More collisions, fewer fatalities

BENTON, FRANKLIN, WALLA WALLA COUNTIES - Just days after a young man crashes and dies on I-82, KEPR is investigating staffing troubles at WSP. More troopers are retiring than can be replaced. We looked into how it's affecting your roadside safety.

That rollover is just a distant possibility until it's you. That's when every second counts for troopers to respond. Seconds that could be compromised by a rising attrition rate.

"We certainly agree that being short on troopers has some impact on highway safety," said WSP Spokesman Robert Calkins.

WSP expects to lose over 20% of its staff in the next three years. Just this summer, the agency received over two thousand applications. Only 49 were hired.

"We've made the decision that we'd work short-handed, rather than compromise our standards by reducing our hiring qualifications," explained Calkins.

Officials are quick to add they don't believe it's a crisis. At least, not yet.

I dug through the numbers to evaluate safety on our highways. These stats apply to Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. Collisions went up by seven percent. But fatalities dropped by 40%.

Troopers say a variety of factors go into these trends. But say it's possible attrition plays a role.

"The changes have been tremendous since 72.' I mean, population has gone way up, and traffic is terrible," said Tri-City driver Ben Germer.

Ben Germer knows local highways well. He sees distracted drivers all too often.

"Little girls chewing bubble gum, texting on their phonewith their knee driving the steering wheel," said Germer.

WSP reports some traffic violations are going down. DUI's, drug and seatbelt violations all took a hit in the last seven years. Speeding jumped by nine percent.

"It's just really frustrating. They should figure that out themselves," added Germer.

It's behavior troopers are working to control. On a much tighter team.