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Inside Olympia — Traffic Safety, Veterans’ Issues

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This week on Inside Olympia, host Austin Jenkins talks traffic safety with Shelly Baldwin, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, and Alfie Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 

Some deadly traffic trends have emerged during COVID. According to Baldwin, transportation experts expected traffic deaths to go down during the pandemic — because of less people on the roads, for instance. But the opposite happened. During 2021, Washington recorded its highest number of traffic fatalities in 20 years. 

Why? One reason: speed. Baldwin says one stat that stands out, looking at law enforcement data, is the number of tickets given to people going 30 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. Many more such tickets have been handed out during COVID. And with high speeds comes high death rates, which have happened not only in our state but across the nation.

Throughout the summer the Traffic Safety Commission is running an ad campaign reinforcing proactive traffic safety in the community as the key to saving lives. It’s a bit of a different approach. Historically, traffic safety campaigns focused solely on individuals engaging in risky behaviors, primarily through enforcement. Community-based traffic safety culture enlists the support of the majority of safe road users to effectively encourage others to be safe.

Alfie Alvardo-Ramos discusses the challenges of keeping COVID at bay in the state’s four veterans’ homes in Orting, Retsil, Walla Walla and Spokane. Staff and residents have both been hit by the virus, resulting in deaths, and the real challenge has been stopping the spread once either a staffer or resident tests positive.

Another challenge for the veterans’ homes: staffing. Alvarado-Ramos says working in the homes, caring for veterans, is a meaningful career. But like many employers the WDVA is having a hard time filling open positions.

Another focus for Alvarado-Ramos is preventing veteran suicides, which she says are at a high rate. Her message to the community: Engage with your veteran neighbors, see how they’re doing. Her message to veterans: Have a new mission. 

That and much more, this week on Inside Olympia. 

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