Washington View: Highway safety vital to quality of life in state

By Don Brunell, Columbian business commentator

Published:

 
photoDon Brunell recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business.

Any Realtor will tell you people looking to buy a home want good schools and safe neighborhoods. They also look for decent roads for when they head to the mountains or the beach during holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day or July 4. They want to know that if they are in an accident, someone will respond quickly to help them.

While Washington needs more money to build new highways and repair existing roads, streets and interstates, one area in which our state excels is emergency response.

In our state, if a vehicle is stalled in the middle of the road, there is a good chance that within minutes, a state trooper or incident response truck will be there to clear the roadway and protect drivers and passengers.

If there is a collision on an interstate in Washington, you’ll see a sea of flashing red and blue lights from the State Patrol, aid cars and other emergency vehicles.

That’s not the case in other states. For example, if you have a fender bender in neighboring Oregon, lots of luck.

This actually happened recently. A family member was on her way to work on Interstate 5 in Portland. Just beyond where I-405 merges with I-5, a pickup truck hit her car from behind.

Our family member and the pickup driver managed to move both vehicles to the shoulder of the interstate. I got to the accident a half hour later and a Portland police officer pulled up just behind me.

Fortunately, neither driver appeared to be seriously injured. The police officer examined both cars, asked if our car was drivable (it wasn’t), checked for leaking fluids, asked if I had called a tow truck, lit a flare and left the scene. No police report, no accident report, nothing.

After more than two hours, another Portland police officer stopped, asked what had happened and if a tow truck had been called. When I said yes, he asked for an estimated time. I told him the dispatcher told me 45 minutes.

He immediately called the towing service the police department uses and within 15 minutes our cars were off the interstate shoulder, and we were on the way to the emergency room to get checked out.

The point is, citizens need and deserve a well-staffed professional state patrol and emergency response system. Oregon’s state police force is about half the size of Washington’s, even though Oregon is a larger state.

Noticeable difference

There is a noticeable difference in state trooper presence between the two states. In Washington, the State Patrol actively enforces speed limits, aggressive driving, construction zone safety, seat belt usage, and cellphone and texting violations. In our state, reckless or intoxicated drivers are caught and punished.

That’s because over the years, Washington governors and legislators have made highway safety a priority and kept our State Patrol strong. Since its modest beginnings with six motorcycle officers in 1921, the Washington State Patrol has become one of the premier law enforcement organizations in the nation with 1,600 investigators, support personnel, crime lab technicians and patrol officers. Each day, some 600 officers patrol our highways to help keep our roads and citizens safe. In contrast, budget cuts in Oregon have hurt that state’s police presence.

While traffic accidents will happen, it is comforting to know that in Washington, the response is swift and public safety is the highest priority.

Having made that point, the best of all worlds is not to have an accident in the first place. Hopefully, this July 4, people will slow down, drive safely and stow their cellphones until they get to their destinations.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce. Visit http://www.awb.org.