The holiday season is notorious for excess traffic and excess celebration, which prompted the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to publish in December bleak traffic fatality numbers: a 20-year high in traffic fatalities in 2021, with more than half of traffic fatalities involving impaired drivers.
The same report said preliminary data for 2022 indicates a 15% increase in fatal crashes and impaired driving crashes typically account for more than half of all fatal crashes.
The holidays summon folks to the roadway in droves as people disperse across the state to celebrate the festive season with loved ones and spiked eggnog. However, law enforcement agencies will be stationed along the roadways for emphasis patrols through Jan. 1.
Trooper Darren Wilkes said around major holidays, like New Years Eve, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, impaired driving can be prevalent. Impaired driving can result in not only criminal repercussions, but impact a driver’s wallet, as well.
“There are defense attorney costs, court costs, increased premiums with your insurance company, if you damage your car, that comes with costs, sometimes medical costs,” Wilkes said. “It (costs) can get very high.”
According to WTSC, fatal crashes related to impaired driving in Chelan, Douglas and Grant and Okanogan counties topped at least 10 crashes the last three years. In 2019, 11 crashes were related to impaired driving, 10 in 2020 and 18 in 2021. Sixty-four percent of the crashes were multi-vehicle and 50% of those crashes involved a vehicle leaving its lane. Six of those drivers blew a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .151-.199 and seven had a BAC over .2. The legal limit is .08.
“(Besides alcohol, impaired driving is considered) marijuana, other drugs and prescription medication,” Wilkes said. “Drowsy driving isn’t considered impaired driving, but it can be as dangerous as drunk driving.”
The state patrol arrested 546 impaired drivers in its District 6 region (Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas and Okanogan counties) in 2021, said in a WSP 2021 annual report.
Drivers are encouraged to call 911 when observing signs of potentially impaired driving: speeding, braking suddenly or inappropriately or making wide turns, the WTSC said.
“Drivers are more than welcome to call 911 if there’s suspected impaired driving,” Wilkes said. “If there’s an officer in the area, they’ll do all they can to investigate.”