The month of May saw a horrifying five people killed in three traffic accidents in Whatcom County; four on state highways. Since January, 2017 there have been 10 deadly crashes across Whatcom County compared to 12 in all of 2016. In 2012, 10 people died on Whatcom County roads over the entire year.
Officials from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission are concerned about the sharp increase in deadly car accidents. The Northwest region manager of the panel’s Target Zero program, Doug Dahl, said “The challenge is to understand it within the bigger picture…remember that every data point is somebody’s personal crisis. I wouldn’t want to make a prediction to say that there’s a specific problem. The crashes have happened for a variety of reasons.” In one case a driver died instantly when the top of a pickup truck was sheared off under a semitrailer; a pedestrian was killed in a hit-run, and three people died in a head-on Mother’s Day crash on Mount Baker Highway.
What is being done to reduce traffic fatalities in Whatcom County?
Mount Baker Highway, also called state Route 542 or Highway 542, starts as Sunset Drive in Bellingham and goes 57 miles east to Artist Point vista in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Its speed limit goes as high as 55 mph as it passes through the foothills and Cascades Mountains villages of Deming, Maple Falls and Glacier. The highway is responsible for many of the worst car accidents in the county, particularly during winter months. Many community members expressed opinions in online forums that the state should reduce the speed limit on the Mount Baker Highway from 55 mph to 45 mph after police reports that speeding was a factor in at least one of the deadly accidents. The extended snowy and icy conditions caused by the unusually cold temperatures experienced in 2017 may have played a role in the death toll.
On a particularly deadly intersection of the Mount Baker Highway at Highway 9, east of Deming; officials have secured plans and funding to install a roundabout in summer 2018. The state also recently installed a mile of new guardrail on Mount Baker Highway, some at milepost 16 east of Deming and some between mileposts 31 and 47 near Glacier.
What does the data tell us?
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) data may provide some insight into the increase in car crash deaths. Figures show that an average 9,700 vehicles traveled Mount Baker Highway daily at the Highway 9 roundabout in Nugents Corner, an increase of 1,100 vehicles since 2013. Traffic uphill toward Glacier, had an average 2,900 daily vehicles at Silver lake Road, up from 2,300 daily in 2013.
Speeding, increased traffic flow, inclement weather, tailgating and other forms of aggressive driving may all have contributed to the increase in Whatcom County traffic fatalities in 2017.
Washington State Patrol Sgt. Kevin Leary urged drivers who see speeding and aggressive driving to call 911 and report the incident, hopefully with a license plate or other descriptive information. He said even if the driver isn’t caught, it gives officials an indication that more enforcement is needed. “We need to hold our fellow drivers accountable,” Leary said.
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