Outgoing State Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) is on a crusade to bolster traffic safety in Washington.

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, motor vehicle fatalities in this state soared to a 33-year high in 2023. There were more than 800 total deaths - a 10% jump from 2022.

Increasingly, the WTSC finds, Washington drivers are torn between conflicting priorities. Of those 800 deaths, 135 were attributed to a "distracted driver."

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"Our state's statistics run counter to national figures," writes Padden in an op-ed for the Seattle Times. "Nearly every other state recorded fewer deaths than the year before."

Arguably a more harrowing statistic is the one concerning impaired - intoxicated - drivers. Nearly half of motor vehicle fatalities in Washington last year involved alcohol or drugs.

To that end, Padden introduced SB 5791 earlier this year. This bill, which stalled in the upper chamber, would have required the Washington State Patrol to look more seriously into roadside oral swab testing.

In some states, the attending officer will collect saliva from a driver suspected of being under the influence. Padden swears by the efficacy of the oral swab test, which detects alcohol and a host of illicit drugs.

The reality is complicated, says WTSC official Mark McKechnie. There are other, perhaps more reliable means of determining if a motorist is fit to drive.

"We have really focused on observation and roadside behavioral testing," McKechnie says. That's "part of the reason why we haven't adopted [oral swab testing] yet in Washington."

Padden, who has represented Washington's 4th district since 2011, intends to retire in January, but in the meantime he'd like to see SB 5791 "revived," according to his press office.

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Gallery Credit: Ryan

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