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Seattle Car Accident Statistics

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) maintain detailed records of motor vehicle accidents in and around the Seattle metro area. In this blog post, we summarize some of the most important data for Seattle drivers to know about accidents, in the hope it will help them avoid crashes and become safer, more responsible users of Seattle roads.

If a Seattle-area car accident has injured you or tragically taken the life of your loved one, then contact the experienced car accident attorneys at Boohoff Law today to learn about your rights to compensation.

SDOT Data

SDOT posts annual reports on traffic in the city on its website. As of this writing, the most recent report was for the year 2018 based on 2017 traffic data.

Traffic Volumes and Speeds

The first category of information SDOT’s annual report evaluates is the volume and speed of traffic in Seattle. Here are some of the principal findings.

  • The volume of traffic in Seattle has stayed relatively steady over the past twelve years at roughly 1,000,000 trips per day. This is notable insofar as the population of the city has grown by nearly 25 percent during that same period, and its population of workers has also seen a steady increase. Possibly counteracting the growth in population, mass transit ridership has also increased.
  • More than half (51 percent) of Seattle’s commuting population, however, travels alone in a vehicle to work every day. A quarter of all commuters ride mass transportation. As of 2017, just 9 percent of commuters carpooled.
  • The eastbound and westbound lanes of the West Seattle Bridge, west of the Alaska Way Viaduct, experienced far-and-away the heaviest daily volumes of traffic in the city, with approximately 100,000 trips per day. The next-most-trafficked corridor was East Marginal Way South, south of South Alaska Street, which saw roughly 70,000 trips per day, followed by the Montlake and Aurora Bridges, with 66,000 and 61,000 trips respectively.
  • Aurora Avenue N and Rainier Avenue S, in both directions, saw the highest volume of vehicles traveling at a high rate of speed relative to the posted speed limit. Both avenues saw statistically significant numbers of drivers exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 MPH.

Traffic Collisions (Excluding I-5, I-90, and SR-540)

SDOT also tracks the number of motor vehicle-involved collisions in Seattle, excluding collisions on the I-5, I-90, and SR-540 arteries (which are tracked instead by the WSDOT statistics, below). The data show:

  • Collisions in Seattle (excluding the arteries) declined steadily from 2006 to 2013, only to rebound slightly in the four subsequent years. As of 2017, the city saw roughly 11,000 motor vehicle-involved collisions per year.
  • For the past eight years, the rate of collisions per million daily trips has held relatively steady between 50 – 60 collisions per million.

Fatal, Serious, and Non-Serious Injuries

In keeping with the relatively steady rate of collisions per million, the number of accidents resulting in serious injuries has held more-or-less steady at between 150 and 200 accidents per year. Similarly, the number of fatalities has hovered between 10 and 20 per year over that time period. The areas with the highest concentrations of those accidents (again, excluding the major arterials) were downtown and along the length of Rainier Avenue S.

Although the numbers of serious and fatal injury-involved collisions represent just a tiny fraction of the total number of annual collisions in Seattle, they don’t quite capture the scale of the toll of Seattle car accidents. According to SDOT, 28 percent of collisions result in some kind of injury, even if not severe or fatal. That’s over 3,000 motor vehicle injuries per year, on average.

Crash Mechanics and Contributing Circumstances

SDOT also collects data on the “types” of collisions, their contributing circumstances (if reported), and their locations.

  • The two most common collisions were vehicles traveling in the same direction (the vast majority of which were likely rear-end collisions), and vehicles entering the flow of traffic at an angle (typically at intersections). Perhaps surprisingly, the next-most-common type of accident after those two was collisions between a moving vehicle and a parked vehicle.
  • For accidents in which contributing circumstances were reported, the most common contributing factors were driver inattention, driver distraction, and the failure to yield the right-of-way to another vehicle. Ignoring traffic signals and signs also contributed to a significant number of motor vehicle accidents, as did drivers following too closely, speeding drivers, and drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

WSDOT Data

WSDOT’s data for the Seattle area include motor vehicle accidents on city streets and the major arterials, and allow us to dig even deeper into factors contributing to accidents. Here’s is what they show for the year 2018.

Total Crashes by Type of Injury

WSDOT reported 12,338 vehicle collisions in Seattle in 2018. Of those, approximately two-thirds resulted in no apparent injury. Out of the remaining third, there were 3,032 crashes involving “possible” injuries, 993 involving “suspected minor” injuries, 196 involving “suspected serious” injuries, and 20 involving fatalities. These statistics are in-line with the SDOT data from the previous year, when accidents on major arterials are taken into account.

