State leaders hope bipartisan effort saves lives, increases traffic safety in Washington

When it comes to traffic fatalities, Washington leads the nation in year-over-year increases.

745 people were killed on the roads in the state in 2022. That is an increase from 670 deaths in 2021, 574 deaths in 2020, and 538 deaths in 2019.

Governor Jay Inslee and state legislators gathered Thursday to introduce their bipartisan effort to increase traffic safety. Some of the ideas on the table could require drastic changes to driving behaviors. The state leaders said though the possible changes could be major, this goal is to save lives on the roads.

"It is such a painful thing to know that 745 people did not get home safely last year, and that those numbers have increased the last couple of years," said Inslee.

One of those lives lost in 2022 was 13-year-old Michael Weilert of Parkland. His parents, Amber and David Weilert said on July 19, Michael had the right-of-way at a crosswalk when a car hit and killed him while he was on his bicycle.

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"I arrived just to see them lay the white sheet over Michael’s body. At that point, I knew that I’d lost him," recalled Amber. 

One of the proposals in the package of bills calls on banning right turns on red lights statewide. The idea was presented in Senate Bill 5514 from State Senator John Lovick representing the 44th Legislative District, and House Bill 1582 from Representative Cindy Ryu representing the 32nd Legislative District.

"That’s the change that people are going to hate. But they also hate the fact that people are cutting them off and running them down at intersections. So we’re hoping to reduce a lot of the car-pedestrian collisions, car-bicycle collisions, things like that," said Lovick.

Lovick, a former Washington state trooper of 31 years, said he spent time at intersections studying behaviors of right turns on red lights.

"They’ll turn their head to the left and keep their head to the left and drift out into the lane," said Lovick.

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Another bill hopes to install speed safety camera systems on state highways. Washington State Department of Transportation said there were 626 crashes at work zones, and five crew members were killed.

"By God, we got to do something to protect those workers," said State Senator Curtis King representing the 14th Legislative District. "There wasn’t one meeting that we didn’t have a story of either a near-miss or somebody actually being hit. We realize we got to take drastic steps and do something that’s going to change the dynamic in these work areas."

The package also included the idea of triggering driver's license reexamination if a driver is involved in a serious traffic incident. Representative Sharlett Mena, representing the 29th Legislative District, said Michael Weilert’s death came to mind with this proposal.

"We have to ask ourselves after an incident like this, if a driver should still be on the road," said Mena.

"My son is gone. But we can save a life of another mother’s child," said Weilert’s mother. "These choices that are being made here and now matter. They’re truly life and death."

Though none of the proposals brings Michael back, his parents said a change in the laws could save the lives of many for generations.

"He definitely wanted to have a legacy. And for us to do this feels like we’re giving Michael the justice that he deserves," said his father David.


Report: 2022 saw most traffic deaths in Washington since 1990

A report from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission found 2022 saw the most traffic deaths in the state since 1990, and more than half of them involved impaired driving.

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A list of the bills in the package to increase traffic safety include:

  • SB 5272 (Liias): Concerning speed safety camera systems on state highways.
  • SB 5002 (Lovick): Concerning alcohol concentration.
  • SB 5430 (Shewmake): Providing support for low-income novice drivers to receive driver training.
  • SB 5216 (Frame) / HB 1319 (Reed): Addressing collision reporting criteria triggering driver's license reexamination.
  • SB 5514 (Lovick) / HB 1582 (Ryu): Prohibit free right on red.
  • SB 5560 (Hunt): older driver safety.
  • SB 5583 (Liias): young driver safety.
  • SB 5023 (Wilson, J.) / HB 1485 (Orcutt): Blue lights on tow trucks.
  • SB 5032 (Padden): DUI Lookback