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Traffic fatalities dropping steeply

OLYMPIA – Traffic fatalities in Washington continued their downward trend in 2010, reaching the lowest level in at least 35 years, the state Traffic Safety Commission announced Wednesday.

There were 448 known traffic-related deaths last year – down 44 from 2009. That represents a drop of more than 200 fatalities over a five-year period and is the lowest figure since Washington’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System launched in 1975, said commission spokesman MJ Haught.

Transportation officials say the steady decline in recent years is a product of the state’s public education campaigns, highway safety projects and strong enforcement of traffic laws.

“Washington’s traffic safety community continues to achieve traffic safety goals by using data to set priorities, identifying problems where the most progress can be realized, investing in strategies that work, and aggressively evaluating outcomes through continuous performance measurement,” said Lowell Porter, director of the Traffic Safety Commission.

The state has set a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2030 as part of its Target Zero plan established in 2000.

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste says most traffic deaths are caused by speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and not wearing a seat belt.

“Eliminating those three violations would, just by themselves, get us most of the way to Target Zero,” Batiste said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding was blamed for 40 percent of the 2,866 traffic fatalities in Washington between 2005 and 2009, while alcohol impairment played a role in 36 percent of the accidents. More crashes occurred in rural areas than in urban settings.