Fleeing King Co.? Longer commute boosts crash risk

Northwest house for sale with sign​Census data shows that in 2016, Pierce and Snohomish counties saw our nation's largest influx of movers from within the United States, and The Seattle Times' Gene Balk suggests it's because of people fleeing expensive housing in King County.

Pierce County increased by 6,824 people to rank No. 1 nationally, while Snohomish ranked No. 2 with a net gain of 5,946.

One likely outcome of the shift is longer commutes, if those folks are in fact fleeing King County, where median home values exceed $530,000. Bellevue values surpass  $760,000, while Redmond tops $725,000.

welcome to mountlake terrace signStatistically, the more miles driven – especially on congested roads – means higher risk for collisions. Another factor in longer commutes is driver fatigue, and the AAA Foundation found in 2014 that drowsy drivers were involved in 21% of fatal crashes.

Now comes news that neighboring Kittitas County was the 10th fastest-growing county overall in the U.S. in 2016, jumping 4.2%.

That got my attention since my wife and I own a cabin near Cle Elum. Drawn by its scenic terrain, sunny skies, and sparse traffic, years ago we bought a 5-acre refuge with grand views of Mt. Stuart. I joke that traffic is getting unbearable when, rarely, I have to wait for one car to pass by before I can drive onto our nearby county road.

Ellensburg's long-range planner said a key factor in Kittitas County growth is the high cost of housing in King County, prodding its homeowners eastward. Kittitas housing is less costly but rising, with a current median of $325,000.

Cle Elum valley Mount StuartData shows a spike in Kittitas residents who commute to work in King County, particularly homeowners near Cle Elum and Roslyn. With Interstate 90 highway improvements, they now can drive to westside jobs in less than 80 minutes.

My fear from a lifestyle standpoint is that King County's overflow will spoil Kittitas County's relaxed rural character.

But from a safety standpoint, as motorists commute farther from their homes to jobs in congested King County, the risk of a crash grows. I'll wager those commuters also will be frustrated if their insurance costs rise: fatality rates per vehicle miles traveled is one factor in determining how much you pay.

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