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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


You can lower risk when driving

Vigilance, vehicle familiarity and road rule knowledge, combined with good operational skills and distraction avoidance, are major factors influencing driving success.  But three other major behaviors, all within your control, can most reduce your chances of having wrecks. 

The Washington State Patrol reports that most traffic deaths are caused by speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and/or not wearing a seat belt.  Through emphasis patrols and driver education campaigns, reducing those three things is a major element of fulfilling the WSP’s Target Zero goal: reducing vehicle-related fatalities within the state to zero by 2030.

For individual drivers wishing to lower their risk of trouble, avoiding those three driving shortcomings is a good place to start.  Driving an automobile is probably the most dangerous activity most of us engage in that we have some degree of control over.

Fatalities nationwide are dropping for the first time in decades along with those in Washington.  I think much of that has to do with ever-improving vehicle safety features and proliferation of driver assist features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warnings, lane departure alerts, etc.

Transportation officials believe that the decline in deaths is a product of public education campaigns (Washington is a leader in seat belt use), highway safety projects and strong enforcement of traffic laws.  But still, most of the remaining fatalities stem from the aforementioned three problems, so there is room for improvement.

Improved driving is definitely a mission worth pursuing, as traffic accidents are still the leading cause of death for individuals under the age of 25.  Vehicle wrecks take out lots of older folks too, but medical maladies such as heart disease and cancer compete with auto accidents for top billing as we age.

For certain, driver error (which includes speeding and driving under influence) counts for nearly 80 percent of all vehicle crashes.  That’s why a recurring theme of this column is that we should strive to drive error-free.  Though we’re all prone to mistakes, error-free driving must be our quest — with a genuine effort, we can all minimize incidence of error and its consequences.

Errors can range from following too closely to succumbing to distraction.  But statistics still reveal speeding as a factor in 40 percent and alcohol impairment as a cause in 35 percent of all traffic deaths.  Many compounding errors (like seatbelt non-use) are induced by alcohol use. 

Additionally, most serious accidents occur at night with automobiles having multiple occupants.  The many fatal wrecks occurring at night on rural highways are a reason for WSP emphasis patrols on SR (State Route) highways in our region.

Statistics don’t lie: the majority of fatal vehicle crashes involve speeding, alcohol, seat belt non-use.  Avoiding those errors and the many accompanying driving mistakes like distraction or tailgating will improve your odds of survival.   

When driving, we alone have responsibility for our actions and their results.  When we inevitably do screw up, hopefully it doesn’t result in an accident or death, and serves as a learning experience to help us avoid duplicating the mistake.

So please head the advice of law enforcement by not speeding, driving under influence or leaving your seatbelt unbuckled.  Besides that, work to eliminate errors by concentrating on driving while behind the wheel, knowing your vehicle and mastering the rules of the road. It’s not really too much to ask.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at