This is the fourth of a six-part series by The Bellingham Herald examining Whatcom County’s vehicle crash fatalities and how every driver can play a role in reducing those numbers.
Whatcom County drivers must be ready for a wide variety of conditions.
Not only do we face sun, rain, snow, hail, sleet, ice and wind, but living in the northernmost latitudes of the contiguous United States gives us a wide range of daylight conditions.
Until we go back on daylight savings time, chances are you’ll need to flip your headlights on for the drive home, even if you leave work early. And the morning commute has already been dark for a few months.
So you’d figure the roads might be a bit less safe during the winter months when days are short and weather’s temperamental and it’s more difficult to see other cars, let alone bikes and pedestrians. And you’d be somewhat right.
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s Fatal Collision Dashboard, December and January are two of the months with the highest numbers traffic fatalities with 12 and nine, respectfully, combining for more than a quarter (28.4 percent) of the 74 fatalities from 2013 to 2017.
But the other late fall and winter months haven’t been near as deadly, as February, March, October and November combined for only 14.9 percent of the traffic fatalities in the commission’s database with 11 fatalities.
Surprisingly, two of the traditionally nicest months, weather-wise — July and August — each had nine fatalities, according to the data.
“Anytime there are cars on the road, you can see tragic consequences,” Washington Traffic Safety Commission Target Zero manager for Region 11 Doug Dahl told The Bellingham Herald in a September interview.
As you would expect, there are also safer times of the day to be on the roads, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Crash Data Portal. Of the 105 fatal accidents in Whatcom County between Jan. 1, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2018, where time was logged, 53.4 percent (55) of them happened in the afternoon or early evening.
The evening commute from 3 to 6 p.m. was the deadliest window, as 22 fatal accidents occurred, though noon to 3 p.m. had 18.
Morning commutes were quite a bit safer, as there were only eight fatal accidents between 6 and 9 a.m.
“A lot of studies show if you have important decisions to make, you should make them in the morning, because by the end of the day your brain isn’t as good at making decisions,” Dahl told The Herald. “It makes sense that the closer you are to when you woke up, within reason — you don’t want to just jump out of bed and get behind the wheel — but once you have a chance to wake up, that’s probably your best driving you’ll do.”
The midnight to 3 a.m. window, which would include when many area bars close, had 14 fatal accidents in the county.
“I would guess you have a much lower number of cars on the road at that time,” Dahl said, “but the fatality rate per miles traveled would be much higher. That’s mostly DUI.”
That probably also explains why more than half of Whatcom County’s fatal accidents logged by WSDOT happened on the weekend between Friday and Sunday.
And the safest day of the week to be on Whatcom’s roads? Tuesday, which had 7.6 percent of all fatal accidents in the county.