Highway fatalities in Pierce and Thurston counties have dropped 50 percent so far this year, a trend authorities hope continues.
Six people were killed in traffic collisions between January and May, down from 12 during the same time period last year.
“We’re seeing a downward trend and that’s what we want,” Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill said.
Statewide fatalities have been steadily declining since 2005, when it went from 649 deaths to 454 deaths in 2011, the most recent year of statistics available. In 2007, the state announced an ambitious goal to reach zero traffic deaths by 2030.
The State Patrol attributes the decline to aggressively enforcing traffic laws to cut down on those who speed and drive under the influence and educating drivers through social media and safety chats.
The 96 troopers who patrol Pierce and Thurston counties contacted 41,737 drivers through the end of April and issued 28,112 tickets. Most of them were for speeding, which continues to be the top cause of traffic fatalities.
Troopers pulled over 20,200 drivers and doled out 14,788 tickets. Others received verbal or written warnings.
Other violations that frequently led to tickets included drunken drivers (1,154 arrests), people not wearing their seat belts (3,049 tickets issued) and aggressive drivers (3,459 tickets).
The State Patrol hasn’t implemented new policies or practices and instead credited residents with making better decisions, Gill said.
“We’re doing the same stuff because we are seeing a reduction in collisions,” he said.
Troopers frequently give educational talks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and to community groups and businesses. They’ve also reached a broader audience with their safety message by tapping into Twitter.
Gill, the spokesman and recruiter for Pierce and Thurston counties, has picked up more than 4,800 Twitter followers and sends multiple tweets each day.
The messages vary: warnings about emphasis patrols, updates on traffic collisions and conditions, numbers of how many intoxicated drivers were arrested over the weekend. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission gets the word about safe driving out in a bigger way, using billboards and brochures, a method they say has shown success.
“We’re working hard to get the word out about safer driving habits and the efforts are really making a difference in the number of fatalities,” spokeswoman Erica Holmes said.
Several programs have been implemented to cut down on unsafe driving in Pierce County, including the Home Safe Bar Program that educates drivers and on-site bartenders and Party Prevention patrols that target underage drinking.
Most notably, Target Zero teams were launched in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties in 2010. The full-time team, comprised of six troopers and a sergeant, keeps an eye on the most dangerous areas to pluck drunken drivers off the road.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653