If you’re noticing more Washington State Patrol troopers on Tri-City highways, it’s not your imagination.
They’re doubling down on dangerous drivers.
That’s because crashes caused by drunken and impaired drivers jumped 68 percent in the first six months of this year.
And already there have been 17 percent more crashes, causing almost 30 percent more injuries.
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“That’s a lot of extra collisions,” said WSP Trooper Chris Thorson.
There’s no break in heavy traffic flow anymore.
Trooper Chris Thorson, Washington State Patrol
Part of the issue is that the Tri-Cities is growing, putting more drivers than ever on its roadways.
And, in general, lower gas prices and an improved economy are contributing to more driving, said the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
“There’s really no break in heavy traffic flow anymore,” Thorson said.
The biggest problem spots?
They are Highway 240 between Hanford and Kennewick, Interstate 182 in Richland and Pasco, and near the blue bridge on Highway 395.
“Those highways are just nonstop calls of service and wrecks,” Thorson said.
The biggest problem spots? They are Highway 240 between Hanford and Kennewick, Interstate 182 in Richland and Pasco, and near the blue bridge on Highway 395.
From January to July, there were 823 crashes, causing 167 injuries. And 52 of those collisions involved drivers suspected of driving drunk or drugged.
That’s up from 706 wrecks and 129 injuries in the first six months of last year. And that year, 31 were DUI-related.
So, troopers are beefing up their patrols and making more traffic stops when they see a problem, especially in the trouble spots.
For example, Target Zero’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign started in mid-August and ended after Labor Day, involving law enforcement officers from throughout the region.
Shelly Baldwin, legislative and media relations director for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, described traffic wreck increases as a complex problem with no single cause or clear solution.
National statistics show that young male drivers are most likely to be involved in fatal or serious injury crashes, she said.
And during the recession, fewer young men had jobs and gas was more costly so they were driving less and causing fewer wrecks, she said.
“They seemed to be very, very sensitive to gas prices,” Baldwin said.
Telling the public that more troopers are watching out for them, like with the recent Target Zero campaign, is among many ways the state traffic commission tries to tackle the problem.
Baldwin described increased patrols in key areas as the best tool in their toolbox.
Since human error causes about 90 percent of collisions, Baldwin and the commission encourage drivers to take responsibility for themselves. If you’re drinking, find a designated driver or walk home with a friend, she said.
Drivers also must constantly scan for hazards and avoid using cellphones, distracting conversations with passengers or other things that could take their attention off the road.
“We just continue to work on those behaviors,” Baldwin said.