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Washington state legislators introduce bills to improve traffic safety

The proposed laws hoping to address the number of traffic deaths include lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, adding speed cameras in work zones and more.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state legislature is hoping to improve traffic safety this legislative session following the deadliest year for traffic fatalities since 1990.

Gov. Jay Inslee and legislators will be presenting several bills Thursday aimed at improving traffic safety for workers, pedestrians and commuters, in addition to several bills already introduced.

According to a preliminary report from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, 745 people were killed in crashes in 2022, the highest number since 1990. 2021 was also a deadly year on Washington roads with 540 crashes that resulted in the deaths of more than 600 people.

The proposed laws hoping to address the number of traffic deaths include lowering the blood-alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05, adding speed cameras in work zones, a change to crosswalks and a change to right turns at certain red lights.

"This is great work. If we do these things, more people are going to get home safely. And that's a good legislative session when you get more Washingtonians to get home safely," said Inslee.

Lowering blood-alcohol level

The proposal to lower the blood-alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05 has already been introduced and is supported by the governor.

The authors of the bill cite the effort in Utah to reduce crashes by lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 in 2019, resulting in fatal crashes being reduced by nearly 20%.

“I always like to tell people that drunk driving is a choice. You make the choice to drive drunk. And it should be embarrassing for all of us that we are losing one person every single day on our roads,” said Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek. “That should be unacceptable to all of us. Drunk driving is a choice and we need to take that choice away.”

Prohibiting right turns at certain red lights

Both the state House and Senate have introduced bills that would prohibit drivers from making a right turn at certain red lights.

The proposal identifies those certain red lights as intersections within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, transit centers and hospitals.

Speed cameras in work zones

The Senate Committee on Transportation will take up a proposal that would put speed safety camera systems near highway work zones to improve worker safety. According to the legislation, the cameras would only capture photos of the vehicles and their license plates and not drivers or passengers.

“We got to do something to protect those workers,” said Sen. Curtis King, Yakima. “(When you listen to) the stories of our workers on site that need protection, we got to do everything we can to make sure they get home safe, that every citizen in the state of Washington has that opportunity to get home safe."

Two other bills look to increase the recruitment of Washington State Patrol troopers and an update to the Cooper Jones Act, which placed an emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian safety in 1998, by lowering the barrier for law enforcement to refer a driver to the Department of Licensing for further examination after an accident.

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