisions about crossing. They would scoot through traffic and have T-Bone collisions. That little intersection improved over the years. They put in a merge lane, but even that didn't eliminate collisions because cars were crossing the freeway, so when they built the bridge and did the work, now you have ramps and off-ramps."

Projects such as the 2009 State Route 16 Burley Olalla Interchange fall under one of the four Target Zero strategies known as the four "E's," which include Education, Enforcement, Emergency Medical Services and Engineering. Winger said that the larger program of mass communication, coupled with safer roadways and appropriate emphasis patrols to effectively reduce roadside crashes among the public is what Target Zero is all about.

"That's the whole scope--you have the law enforcement side, the community side, the Washington State Department of Transportation side. It's all one big push to reduce deaths," he said.

Haught added that while the current data on collisions in Wash. State in 2011 is preliminary, and won't be considered permanent until Dec. 31 2012, it is the most recent data on collisions in the state available to measure the effectiveness of Target Zero and shows that the efforts of law enforcement, cities, counties, tribes, the media and various government agencies are working."The more educated you are, the less likely you are to be in a crash," she said. "There is a strong interest in traffic safety in this state."

 

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