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Are You One of the 70?

Target Zero Teams: 70 Lives Saved in King, Pierce, Snohomish Counties

Seattle — Are you one of the 70? Is your spouse? How about your children? Your teacher? Perhaps that nice man who held a door for you last week.

Any of those could be among the 70 people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties whose lives were saved since Target Zero Teams hit the streets one year ago. The $6 million demonstration project was launched July 1, 2010.

“We expected to see a reduction, of course. But this exceeds our expectations for the project,” said Lowell Porter, Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “70 lives in just three counties, in just one year.”

Of course it’s impossible to know exactly who wasn’t killed. But it is possible to say how many weren’t.

In each of the five years prior to launching the Target Zero Teams, an average of 203 people died in traffic in the three test counties. In the year immediately following launch, the number dropped to 133.

The Commission also found that deaths in King, Pierce and Snohomish compared favorably to two similar counties that were pre-designated as control counties for the Target Zero Teams demonstration project. Finally, while traffic deaths are trending down statewide and nationwide, the drop seen in the Target Zero counties is steeper than the general trend.

“We now believe this high-visibility enforcement strategy is impacting all crashes, not just DUIs,” Porter said. “When police are out in force, drivers tend to slow down and buckle up. That saves even more lives.”

At the core of the teams are 21 Washington State Troopers and sergeants, augmented by local sheriff’s deputies and city police officers as time and funding permit. The teams patrol in very specific places: areas where drunk drivers have killed in the past.
During the past year, Target Zero Teams from all agencies have arrested more than 3,400 impaired drivers. But State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste is quick to add that Target Zero is about much more than just making arrests.

“From day one we’ve said we would measure success by a reduction in fatalities,” said State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste. “These interim results make us think we’re on the right track, and we look forward to final results after another year of hard work.”

Target Zero researchers use GIS mapping software to record the locations of previous DUI-related fatalities. They also track locations where citizens have reported seeing apparently-DUI drivers. The information is quickly fed back to team sergeants, to help them make rapid, day-to-day adjustments in where to patrol.

Patrols are not limited to freeways or state highways. Troopers, deputies and officers go where the data leads them. That means state troopers might be patrolling city streets, or city officers on the freeway.

“This is a great example of what can happen when agencies work together,” said Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. “If you choose to drink and drive, we’re going to find you and arrest you.”

The demonstration project is funded by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It follows a smaller pilot program in Snohomish County that produced encouraging results.

At the conclusion of the project, independent researchers will review the numbers and verify these interim results. The Teams, WSP and the Commission are heavily documenting their work. The goal is to create a turnkey planning document that any other police agency can use to create their own version of the program.