Q&A: Darrin Grondel

“We need to do something” about traffic fatalities

Traffic safety is a matter of public health, says Darrin Grondel, an expert and advocate with many hats.

Grondel, a retired Washington State Patrol captain, is director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and chairs the Washington State Autonomous Vehicle Work Group as well as the national Governors Highway Safety Association.

Grondel is also a supporter of AAA traffic safety efforts, including distracted driving awareness and the AAA School Safety Patrol program, which turns 100 in 2020.

Darrin Grondell
Darrin Grondel is the director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (photo composite by Kevin Cruff)

What’s the leading factor in traffic deaths?

In 2018, about 50 percent of our fatal crashes were due to impaired drivers, in line with the trend for the last 10 years. We’ve talked about sobriety checkpoints for years, but that is a very politically unpopular position. Yet it has the likelihood to reduce fatal crashes by 20 percent. It’s not about arrests. It’s about deterrence and telling people we’re sick and tired of people driving impaired.

And some don’t know if they’re impaired?

Many of our maturing generation (age 70 and older) take seven or eight prescription medications. What are those drug interactions? Do they cause fatigue, dizziness or other impairment? People will say, “Yeah, I felt a little dizzy, but I wasn’t impaired.” But that is impairment

What are some myths about cannabis and driving?

Some believe that officers can’t detect if you’re under the influence. We can. Some people think that if you drink alcohol and become impaired, smoking marijuana would reduce your impairment. Doing so actually compounds your impairment.

Why are pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities increasing?

They are going through the roof, and it is very difficult to figure out why. In 2013, Washington had 61 pedestrian/bicycle fatalities, 85 in 2014, 100 in 2015, 105 in 2016 and 124 in 2017. We do some case studies, look at similarities and differences — roadway conditions, weather, lighting — but when you look at a map, they’re all over the state, and it’s hard to even find any hot spots. One big emphasis is on speed and survivability: Can jurisdictions lower speed limits? (Editor’s note: AAA Foundation research shows pedestrians are 70 percent more likely to die when struck at 25 mph versus 20 mph.)

What needs to change to improve traffic safety?

We lose about 40,000 lives in U.S. crashes each year and nobody is storming Congress, nobody is storming the state legislatures to say, “This is enough.” We need to do something, things that are going to benefit people. Ignition interlocks that detect alcohol could save lives. Airbags and seatbelts were optional for many years, but now they’re mandatory because they save lives.

–Written by Jim Hammerand
 
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.
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