One deadly weekend on Oregon’s highways does not a trend make.
Unfortunately, it’s not just one deadly weekend.
The troubling trend on the state’s roads in fact dates back more than five years.
This past weekend, when a litany of press releases from the Oregon State Police littered our email inbox with news of several fatal crashes across the state, highlighted the problem.
At least 10 people were killed during the weekend, including a Boise man near Anthony Lakes. That’s an unusually large number for a three-day period, to be sure.
But that death toll is not as anomalous as it would have been just a few years ago.
Since 2013 the number of traffic deaths in Oregon has risen substantially.
The 2013 total of 313 deaths was the fewest in any year since the 1940s. Moreover, the number of vehicles and miles traveled had skyrocketed during the ensuing decades, making the 2013 death rate, per miles traveled, seem positively minuscule by historical standards.
This gratifying trend didn’t last.
In 2014 the highway death toll rose to 356 — an increase of 13.7 percent.
The trend accelerated from there. In 2015 there were 450 fatalities — an increase of 26 percent from the previous year.
The death toll rose again, albeit at a slower rate, in 2016, to 495, before falling to 439 in 2017. Through May 30, the 2018 fatality total was 158 — up from 139 for the same period in 2017.
We might have expected a small increase in traffic deaths over the past few years simply because people are driving more miles. Yet the increase in fatalities is disproportionate. From 2013 to 2016 the death toll rose by 58 percent, while the number of miles traveled in the state increased by just 8.9 percent.
There are of course multiple factors that cause or contribute to fatal crashes — alcohol or other intoxicants, cellphones and other distractions, excessive speed and failing to wear safety belts among the more common, according to police and traffic engineers.
The commonality is that drivers and passengers have control over each of those factors.
Cars today are safer than they’ve ever been thanks to antilock brakes, traction control and chassis designed to absorb the impact of a crash. But no machine can always overcome human error.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.