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Seat Belts Helping Lower Traffic Fatalities In State Number Killed Last Year Lowest On Record Since 1970

Nearly 6,200 people killed on Washington highways, roadways and byways during the past year!

That would have been the horrifying headline last Jan. 1 had the state’s traffic death rate been the same as that posted in 1937 when 12.9 persons were killed in traffic accidents per each 100 million miles traveled.

As it turned out, 639 people lost their lives in traffic last year, the lowest figure posted since 1970.

The fatality rate of 1.33 persons per 100 million miles traveled was also the lowest on record. And the number of miles traveled was the highest, 48 billion miles.

Why the dramatic drop in deaths per 100 million miles traveled and in the actual number of fatalities?

“There are a number of factors involved,” said Phil Salzberg, an analyst for the state Traffic Safety Commission.

“Since Ralph Nader began his campaign, motor vehicle standards have been improved and air bags have helped.”

Also a contributing factor is Washington’s mandatory seat belt law, he said. He said an observation survey taken in 1986, the year the seat belt law went into effect, showed that about 36 percent of the state’s motorists buckled up. “The rate last year was 80 percent,” Salzberg said.

Improved roadways and highway engineering, tougher drunken-driving laws and a reduction in the speed limit from 70 miles an hour to 55 miles an hour on congested sections of the interstate system are also factors, Salzberg said.

The fatality report released on Thursday noted there were 129,899 vehicle collisions reported during 1994 - 82,207 in urban areas and 47,692 in rural areas.

But fatal accidents occurred at a greater rate in rural areas.

The report showed there were 155 fatal accidents in urban areas claiming the lives of 160 persons. There were 419 fatal accidents in rural areas that claimed 479 lives.

Of the 639 fatalities, 346 were automobile and truck drivers, 159 were automobile or truck passengers, 85 were pedestrians, 14 were bicyclists, 32 were motorcycle drivers and 3 were motorcycle passengers.

Drunken driving remained as the major cause of traffic fatalities. The report shows that 217 of the drivers involved in fatal accidents were driving under the influence of alcohol.

The report listed these other causes of fatal crashes: exceeding reasonable safe speed, 129; exceeding stated speed limit, 83; inattention, 57; failure to grant right of way, 42; operating defective equipment, 29; disregarding stop sign or signal, 32; disregarding stop and go light, 16; following too closely, 5; and improper turn, 1.

The most fatalities, 126, occurred during the afternoon commute time from 4 to 8 p.m. A total of 56 persons were killed in accidents during the morning commute time from 4 to 8 a.m.

A total of 119 persons were killed from 8 p.m. to midnight, 94 from midnight to 4 a.m., 77 from 8 a.m. to noon and 102 from noon to 4 p.m.

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