Poly-substance crashes have been on the rise

WHATCOM — County Sheriff’s deputies and Bellingham and Ferndale police officers will participate in extra patrols to apprehend impaired drivers now through Sept. 7.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission is working with more than 135 law enforcement agencies statewide through Labor Day, historically a time when Washington sees an increase in impaired driving. The enhanced patrols are the first statewide enforcement campaign since the coronavirus pandemic began this year.

“Half of all traffic deaths in Washington involve an impaired driver,” said Mark Medalen, WTSC program manager. “While most adults in Washington believe driving impaired is unacceptable, the few who drive impaired were involved in crashes that resulted in 231 deaths in 2019.  Stepped-up enforcement reminds everyone to plan ahead and avoid driving impaired or to take action to prevent someone from doing so.

”Traffic volumes were down 62 percent in April, but have returned to near-normal levels in August, with volume down 14 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

“As people return to the roads, we must refocus on safety,” said Medalen.

There are alternatives to driving impaired, he said.  “Sleeping it off on a friend’s couch is a better alternative than a jail cell; a taxi, rideshare or a friend providing a ride is better than a patrol car or ambulance.  And if you see someone about to drive impaired, take action. That’s what 81 percent of Washingtonians do by offering a couch, a ride, or simply calling a cab.”

Drivers who are impaired from more than one substance are now the most common type of drivers involved in deadly crashes. “Using marijuana after drinking alcohol increases crash risk,” said Medalen. “Some people think that consuming cannabis after drinking will sober them up. While they may feel different, they are still impaired.”

TSC data show:

   In the past five years, 1,260 people were killed in crashes involving impaired drivers and another 1,926 were seriously injured. 

   Washington experienced 231 deaths related to impaired driving last year in our state. In Skagit County, seven people died in impaired-driver-related crashes; in Whatcom County, there were six.

   From 2012 to 2017, Washington experienced a 15 percent per year increase in the number of poly-drug drivers involved in fatal crashes. Alcohol and cannabis are the most common poly-drug combination.