The driver of a BMW convertible appears to be talking on a cell phone while driving through the 41st Street and Colby Avenue intersection July 22, 2015. Doing so is illegal and dangerous, but is becoming less common. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

The driver of a BMW convertible appears to be talking on a cell phone while driving through the 41st Street and Colby Avenue intersection July 22, 2015. Doing so is illegal and dangerous, but is becoming less common. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

DUIs, distracted driving numbers are down, remain a problem

Last year’s traffic enforcement and infraction data reveals we’re safer, but with room to improve.

Overall, we’re safer on the roads than before.

Credit belongs to enforcement, policy and technology.

The Snohomish County DUI & Target Zero Task Force has a goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2030.

But even as vehicles become cushioned tanks, people have clung to driving under the influence of drugs and found new ways to keep driving dangerously by using smartphones designed to demand our attention.

A Washington State Patrol trooper stopped five drivers Thursday for using their phones while driving, Trooper Heather Axtman said. Four of them allegedly were watching YouTube.

Distracted driving has steadily increased across the country since 2009. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report from October estimated visible manipulation of hand-held devices in 2.1% of drivers.

The good news is that drivers between 16 and 24 are doing so less frequently than they were a decade ago. In 2017, distraction-affected crashes killed 229 teens, according to a Traffic Safety Administration report.

In the State Patrol district that covers Island, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, troopers stopped 4,679 drivers last year. It led to a 35% decrease in distracted driving collisions from 2018.

Across Snohomish County, troopers made 3,359 distracted driving stops, a 24% dip from the previous year.

The number of fatalities involving a driver with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit went down from 2008 to 2017, according to a Traffic Safety Administration report from August.

But drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs remain a problem, even as the rate has decreased or remained steady. Alcohol-impaired drivers were involved in 30% of Washington’s fatal crashes in 2018, per Traffic Safety Administration data.

Locally, a tragically large group grieves people whose names are etched in bricks at the DUI Victims Memorial Wall.

State Patrol troopers got 2,210 suspected impaired drivers off roads in Snohomish County, which contributed to a 70% decrease in serious injury collisions from 2018, Axtman said.

In 2019, the Sheriff’s Office wrote 336 DUI citations, three fewer than the year before, in unincorporated Snohomish County, spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said. The citations don’t mean a physical arrest by the Sheriff’s Office, and could result in the suspect being arrested later by another agency.

Since 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Snohomish County have fluctuated between 3 and 14, according to Traffic Safety Administration data.

Nationally, vehicle fatalities have dipped. Early estimates through September 2019 show a 2.2% decline from 2018, but an increase from the past decade’s low in 2014.

Traffic deaths in Washington dropped 25% over the past few decades, state data shows. But they increased 8% between 2008 and 2017.

From 2014-2018, fatal crashes throughout Snohomish County hovered between 30 and 48. The majority of those happened in unincorporated areas and Everett, according to Washington Traffic Safety Commission data.

The Sheriff’s Office investigated 12 such incidents last year, one fewer than in 2018.

Even as we become safer, there are miles left to go. Let’s make sure drivers put down the bottle and their phones so more people get home, and fewer names end up on the memorial wall.

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