When it comes to traffic fatalities, Kirkland’s roads are fairly safe compared to both the state and nation, according to a study conducted by ConsumerAffairs.
Using data from the 2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System, it found that Kirkland has the ninth lowest traffic fatalities in the state, with Bellevue ranked at fifth and Seattle at seventh. Nationwide, Kirkland is ranked 210th out of 9,345 cities. More specifically, Kirkland is ranked 16th in the state for distracted driving fatalities, 10th for DUI fatalities and 14th for speeding. The rankings are based on the rate of fatal accidents per 100,000 population. Distracted driving is based not just on cell phone use but also anything that takes attention off the road.
The city’s Transportation Masterplan, approved by the Kirkland City Council last year, envisions eliminating all transportation related fatal and serious injury crashes by 2035. This “zero based” safety goal, along with several others, reflects the city’s desire for making alternative means of transportation more available or convenient to use.
According to data provided in the master plan, the number of fatalities has remained low in recent years, with one pedestrian death and one car-related death in 2014.
Kirkland Police Spokesperson Lt. Mike Murray attributed the low accident fatalities to a variety of elements, one of which is the congested traffic on the streets, which he said has only gotten worse with the tolling of the high occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 405.
“Just because of the sheer volume of traffic we have on our major arterials, you can’t get anywhere fast,” he said.
He also said that the city’s relatively low speed limits discourage drivers from going fast.
“We don’t have any areas where there’s a real high posted speed limit,” he said. “The highest we have is  mph on Juanita Drive, so when you’ve got lower speed limits posted you tend to get more compliance. If it was posted 65 mph someone might want to go 75.”
He added that the department saw a spike in traffic fatalities when they took over the annexed neighborhoods in 2012, but since then things have improved due to DUI enforcement.
“We had a bit of a spike when we first took over in annexation. In 2012 we had several fatalities up on Juanita Drive,” Murray said. “Then we had a lot of people driving way too fast and intoxicated but we’ve curbed that a bit with our enforcement.”
However, ConsumerAffairs only examined fatal car accidents. According to Murray, traffic accidents are still high and have actually gone up recently, but they are typically low-speed rear-end accidents due to distracted driving and following too close.
“We have a lot of accidents in the city but they’re all fairly minor,” he said. “Texting is the worst. When you’re talking on the phone, even though it’s a violation, most people are probably a little more aware, but when you start looking down texting that’s when it gets really bad. It’s a tough one to enforce because you’re looking for people following too close and we’re always looking for people texting on their phone.”
Murray said that department personnel know their reputation.
“We’re high visibility, and we have a high enforcement of collision-causing violations throughout the city,” he said. “Anybody you talk to will say ‘Yeah Kirkland Police are always out giving tickets.’”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 6.1 million police-reported crashes in 2014. That same year, 32,675 people were killed and 2.3 million injured in motor vehicle crashes. Of the fatal accidents, 31 percent were alcohol-related, 28 percent were caused by speeding and 10 percent by distracted driving.
The study was done by ConsumerAffairs as an auto insurance guide, as a way to help drivers select the best insurance plan based on their specific cities.