Serious Injury and Fatal Crashes

Taking a closer look at the crashes involving serious injuries and fatalities, we find the following:

  • Of the crashes involving serious injuries and fatalities, WSDOT found roughly half of them (108) took place at intersections. (Note, this includes collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists, which were the types of crashes most likely to result in serious injury or fatality). The two other types of accidents that had a significant number of serious injuries or deaths associated with them were lane departure crashes and run-off-the-road crashes.
  • There were slightly more single vehicle crashes than crashes involving multiple vehicles, but the difference was negligible.
  • Risk factors that played a statistically significant role in many of the serious injury or fatal crashes in Seattle in 2018 included driver distraction and inattention, the driver being a teen or young adult, alcohol and drug use, and speeding.
  • The highest concentration of serious injury or fatal crashes in 2018 were concentrated around downtown and along the I-5 corridor.

What the Data Tells Us

From our viewpoint, the SDOT and WSDOT data point to a serious and continuing risk for drivers and others on Seattle-area roads. Motor vehicle accidents are to be expected in any major metro area, and of course Seattle and the King County area are not immune to those problems. Still, as personal injury lawyers, we would vastly prefer our clients to avoid serious injuries and tragedies than to have to come to us seeking help in recovering compensation after a car accident disrupts their lives. Here are some of the conclusions the data tell us we can draw to keep everyone safer on Seattle-area roads.

Take Extra Care at Intersections, No Matter If You are Behind the Wheel, on a Bike, or on Foot

If there’s one thing that comes through loud and clear from the SDOT and WSDOT data, its that intersections in Seattle pose a special risk. Intersections are busy places. There are lots of distractions outside of a car, from pedestrians to bicyclists to local businesses that draw drivers’ attention away from the road immediately in front of them. And, of course, there are also lots of distractions inside the car, particularly from devices with screens. When driving at night, alcohol also becomes a high risk factor at intersections, both because of the danger of drunk drivers and the inattention of drunk pedestrians in deciding when and where to cross the street. So, when you come to a stop sign or signal in Seattle, BE CAREFUL!

Drive Carefully on Major Arterials and Significant Secondary Roads

The data tell us that I-5, Rainier Avenue S, and Aurora Avenue N are routes that have a high rate of serious accidents and where drivers routinely exceed posted speed limits. When behind the wheel on these and similar streets in Seattle, practice defensive driving techniques. Look out for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars entering from side streets, and distracted drivers changing lanes without paying attention to the traffic around them.

Put That Phone Down!

Which leads us to the third conclusion from the data: inattentive and distracted drivers pose a serious, life-threatening danger to themselves and others on Seattle-area roads. Distracted teenage and young adult drivers are particularly hazardous to other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists in Seattle. Let us be really clear about this. Distracted driving is illegal in Washington State. Under a 2017 law called the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics Act, drivers CANNOT use hand held cell phones while behind the wheel, EVEN IF they’re stopped at a stop sign or traffic light (Bluetooth devices are OK, but only if they can be activated with a single touch). The Washington State Patrol takes this law so seriously (as well it should) that it encourages other drivers to call 911 if they see someone using a hand-held cell phone behind the wheel. So, put that phone down!

If You’ve Been in a Car Accident in Seattle…

The final thing the data tells us is that accidents happen. As a community, we can and should take steps to prevent them, but the reality is that some of us, or our loved ones or neighbors, will end up getting hurt in a car accident in our lifetimes. If that happens, then it’s essential to follow some simple steps to ensure the protection of your rights.

See a Doctor Right Away

There is nothing more important than your health. After a car accident in Seattle, get medical attention as soon as possible. If emergency responders come to the scene, let them check you out. If they think you need a ride to the hospital, take it. If not, still follow up with a doctor as soon as you can. The fact is, car accidents sometimes cause injuries that are difficult to spot immediately. Head trauma and soft tissue injuries in particular may take time to show significant symptoms. But, doctors can usually spot many of them, or at least give you advice on how to monitor your health condition. As an extra incentive, remember that the medical records you generate immediately after a car accident will become important evidence if you ever take legal action for damages against someone who caused the accident.

Beware of Insurance Companies

Always be wary of any insurance company that offers you a “quick settlement” of any car accident claim. That’s usually a sure sign that the insurance company knows it will owe you more money down the road, and that it wants to take advantage of you while you’re feeling vulnerable and out-of-sorts after an accident. Also be careful of giving detailed information about a car accident to an insurance company, especially one that covers someone other than yourself. Of course, you’ll likely have to report an accident to your insurance, but if an insurance adjuster wants to do an in-depth interview with you, then tread carefully and never, ever admit fault (or say things that someone could misinterpret as you admitting fault).

Speak With an Experienced Car Accident Attorney.

The best protection against the tricks insurance companies pull, and against losing important rights to compensation in the aftermath of a car accident, is to speak with an experienced Seattle car accident attorney as soon as you can. The sooner a lawyer can get started investigating the circumstances of an accident and interacting with insurance companies and others on your behalf, the better the chance you will recover the maximum compensation due to you for your car accident injuries.

Call Our Car Accident Attorneys in Seattle, Washington

Tatiana Boohoff and her team at Boohoff Law have years of experience recovering large settlements and jury verdicts for victims of car accidents and their families. Contact them today online or by phone at (877) 999-9999 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to determine if you may have a valid claim for injuries sustained in a Seattle area automobile accident.