The Oregonian puts it bluntly in the very first sentence of a recent article: “The number of people killed on city streets and country roads in Oregon is 13 percent higher so far this year, a death toll driven upward this summer by one of the deadliest crashes in state history.”
The single crash mentioned in that last sentence was an eight-fatality incident last month in Harney County, but, as the article goes on to detail, rather than viewing that crash as a statistical outlier police are concerned because they see it as “part of a worrisome trend this year: Multiple people dying in a single incident.” In all, the state “has seen 12 more fatal crashes than last year, but the number of people killed has increased by 37.” The article (linked below) also includes a table that dramatically illustrates how both road deaths and the number of crashes producing them has changed over the last few years. The increase in both the number of crashes and the number of deaths compared to last year is striking, as is the up-and-down (yet consistently high) nature of the numbers themselves over time.
There are a variety of reasons for this. The newspaper notes that over the last three decades the number of troopers patrolling Oregon’s roads has declined in absolute terms even as the state’s population has grown. The officers who are available focus their efforts on I-5 and other major roads and highways, despite the fact that an increasing number of fatal crashes take place on smaller roads, particularly in rural areas. A state official also tells the Oregonian that “while it’s difficult to prove, distracted driving is likely leading to more deaths and serious injuries.” This is in spite of both education campaigns and recently toughened state laws against distracted driving. And, of course, there is alcohol.