Monthly Archives: December 2013

What number of highway deaths is acceptable?

Of the 85.8 million Americans who’ll be traveling over the holidays, only 261 of them will be killed in car crashes.
AAA projects a record 85.8 million people will journey 50 miles or more from home. The National Safety Council estimates 105 will be killed in traffic over Christmas and 156 over New Year’s.
It brings to mind the commercial by the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission that asks people on the street what the annual goal should be for the number of traffic deaths in Washington. Most answer in the hundreds or even thousands. Then they’re asked what the goal should be for number of family members killed in traffic. Of course, they all say zero.
The ad is part of the commission’s “Target Zero” campaign that aims to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. That might never happen, but it’s worth a try.
Thirty-four thousand people died on the roads last year. In Washington, there were 437 traffic deaths; in Kitsap County, 22. How far do you supposed they would plummet if drivers weren’t drunk, high, speeding or messing with their phones? By half? Three-quarters? How many are preventable?
Though macabre, the National Safety Council provides holiday traffic fatality estimates to remind people to drive defensively and make smart decisions. One would be not to drink and drive. Forty-two percent of all New Year’s highway deaths are related to booze. Christmas is at 35 percent, according to Safety+Health magazine.
Car breakdowns are no fun either, but they beat dying or getting hurt in a crash. AAA says of those 85.8 million Americans on the roads during the holidays, it will have to rescue 3.76 million, including 15,000 in Washington and northern Idaho. The main reasons will be dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.
People will be driving farther, AAA says. The average distance traveled is expected to be 805 miles, up 45 miles from last year. They’re projected to spend $765, also slightly more. Top activities include visiting with friends and family (74 percent), dining (70 percent) and shopping (51 percent).
The vast majority of people traveling over the holidays — 91 percent — will be doing it by car. Fortunately for them, gas prices aren’t too bad, averaging $3.31 per gallon in Washington for a gallon of regular unleaded. That’s six cents less than last year.
If you’re driving across the county to visit the grandparents or popping around the corner to the grocery store, watch out for the other guy and don’t give them any reason to watch out for you. If we all do that, maybe Target Zero isn’t out of reach.

Speed continues to kill on the roads

A new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wasn’t surprising in its finding that speed still kills. It was just the timing, coming the morning after two young ladies died in a speed-related crash on Baby Doll Road.

Though traffic fatalities are dropping overall, speed remains a leading cause. Nationally, about a third of traffic fatalities are linked to speeding. Washington state falls in line with that. Of the 437 people who died in traffic here in 2012, 159 included speed a a factor.

Even though 91 percent of those surveyed agreed that people need to slow down, more than a quarter admitted speeding themselves. Why do they do it? The most common reason, according to the survey, is they’re running late for an event or appointment.

The solution is often easier said than done.

“Just leave earlier,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste. “There’s no point in arriving at a play, or ballgame, or other fun event all stressed out from traffic. If you speed, you put yourself at risk of not arriving at all.”

You can see the full report here.





Which state has the worst drivers?

Louisiana nipped South Carolina to remain the state with the worst drivers in the country for the second straight year, according to a study. Vermont people were best behind the wheel. Washington’s were 13th.
The rankings are based on statistics pulled from several sources, including National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Motorists Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They combine five categories — fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled, failure to obey traffic signals and wear seat belts, drunk driving, tickets, and careless driving., which constructed the report, is interested because lousier drivers contribute to higher insurance premiums in a state.
The worst six states (including District of Columbia) are all in the South. Following Louisiana and South Carolina are:
49. Mississippi
48. Texas
47. Alabama
46. Florida
Rounding out the bottom 10 are:
45. Missouri
44. North Carolina
43. Montana
42. North Dakota
Besides Vermont, the best drivers live in:
2. Utah
3. New Hampshire
4. Minnesota
5. Oregon
6. Maine
7. Connecticut
8. District of Columbia
9. Iowa
10. Massachusetts
Louisiana drivers were bad across the board, but not the worst in any particular category. Montana was worst for fatalities per mile and drunk driving. Outside of Wyoming, it’s the last place you’d expect to get a ticket. That all adds up. The less a driver fears he’ll be stopped, the more he can drive drunk and crazy.
Kentucky was tops for drivers disobeying traffic signals and not buckling up. Nevada drivers get the most tickets and Florida’s are the most careless.
Washington remained in the 13th spot, ranking sixth in fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, fourth in failure to obey traffic signals and seat belt laws, 37th in drunk driving, 36th in tickets and 16th in careless driving. The state’s drunk driving ranking plummeted 14 spots since last year, but it was offset by a 21-spot improvement in careless driving.
You can see the complete rankings here.

