By Jerry Cornfield
Washington State Standard 

Traffic deaths are down in Finland. WA leaders will travel there to find out how


November 9, 2023

Traffic in Helsinki, Finland, in the dusk evening light. (Getty Images)

As Finland saw traffic fatalities plummet last year, Washington tallied a record number of deaths on its roads.

Next month, state lawmakers and transportation officials will travel to the Nordic nation to learn how it's succeeded in making traveling safer on its roadways.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, will be part of the contingent making the trip in December. The plan is to visit Helsinki where he said there's been no traffic-related deaths this year.

Finland, a nation of 5.5 million people, tallied 189 deaths in 2022, 36 fewer than in 2021. Washington, with roughly 7.8 million residents, had 750 people die on its roads in 2022, its most since 1990. This year, crashes claimed the lives of 417 people through July 31, putting the state on pace to exceed last year's total.

"We want to hear what they're doing. We want to learn what's working," Liias said. "And we want to understand how they built a political consensus on some of their policies."

Finland is tough on drunk driving with the legal limit set at 0.05% blood alcohol concentration. Helsinki in the past three years installed 70 automatic speed enforcement cameras, which resulted in drivers slowing down.

Liias and Democratic Sen. John Lovick of Mill Creek sponsored a bill last session to lower the maximum blood alcohol concentration for drivers in Washington from 0.08% to 0.05%. It didn't get a vote but could be brought up again in the 2024 session.

Traffic safety cameras are deployed in a handful of Washington cities. And this year, the Legislature passed a bill to allow use of speed enforcement cameras in construction work zones.

The dates and itinerary for the upcoming trip are still getting settled. Liias said he expected to be joined by other members of the House and Senate transportation panels and transportation policy advisors for Gov. Jay Inslee.

It's another step in Washington and Finland's growing partnership.

Earlier this year, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö visited the state Capitol. He met with Inslee and became the first foreign head-of-state to address a joint session of the state Legislature.

And in September 2022, Inslee led a trade mission to Finland, Sweden and Norway focused on energy and a variety of industries.


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