Distracted driving was the leading cause of vehicle accidents in Washington state in 2015, according to a new report, and the number of fatalities statewide was up dramatically.
In 2015, there were 499 deadly wrecks in Washington, a nearly 20 percent increase from the year before. A total of 551 people died in crashes in 2015.
In Whatcom County, fatal wrecks were down year over year, according to the Annual Collision Summary produced by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and released Thursday. Deadly collisions in Whatcom County declined to 10 in 2015 from 14 in 2014.
Washington’s rate of traffic deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also increased for the second straight year, reversing an 8-year downward trend.
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The state’s rate of 0.92 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled still was below the national rate of 1.22, according to the commission.
The commission reported “inattention/distraction was the most frequent contributing circumstance among all collisions.” Law enforcement agencies across the state handed out 33,697 citations to drivers caught texting or otherwise using cellphones in 2015.
Washington’s law, already a decade old, bars texting and using a cellphone while holding it to your ear while driving. Legislators in Olympia are considering a tougher law that would ban use of any handheld device including phones, tablets and games, as well as watching a video while driving. The standard fine of $124 would double for a second offense, and violations would be reported to insurance companies.
Researchers have proved that looking away from the road for a few seconds and the brain overload of listening or multitasking are as dangerous as driving drunk.
As to what led to the statewide increase in fatalities, commission research analyst Geneva Hawkins declined to hazard a guess.
“Everybody you talk to has a different theory,” Hawkins said.
Adam Lynn of The News Tribune in Tacoma contributed to this article.
Collisions by city