Washington State Ferries comes out with new online tool

Washington State Ferries is encouraging riders to try out a new online tool that shows how much car deck space remains on upcoming sailings. The beta program subtracts the number of vehicle fares collected at the tollbooth from the number of cars the boat can carry and displays the difference on the new terminal conditions page.
For example, during Tuesday’s early afternoon rush at Fauntleroy, the page listed the 4:20 p.m. departure to Southworth. The boat would be the 87-car Klahowya. At 4:07 p.m., it had 39 spaces left and was marked in yellow. I took that to mean if you’re not far away and hurry up, you might get on board. Along with the numbers are live camera images of cars at the dock.
Red signifies not to even bother.
The page doesn’t line up quite right on my computer. There’s a link that customers are encouraged to use to provide feedback, so the tool can be refined over the next few months.

Seaquist trying to cut us a break on bridge tolls

I’ve been whining about this for years now. Why do we have to pay the entire cost of building the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge with tolls when the state is helping to fund the new 520 floating bridge and other mega-projects. Now I have Rep. Larry Seaquist on my side.
The Gig Harbor Democrat proposed in a press release Tuesday that if the House and Senate can agree to a $10 to $12 billion transportation revenue package they’ve been kicking around, Kitsap Peninsula folks should get some toll relief out of the deal. He would roll back rates to $4 for electronic and $4.25 for cash, and freeze them there. They’re now at $4.25 and $5.25.
He’d prevent future toll increases by shifting a small percentage of the proposed new gas tax revenue to a new “Tacoma Narrows Bridge Toll Stabilization Account” that would help pay the bridge’s escalating construction bonds.
“We are paying 100 percent of the bridge costs,” he said. “If we are going to raise gas taxes, part of that must be used to restore simple fairness to our bridge users.”
The House has proposed a 10-year, $9.8 billion plan with a 10 1/2-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, the Senate a 12-year, $12.3 package with a 11 1/2-cent hike. They’re not too far apart on dollars and projects, but still have to work out some philosophical differences. That could happen before the legislative session begins in January, during the session, or never.
“My solution offers a fair and reasonable compromise,” said Seaquist. “If these provisions are not enacted, not only will TNB tolls go up, but we’ll be subsidizing the 520 project through higher gas taxes. That’s a double hit for my constituents and is anything but fair.”
At least we didn’t have to start paying tolls before the new bridge was built, like they’ve been doing on 520 the past two years. As bad as Narrows traffic was then, people would’ve gone nuts.
Up at Lake Washington, drivers are avoiding the 520 bridge toll by taking I-90, so the state is looking into tolling that route, too. Poor Mercer Islander residents are crying because I-90 is their only way on and off the island. The state is considering free or discounted trips for them. It’s not like there’s a reasonable alternative for people using the Tacoma Narrows.
The $729 million for the new Narrows bridge is just the up-front cost. That money was borrowed, so, like a house mortgage, there’s interest that will more than double the final amount. Plus our tolls pay for all of the operations — including collecting the tolls — and maintenance. Altogether, that runs into the billions of dollars.
The Transportation Commission, when confronting the fairness issue, has a pretty good comeback. Tolls may be paying for the Narrows bridge itself, but the state put millions into the approaches to it, $170 million into westbound Nalley Valley and is working on $115 million in eastbound improvements so they’re not just moving the traffic jam down the road. I appreciate that, but still can’t totally buy that it squares us with other mega-projects.
House Transportation Committee chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, of all places, says she’s besieged by peers wanting to add projects to the package. I’m sure it’s the same way on the Senate side. Seaquist’s is just another of these. As sad as it sounds, you might as well put your hand out when everybody else is. Transportation leaders need to buy some votes to get the thing passed.
The only substantial Kitsap Peninsula road project that’ll probably wind up in the package is the Belfair Bypass, though there would be money to build another 144-car ferry. Maybe Seaquist can sweeten the pot.