The numbers of deadly crashes in Whatcom County and statewide continue to trend toward historic lows, according to the latest data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
Twelve people died in traffic collisions in the county in 2012, the most recent year with complete data available. That's more than in 2011, when nine people died in crashes, but the broader trend is downward. The years 2011 and 2012 ranked first and second in fewest traffic deaths in the county going back to 1994, according to commission data.
The state broke a safety barrier, so to speak, in 2009, when it had the fewest number of traffic fatalities since 1955.
After 2009, that number continued to drop. In 2012, 438 people died on state roads, 11 percent less than in 2009.
Statewide, more fatal or serious-injury crashes happen on county-managed roads than all other road types combined, including city streets, and state and interstate highways. That wasn't true in Whatcom County: Of the 411 crashes that caused deaths or serious injuries from 2008 through September 2013, only 41 percent were on county roads.
That could be because some of the busiest and most dangerous roads, including Badger Road and Guide Meridian, are managed by the state.
Rural roads are more dangerous than city streets because speeds are higher, said David Wright of the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.
"The traffic engineers are always looking at those areas that have high crash rates to see if it's a road-design issue," Wright said.
The county Public Works Department has completed several safety improvements on county roads, using $1.9 million in federal grants obtained since 2011. The improvements have included guardrail upgrades at six bridge approaches, and nearly 40 miles of rumble strips, fresh centerline paint and pavement markers.